Atom Zombie Smasher

I’ve been a longtime fan of Blendo Games, ever since their first-person vignette Gravity Bone inspired this very column. So the fact that Brendon Chung’s latest release excites me should come as no surprise. Nor is it surprising how original, innovative and lighthearted it is.

What should surprise you is that it manages to put an original spin on the zombie story.

Atom Zombie Smasher puts you in command of Nuevos Ares Orbital Command, where your primary mission is to rescue civilians from the zombie menace. The zombies and civilians appear as little square dots on an overhead map of the city, and you can place units such as mercenaries and rescue helicopters to help you safely evacuate civilians to your orbiting space station.

Time passes with each mission, which brings changes. More daytime means fewer zombies. Time spent on one mission means time for other areas to grow worse, and the overall map of the city either gets cleared out by your mercenary forces or controlled by the zombie hordes. A victory track keeps score, showing overall progress for you and the zombies.

The varying conditions, the random mercenaries and the uncontrollable civilians all lead to tons of replayability. Yet you don’t feel constrained. You are given different units and conditions, but your behavior is completely deterministic. It’s a brilliant mix of chance and skill.

The theme is also brilliantly played off with a light-hearted sense of humor sprinkled over a mix of shiny of optimism and some dark, underlying themes of hopelessness. It’s rare that a strategy game tries to be anything other than strictly martial, let alone funny.

Did I mention 3-player coop?

Talking Points: It’s a strategy game, so can we talk about the meaning? What does strategy bring to the zombie theme that other zombie games lack? What does the theme bring to this game that it doesn’t for other strategy games? Irony? How does the light-hearted tone set this game apart from so many strategy games?

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Comments

Also available on Steam, Impulse and GamersGate.

It used to always take the form of a debate over "accuracy" or "historicity," but strategy games are, in their purest sense, simulations. And simulation, as models, make claims about what they model. So I'll ask it: Is this a valid and honest depiction of zombie apocalypse?

By the way, I appreciate the memetic conflation of "zombie outbreak" and "Nuke the site from orbit."

wordsmythe wrote:

It used to always take the form of a debate over "accuracy" or "historicity," but strategy games are, in their purest sense, simulations. And simulation, as models, make claims about what they model. So I'll ask it: Is this a valid and honest depiction of zombie apocalypse?

But I don't think anyone here is trying to be honest. That's my whole beef with the strategy genre, they consider the job of a simulation to be accurately modeling something. Screw that. Model something fun or interesting, I don't care if it's accurate or honest about it.

Hell, almost any game lies about something, otherwise it wouldn't be a game or a simulation, it would just be reality. What's wrong with the designer lying to me on purpose? Not because they believe their lies are the truth, but because they believe their lies are entertaining?

I tried the game out, but wished the demo had a little more to it. I never really got a feel for the game from the short length of it.

I also find it odd that the game is cheaper on steam than on its own website. o.O

PyromanFO wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

It used to always take the form of a debate over "accuracy" or "historicity," but strategy games are, in their purest sense, simulations. And simulation, as models, make claims about what they model. So I'll ask it: Is this a valid and honest depiction of zombie apocalypse?

But I don't think anyone here is trying to be honest. That's my whole beef with the strategy genre, they consider the job of a simulation to be accurately modeling something. Screw that. Model something fun or interesting, I don't care if it's accurate or honest about it.

If it's not an interesting model, then is it still a game, or just interactive model?

Hell, almost any game lies about something, otherwise it wouldn't be a game or a simulation, it would just be reality. What's wrong with the designer lying to me on purpose? Not because they believe their lies are the truth, but because they believe their lies are entertaining?

Totally. Some lies are things like "You can control a civilization in a predictable and fairly intuitive way" and "You aren't limited by your own ~80-year lifespan." Some of the lies are more obvious, as here, where there's an obvious "what if" built in to the fiction. I find myself wondering about the objectives and win/fail states here. After all, there should be someone whispering the entire time that the only real solution is to nuke it all.

PyromanFO wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

It used to always take the form of a debate over "accuracy" or "historicity," but strategy games are, in their purest sense, simulations. And simulation, as models, make claims about what they model. So I'll ask it: Is this a valid and honest depiction of zombie apocalypse?

But I don't think anyone here is trying to be honest. That's my whole beef with the strategy genre, they consider the job of a simulation to be accurately modeling something. Screw that. Model something fun or interesting, I don't care if it's accurate or honest about it.

Hell, almost any game lies about something, otherwise it wouldn't be a game or a simulation, it would just be reality. What's wrong with the designer lying to me on purpose? Not because they believe their lies are the truth, but because they believe their lies are entertaining?

I always liked Bruce Geryk's now ancient screed about the focus on detail and modeling over game design in strategy games (particularly as it relates to wargames, but the point he makes is applicable even so): http://web.archive.org/web/200008171...

wordsmythe wrote:

It used to always take the form of a debate over "accuracy" or "historicity," but strategy games are, in their purest sense, simulations. And simulation, as models, make claims about what they model. So I'll ask it: Is this a valid and honest depiction of zombie apocalypse?

In simulationist roleplaying circles, this is posed as a question of a game's verisimilitude.

Quintin_Stone wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

It used to always take the form of a debate over "accuracy" or "historicity," but strategy games are, in their purest sense, simulations. And simulation, as models, make claims about what they model. So I'll ask it: Is this a valid and honest depiction of zombie apocalypse?

In simulationist roleplaying circles, this is posed as a question of a game's verisimilitude.

Or, as I noted, "historicity."

Fun with fun words!

I found the demo to be fun but very short. I really wish something like this could be done on the iPhone. It is too small of a screen though.

TempestBlayze wrote:

I found the demo to be fun but very short. I really wish something like this could be done on the iPhone. It is too small of a screen though.

I really hope they make an iPad version, it'd be brilliant.

wordsmythe wrote:

If it's not an interesting model, then is it still a game, or just interactive model?

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody cares, did it make a sound?

I guess I took issue with the word honest there. Strategy games are frequently too straight laced. I'd rather play Men of War: Assault Squad if it had robots and lasers. Do I really want to pretend I'm in WWII for the 30 billionth time?

You can make this point about gaming in general but I think the strategy genre is the worst about it.

This is a really excellent game and I am glad I paid for it. The "modability" is a feature that makes the game easier and the included presets for starting a campaign are pretty helpful. The strategy is really about containment in the long term 20k victory point campaigns. It really plays hard when you need to decide were your llama bombs fit in on the scope of the zombie invaded overworld.

The music is worth noting because it has the COOLEST stereo effect. I'll restart the game a few times just to hear how that song starts. A lot of music today doesn't really incorporate stereo and the few notable ones I can think of are electronica tracks.

Yeah, all in all I've spent or wasted a lot of time in the game and it is a great podcast listening game once you get tired of the music.

Also, Do you guys feel that the gas line explosions are way overpowered? I guess that is if you have zombie bait on hand. They make sense and are realistically portrayed at least as far as I can tell. I'm assuming that gas lines will blow up the block they service on or at least catch things on fire.

wordsmythe wrote:

By the way, I appreciate the memetic conflation of "zombie outbreak" and "Nuke the site from orbit."

Nukes might not be the best move according to Professor Daniel W. Drezner;

Theories of International Politics and Zombies[/url]] The use of nuclear weapons in particular would be a catastrophic mistake in a zombie infested world ... Nuclear weapons would no doubt incinerate massive numbers of zombies. Unlike human beings, however, the undead would survive any radioactive fallout from the nuclear blast. Indeed, zombies carrying lethal doses of radiation would pose a double threat to humans ... death by radiation, or reanimation by zombie bite. If any government was so foolhardy as to launch a first strike, it would create the only thing worse than an army of the living dead: a mutant, radioactive army of the living dead.

I enjoyed the all-too-brief demo. Buying the full game. For $10 (through Steam) it's a steal.

I agree that it would make a great tablet game.

It's pretty good, though frustrating when your snipers let a single zombie through and it ends up turning all the remaining survivors in about 5 seconds.

How does the light-hearted tone set this game apart from so many strategy games?The lighthearted tone relieves the fact that you basically cannot win on the default settings.

This game is about doing the best you can from a bad situation and saving as many as possible. It makes the entire experience quite a stress as at no point do you feel like you can win and once that realisation sinks in that you cannot win, it becomes a game of minimising the damage and losing as closely as possible.

I picked this up about a month ago, and I really love it. I've only managed to win a campaign by having an extra merc per level. (campaign setting/mod)

Wow, I've been playing the demo and it is really great. Buying this one.

wordsmythe wrote:
Quintin_Stone wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

It used to always take the form of a debate over "accuracy" or "historicity," but strategy games are, in their purest sense, simulations. And simulation, as models, make claims about what they model. So I'll ask it: Is this a valid and honest depiction of zombie apocalypse?

In simulationist roleplaying circles, this is posed as a question of a game's verisimilitude.

Or, as I noted, "historicity."

Fun with fun words!

Sure, but "historical accuracy" can't be applied to a zombie apocalypse until one happens.

Quintin_Stone wrote:

until one happens. ;)

But how long is that!? It could have already started, and word just hasn't struck Twitter yet!

I love this game. Finally won a campaign for the first time recently.

Question for other players: Have you successfully played the co-op? Have you done it on Mac? I am having a very hard time getting this to work.