It does not matter if you are a fan of the Walking Dead series or not, all that matters is that you have a craving for killing zombies and a penchant for a bit of top-down strategic shooting action –because this is exactly what the Walking Dead: Assault provides. Despite the series’ storyline driven material, the key focus of Assault is in the action. You move around trigger diversions, shoot zombies, collect resources, and most importantly, survive. The game is a little forgiving for the first couple of stages, slowly showing all players the ropes and what to do. But by the third stage, any player without enough sense to read the tutorials will find themselves faced with incredibly difficult odds that pretty much sets the pace of the game: mess around and you will die.
Zombies in the Spotlight
There is no doubt that the Walking Dead is one of the most famous zombie series to hit mass media as of late. Indeed, it has not been since Romero’s Night of the Living Dead that we have seen such a massive interest of the return of these ghastly flesh eating ghouls to the spotlight. Sure, the zombie fever has been rising for a while now (even before Walking Dead TV series became a cult hit), but it was only until AMC decided to pick up a TV pitch from Frank Darabont did the undead go from niche to mass market. Based on the visceral and gritty post-zombie-apocalypse comics of Kirkman, Moore, and Adlard, the TV show quickly garnered fans (and elevated all the existing comic followers to hipster stardom with their foreknowledge of the series). The comic series however, was not forgotten. If anything, the publication has increased readership, and the best video games based on the Walking Dead take their material from the comics, not the TV show.
Cel Shaded Awesomeness
So why explain all that backstory behind the relationship of the comics and the TV show? Because it sets the foundation for one of the Assault’s best features: the amazingly good graphics. Cel shaded dual tone characters provide a stark contrast to the musty gray and red shades of the backgrounds. Splashes of other colors also scatter across the screen as well –the color of abandoned cars, the foliage left to grow with abandon, and of course, the splatters of dried blood that still look as crimson as the day it gushed out of an unfortunate soul’s vein.
The comics are primarily in black and white, which serves as the basis for the two-tone character portraits and models. The true-to-book approach is effective in delivering a visual imagery that is both highly detailed and game-interface friendly, but also manages to set the mood and tone of the scenario. Colors alone do not define the eye-candy however. The details that have been laid out in every part of the game’s map feels as if it were a dramatic panel taken straight from the comics. Even the pop-out visuals alerting you to the approach of walkers possess a real sense of imminent danger.
Normally, seeing the onomatopoeic words popping out on screen would be something made for comedy. But in this case, every “click”, “swish”, and “bang” is as serious as dismembering a trapped arm when a horde approaches. Every animated frame of the game is so well composed that one would certainly not expect this much exquisite goodness to be present in an app game.
While the graphics are certainly taking the limelight, the sounds will push you deeper into the horror and gore filled experience. The dull hollow footsteps of the zombies as they shuffle around remind you that danger is always just beyond the corner. Of course, the signature groans of these undead creatures will keep you all tense and jumpy throughout each of the stages. The music does take a back seat to everything else, but its presence is what makes the entire game a cohesive experience.
A Touch of Danger
As a tablet game, Walking Dead Assault is as easy as pie with controls. Tap twice to tell your selected character to move to a spot. Hold down on the location and your entire team will move together. The top left button lets you toggle between characters (really useful when you have split them up so widely that they are offscreen from your key location), and the panels on the left side will trigger character special abilities (and also keep track of cooldown). The camera is adjusted by using multitouch –pan the camera by dragging with two fingers, twist them to rotate, and use pinch to zoom in and out. You can adjust the camera angle at any time (though it will jump to focus on whichever character you select from the top left).
What makes this game difficult is not the controls –thankfully, but the vast number of zombies that are present in each map. Sure, it is easy to build up your character stats and start rampaging on the zombies like there is no tomorrow, but that is never a true option. The zombies are pretty much countless, and starting a huge one-sided firefight is more than enough to call attention to yourself and your team. Much the comics and the TV series, cunning is the most important skill you will need to survive. Better just take down a few zombies, get all the supplies and finish your objective. Rather than charging in with guns blazing only to end up summoning a giant horde of zombies breathing down your neck at every turn.
Plenty of Content
As fun as the game is, the players who would enjoy assault the most are going to be the fans. Various key characters appear from the comics –naturally, since you will be controlling Rick and the other survivors, most of the lead cast is present. But there will also be plenty of cameos from the comics as well. Michonne has recently been added to the game –you can add her to the party for the cost of 200 supply credits.
Supply credits are the key form of currency in the game. While it does not affect the storyline, collecting plenty will certainly make your gameplay a whole lot easier. Aside from getting new characters, the credits can be used to purchase party-affecting passive abilities. These will seem insignificant at first, but as you keep playing the game, the effects of additional damage, more ammunition, higher health, and other skills will come in really handy.
Completionists and trophy seekers will enjoy the fact that this game has full support for the Apple game center; you will be awarded with both game center points as well as additional in-game rewards for clearing various objectives that include anything from unlocking characters, killing a certain number of zombies, accumulating enough credits, and other similar feats. It is not that hard to complete them all, but it will certainly take quite a bit of time and effort.
Should You Pay More?
The fact that you have already paid for this app means that you have already done your part in terms of supporting the developers –ergo, buying the extra game credits using real cash will be a matter of leisure. Those of you who are simply playing this game for the fan-based experience may find the long and slow grind for resources to be a tad bit tedious. In that case, getting a small bundle of credits to unlock many characters and get some good stats is not a bad idea. Those of you who are veterans of hardcore gaming on the other hand, are better off putting aside your iTunes budgets (maybe for the five Walking Dead game episodes instead). Or better yet, just save all your cash for when the next two major releases of Assault. The game currently takes players all the way to the start of the prison story arc. To play that, you will have to wait for it to be released and it will most likely be a new purchase.
Regardless of your leanings in the whole zombie thing, Skybound LLC has produced a game that is fun on so many levels it is hard to not appreciate it. You are going to get great graphics, responsive controls, an impressive story backdrop (though the actual storyline is in bits and pieces that are hard to follow), and of course, tons of zombies to shoot. The gameplay is streamlined and for the most part, addictive; though the overall game design has been tweaked to encourage players to buy credits with real cash (it is a cheap tactic, but it works). The bottom line: this game is a definitive must-buy. No confirmation yet on when (or even if) it will ever go on sale, but once you have the extra credits to acquire it, The Walking Dead: Assault is one app purchase that you certainly will not regret. We give this game a pistol whipping survivalist’s 92/100
We can’t wait to see what Skyline have to in store for us in Walking Dead Assault 2.