GAME REVIEW: All Zombies Must Die!

The zombie genre may be running on fumes at this point, but that hasn’t stopped the guys over at Doublesix from adding another game to the pile with this spiritual sequel to their 2009 arcade shooter “Burn Zombie Burn.” The developers’ latest offering, “All Zombies Must Die!,” is very similar in concept, but the addition of RPG-lite elements adds some much-needed depth to the overall experience. Instead of trying to earn the highest score by mowing down a seemingly never-ending horde of zombies, you’re now tasked with completing a series of quests as you attempt to survive the zombie apocalypse that’s overtaken the ill-fated town of Deadhill. Each of the four playable characters have a unique secondary attack that affects the zombies in a different way (like lighting them on fire or giving them radiation poisoning), but apart from that, they all handle the same.

Where “All Zombies Must Die!” really shows its depth, however, is in the ability to upgrade a character’s specific attributes (like attack, defense, health and speed) and create better weapons using a crafting system where you combine standard weaponry with items found throughout the map. Each item yields the same special ability no matter which weapon you pair it with (for example, firewood adds fire damage), but it plays a big part in preventing the game from getting stale too soon, even if the repetitive nature of the combat makes that an inevitability. Still, the game’s self-referential humor helps to keep things light and entertaining throughout, and it’s an absolute blast to play with a group of friends. Unfortunately, that also proves to be the game’s biggest shortcoming, because multiplayer co-op can only be played locally. The lack of an online mode isn’t the only thing standing in the way of Doublesix’s latest effort from reaching its full potential, but it’s certainly the most annoying.


GAME REVIEW: Apples to Apples

Apples to Apples is right up there with UNO as one of the better card games around, so the only real surprise about its release on Xbox Live Arcade is that it took this long for anyone to digitize the experience. For those unfamiliar with the game, it’s pretty simple. There are two decks of cards: green apple cards that contain adjectives and red apple cards that contain nouns. Each round, one player assumes the role of judge and selects a green card from the deck. The rest of the players must then choose a red card from their respective hands that they feel best matches the word on the green card, and the judge picks the winner. Of course, it’s completely up to the judge to decide what’s the best match (some will choose literal meanings, while others will favor witty combinations), but that’s part of the appeal.

For the most part, the experience is replicated on Xbox Live fairly well, even if it’s more fun to play with real friends than a bunch of strangers. The game’s other two modes, however, aren’t quite as successful. Local multiplayer is more about trying to fake out the other players by using a tool that conceals your card choice (a necessary inclusion considering everyone shares the same screen), while the single-player mode isn’t really Apples to Apples at all. Instead, you’re shown a red card and three green cards and must select the most appropriate choice using letters on a Boggle-like game board. It’s a creative way of adapting the game for one player, but aside from the fact that it doesn’t take very long to complete, it’s also not the reason you should be buying “Apples to Apples” in the first place. If you have enough friends planning to pick up the game as well, or you don’t mind making new ones on Xbox Live, then this is a no-brainer, but anyone else would be wise to reconsider.


GAME REVIEW: Gears of War 3 – RAAM’s Shadow DLC

Fans of third-person shooters have become accustomed with getting the same, stale DLC over the years – usually new maps, but every once in a while, an extra game mode or weapon is thrown in for good measure – which is why an add-on like “RAAM’s Shadow” is such a welcome surprise. A five-chapter campaign that takes about three hours to complete, the story shifts focus from Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad to follow the exploits of another group of COGs (Zeta Squad) as they attempt to evacuate Ilima City in anticipation of a Kryll storm being implemented by the Queen’s go-to badass, General RAAM. But wait — isn’t General RAAM dead? Yes, he is, but this takes place before the events of the original game, shortly after E-Day.

Though Zeta Squad doesn’t quite have the personality of Delta (although it’s probably unfair to compare the two considering you spend so little time with the former), it does feature several familiar faces like Lt. Minh Young Kim from the first “Gears of War,” Tai Kaliso from “Gears 2,” and cigar-chomping Michael Barrick from the “Gears” comic book series. Rounding out the quartet is female COG Alicia Valera, whose only real purpose in the story is connected to another “Gears” character from the latest installment.

While diehard fans will certainly enjoy the prequel-esque nature of the campaign due to how smartly it weaves into the fabric of the “Gears of War” universe, the highlight for a lot of people will be getting to play as General RAAM himself, who you take control of in corresponding missions throughout the campaign. But although RAAM offers a unique gameplay experience, it’s not very challenging. Sure, you’ll have fun charging at enemies with his oversized knife, or mincing them to pieces with his ever-present shield of Kryll, but because he’s near-invincible, you never feel the same sense of danger as you do while playing as a COG. Most people won’t mind, however, because “RAAM’s Shadow” is still good value for its price, with additional goodies like six multiplayer character skins and a new chocolate-themed weapon skin. If this is what fans can expect from future DLC, then you might want to think again about picking up a Season Pass.


GAME REVIEW: Voltron: Defender of the Universe

As a fan of the 1984 animated series, I was pretty excited to check out THQ’s “Voltron: Defender of the Universe” game for Xbox Live Arcade, but unfortunately, that excitement didn’t last for very long. Though its heart is undeniably in the right place, the game is little more than a chaotic shoot ‘em up that wears out its welcome fast. Players take control of the Lion of their choice and fight through three different levels populated with the same handful of enemies to complete objectives like destroying energy towers, defending castles and escorting groups of survivors to safety. It’s pretty monotonous stuff, made even more so by the lack of variety in the Lions themselves. Although they may boast different colors and seemingly unique stats (including agility, long-range shooting and armor), they don’t really handle all that much differently.

I might have been able to get past the sheer tedium of the Lion-based gameplay if there was something worth looking forward to at the end of each level, but while you do eventually get to fight as Voltron against some of King Zarkon’s Robeasts, it’s not exactly as you’d imagine. The combat system for the boss battles is uninspired to say the least, with attacks consigned to turn-based controls where you select a move and then execute it by stopping a sliding bar in the sweet spot, while defense is a ridiculously easy QTE. “Voltron: Defender of the Universe” isn’t a complete mess – the visuals are pretty good for an XBLA game and fans will love some of the nostalgic cues, like the narrator who announces, “Voltron will be back after these messages,” whenever you hit the Pause button – but considering its price (800 MS), it’s simply not good enough to warrant a purchase, even for the most diehard fans.


Great gadgets holiday gift guide

USA Today has a great gift guide for gadgets, covering cameras, video cameras and more.