Reviews: Atom Zombie Smasher

"Make me proud... El Presidente."

You play the commander of Nuevos Aires Orbital Command, last line of defense for a South American city-state besieged by the living dead. At its most basic level, the game is a light RTS with elements of tower defense games: your main objective isn't to destroy Zed, but to airlift as many civilians as you can out of the infected zones. To this end, you'll be equipped with such toys as mercenary squads, artillery, landmines, chemical lures, and several flavors of superweapon. They're randomly assigned each round, though, so don't get too attached to any of them.

Every civilian you rescue counts as a point towards your side, while each one of them infected is a point for Zed. Heavily infected zones will offer bonuses for rescues, but the permanent quarantine that comes when the last Zed in a territory falls provides a major incentive to play quickly and brutally. You never get a chance to catch your breath, the tension building as Zed spreads faster and faster across the map, until it dawns on you: you're not supposed to beat Zed. You're supposed to drag the fight on as long as you can before losing.

Bleak as the game sounds, it's got a bright sense of humor to keep you from getting overwhelmed. Beach rock, 1950s style, plays over each rescue; people are reduced to cheerfully blinking pixels from your birds-eye view; the game's most powerful weapon is named "the Llama Bomb," probably because it is a bomb made from llamas. And while there are bits and pieces of a plot in the "Vignettes," optional comic book-style cutscenes that pop up every few missions, they are there for the most part to inject another layer of absurdity to the mix. It's ridiculous to the extreme, but it works: no other game will make you giggle at the zombie apocalypse.

The key to winning Atom Zombie Smasher is to understand that it is hard. On your first game, you will lose badly. On your second game, you will lose, but not by an overwhelming margin. By your third game, you'll see choke points instinctively. You'll know where to place your units, and when to use them, for maximum potential. You'll be willing to leave a few yellow dots behind as bait for the purple dots. You will not simply win: you'll send Zed back to the grave he crawled out of. And that's when you'll turn on some mutators, looking for a real challenge.