Describing a game like Atom Zombie Smasher is no simple task. It isn't strictly a strategy game, and calling it a tower defense game doesn't do it justice. The easiest way to describe Atom Zombie Smasher may be to say it's a hybrid of several genres that come together to make an extremely enjoyable experience. AZS takes parts from tower defense, real time strategy and even borrows some pieces from board games to make a fantastically simple yet addictively fun game.
The premise of AZS is as simplistic as the gameplay; you are pitted against a horde of zombies, or as the game refers to them, Zed. These Zed are attacking various locations in a figurative South American country and you as the benevolent overlord are tasked with rescuing citizens. The main objective of the game is for you to rescue as many citizens as possible all the while destroying the zombie infection. Each level has a minimum amount of citizens you must rescue and for each additional person, bonus points are added to your score. These points are all part of a larger metagame wherein based on the game length (short, normal or extended) you race against the zombie horde to achieve the winning number of points.
Before entering each individual level, you are displayed with a map akin to a Risk board (the popular board game). Each territory on the board is assigned a number which represents the difficulty and number of Zeds found within. A level 1 outbreak is a cake walk whereas a level 4 outbreak requires you to strategically use the appropriate loadout to dispatch of the enemy. Before entering each level you are given a preselected loadout which includes your rescue helicopter and a combination of various other units and weapons. Some loadouts will equip you with a canon that rains down artillery on zombies. Other loadouts will equip you with roadblocks to help redirect zombies or proximity mines that only Zeds can trip.
Upon entering each level, you are presented with a top down view of city populated with buildings and roads. The zombies enter from various roads on the sides of the map and the citizens you are attempting to rescue are spread out throughout the city streets. Once you select where to place your various units and devices, your helicopter's horn will alert nearby citizens who will then run towards rescue. A large part of the game is herding these citizens towards rescue and using your weapons and defensive tools to create barriers or kill the advancing Zed. Each level also has a specified time of daylight, and if you haven't rescued all the citizen or killed all the zombies on the map come nightfall, the city is overrun.
After each level you are given points based on your results and how many scientists (citizens which are uniquely identified by being blue) you've rescued to help upgrade these tools you have in your loadout. These upgrades range from upgrading the speed your rescue helicopter arrives to shortening the reload time of your canon. Also, if you've rescued enough scientists, a llama bomb which can clear entire sections of the map that are infected can be purchased.
Upon successfully completing each level the territory is then cleared and becomes part of the safe zone. These territories play a large part in the scoring mechanic, as each safe territory nets you more points in the overall game. Conversely, each area still infected by zombies is worth points for the Zed's overall score. This mechanic introduces a game within the game wherein you must plot out what territory makes most sense to attack. If you have the appropriate load out, attacking a level 4 may be prudent, but if all you have is a helicopter and some roadblocks, a level 1 is ideal. Adding to the challenge, after each level you complete, the Zed infection will spread. If you have left several infected areas still connected, the Zed will spread and upgrade the infection level on neighboring territories. These various mechanics make for many different angles and ways to tackle the game and also introduces elements from numerous genres.
Overall Atom Zombie Smasher isn't flashy. The graphics won't amaze you and the zombies and citizens are nothing more than colored cubes on a map. What AZS lacks in flash though is made up in the immense amount of fun you will have playing. This game is the perfect embodiment of what makes games entertaining and addictive. It also proves to us gamers that you do not need a huge development budget and fancy graphics to create an enthralling experience. This also highlights the sad part about games such as Atom Zombie Smasher. As they are indie games, they do not receive nearly as much hype as they deserve. Luckily, AZS has been well publicized for an indie game, including being featured as one of the top 10 indie games at PAX Prime. AZS is a perfect example of why we as gamers need to support smaller developers who release these great titles.
Atom Zombie Smashers is an addictive experience that is approachable by almost any type of gamer. It is perfectly suited for a quick play session, but don't be surprised if you pop your head up an hour later only to realize you've lost yourself playing this engrossing experience. AZS is a gem of an indie game and if you're a fan of either strategy, tower defense or board games, you would do well to invest in this inexpensive, yet amazingly fun title.