If you’ve indulged in Halfbrick’s rather excellent endless runner, Jetpack Joyride, you’ll be familiar with the mildly sociopathic “hero” Barry Steakfries. Modelled on Duke Nukem and Serious Sam, and with a voice like a tweenage Sylvester Stallone, Steakfries seems to exist purely to shoot stuff in the face and spread destruction wherever he goes. In Jetpack Joyride, his misappropriation of an experimental personal jetpack leads to the deaths of several hundred random scientists, a faux pas he appears to be atoning for by saving the world in Age of Zombies.
This isometric twin-stick shooter begins with an evil scientist using a time machine to unleash a zombie plague throughout history. His reasoning, however, remains a mystery, when Steakfries cuts short his villainous expository monologue by unloading a shotgun into his face and leaping headlong into the time portal.
Barry Steakfries is a badass; this fact is never up for dispute, but he’s that special kind of dumb badass, like Ash in Army of Darkness or Matt Hazard, who equates said badassery with how many things he can explode in a given day. As a result, he translates perfectly into a twin-stick shooter where your only objective is to re-kill masses and masses of zombie scum while shouting one-liners.
Unfortunately, what should be a recipe for hilarity often leaves a bad taste as the writing is simply atrocious. The one-liners don’t work, the supposed jokes fall flat and most attempts at humour are thwarted by iffy context and occasional moments of borderline racist ignorance. As with Duke Nukem, Steakfries is over-written as a schmuck rather than a loose cannon, and his misfiring attempts at comedy serve no other purpose than to pull your eyes away from the action to read them – which usually gets you killed. There are a few moments here and there that will make you smile, usually when he slurs the odd exclamation in his Sly Stallone voice, but the “dialogue” would have been better left out.
Unlike Jetpack Joyride or even Halfbrick’s other recent successful venture, Fruit Ninja, Age of Zombies doesn’t offer much incentive to keep playing it. There are no collectibles, no costumes or upgrades for Barry and no store to purchase anything with either in-game credits or real-life wonga. Sadly, this fact severely hamstrings the lifespan, and gives you no reason to go back through levels other than to improve on your high score. If this were still a five-minutes-a-time mobile game, that would be fine, but porting it to the Vita should have encouraged Halfbrick to add some extra content and make it worthy of the platform.
While you’ll predominantly use a pistol, various weapon and equipment drops in each level mix up the action. You’ll find all sorts of goodies from hoverboards and flamethrowers to bazookas and heavy duty buzz-saws, all of which burn out pretty fast in the frantic, manic action. The minute-to-minute gameplay is exhilarating enough, as you’re constantly on the move to avoid being totally overwhelmed by the horde. The zombies themselves adapt to the time period you’re in (of which there are six), but there’s not much variety in their attacks or behaviour.
Graphically speaking, Age of Zombies is quite pretty. The compact environments follow their own rules, and each area is colourful and distinct. It’s never hard to follow the on-screen action, and the score multipliers and special kill announcements gel perfectly with the overall feel. The music is a tad irritating, but without it Age of Zombies seems eerily devoid of atmosphere.
VERDICT: With 18 levels to blast your way through, all set in different periods of history (the 1930s, ancient Egypt and the Old West, to name a few), there’s enough variety to keep the aesthetics feeling fresh, but not enough content to encourage replays. Barry Steakfries treads the fine line between professional badass and total knobhead, and veers too often into the latter territory, but he’s a perfect fit for the kind of bombastic, throwaway entertainment that Age of Zombies offers. Ultimately, Halfbrick’s latest isn’t bad for a few quid, but it’s hardly a triumph for the ages.
DECENT. A 6/10 indicates that, while this game could be much better, it still has a fair amount to offer the player. It might be an interesting title sabotaged by its own ambition, or a game denied greater praise by some questionable design choices. Don’t avoid it outright, but approach it with caution.
Review code provided by publisher.