by Michael Stallworth
reviewed on PC
Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks
By and large, modern gaming trends have moved away from the longform RTS games. While titles such as Starcraft and the Total War series have maintained a loyal fan base; the general trend in strategy games has been moving towards shorter, more intense bursts of gameplay offered by tower defense games. Zombie City Defense 2 attempts to find a middle ground between the longform, base-building style of strategy games and the more contemporary, action-oriented strategy games. Developer Mozg Labs manages to pull off this strategy-hybrid fairly well, delivering gameplay that is intense while still satisfying that unit management itch. Unfortunately, Zombie City Defense 2’s short playtime and lack of gameplay depth keep it from being an excellent strategy experience.
In Zombie City Defense 2, the earth has been devastated by a virus that turns infected humans into ravenous zombies. Players take on the role of the commander of the Iron Corps, which are the last line of defense between the remnants of civilization and the hordes of the infected. Players take on the role of the commander of the Iron Corps, who overlooks the battlefield from an aerial drone. The game begins with a short tutorial, and I want to emphasize “short” because I found it woefully insufficient in explaining various gameplay mechanics. This barebones tutorial isn’t helped by the fact that English is clearly not a first language for the developers, as the tutorials and menus are littered with spelling and grammatical errors which only adds to the confusion.
Two Sides to the Same Coin
Zombie City Defense 2’s gameplay can be broken down into two basic parts. The first part is the base-building aspect, which consists of building up units and defenses around your base. The players is given a lot of options in how they want to set up their specific defense, with 15 unique types of infantry squads and 17 vehicles and turrets. Each unit specializes in a different type of combat and are most effective when placed in their ideal environment (for example sniper squads are best at high elevations to maximize their range). Zombies also come in a variety of different classes such as tanks, sprinters, etc, which require you to have a complementary unit to most efficiently repel those enemies. The game encourages, and even requires you to experiment with different troop combinations, since each type has a limit on the number of units that can be present on the map at any one time. This combination of mechanics means that you can never rely on just one or a few types of units; the game requires players to use every type of unit at their disposal.
The production of these units requires the collection of resources, which come in the form of raw materials and civilians, who are needed to fill the ranks of your growing army. Gathering resources in Zombie City Defense 2 is one of the biggest things that distinguishes it from other RTS titles. Instead of ferrying low-level units between your base and a resource patch, resources can only be found within the buildings that are scattered around the map. Collecting resources from these buildings requires the dispatching of scouts to explore and occupy these buildings. Once a building is occupied by a squad, the resources within that building will steadily stream into your base’s resource pool. However, any building that a squad can access can also be attacked by zombies, making it advantageous to fortify an occupied building to protect both the occupying squad and the resources within. This method of resource collection is Zombie City Defense 2’s greatest contribution to the strategy genre; the mechanic turns resource collection, which in most strategy games is almost entirely passive into a very active part of the gameplay that requires actual strategy. Harvesting resources is always a risk; scout squads are expensive, especially early on in a level, and losing one at an inopportune moment can leave you stranded without a steady income of resources. On the other hand, while scout squads are the fastest infantry unit, they’re also amongst the weakest when it comes to combat; this combined with their relatively high expense means that your base will be woefully under-defended in the event of an attack. This mechanic not only makes gathering resources feel like actual gameplay, it feels organic within the game’s story.
A Wide Ocean That’s Ankle Deep
Despite starting out very strong, flaws start to reveal themselves towards the end of the game. To even label them as flaws feels like a misnomer, because Zombie City Defense 2 doesn’t do anything wrong in the later stages of the game, it just doesn’t do anything new. After the first few campaign missions establish the general gameplay loop, nothing new is really introduced into the game beyond unlocking more powerful units and abilities such as air strikes. This combined with a lack of multiplayer or even a single player skirmish mode means that, after beating the 15 or so campaign missions, Zombie City Defense 2 doesn’t have anything to offer in terms of replay value.
Almost But Not Quite…
Zombie City Defense 2 is a great attempt to bridge the gap between hardcore real-time strategy games and more casual tower defense games. The intense, combat focused gameplay combined with the revolutionary resource harvesting mechanic make this a game that would entertain both RTS veterans and newcomers alike. Unfortunately, its relatively short playtime and lack of gameplay growth in the latter parts of the campaign keep it from being a “must have” game for strategy fans.
Fun, Intense Combat, Excellent Resource Harvesting Mechanic
Lack of Gameplay Depth, Short Play Time, Little Replay Value