The first rule of writing for a videogame should be “do no harm”. If your writing, characters, dialog, and plot actively make me not want to play, you have done the worst you could possibly do. For instance, the follow-up to Zombie Apocalypse, called Zombie Apocalypse: Never Die Alone, features writing so sophomoric, so unfunny, so stale, so trite, and so unskippable that it all but kills the game underneath. It squats obscenely in front of and often on top of every level. I have seen a lot of awful horror movies, and I have rarely encountered characters so grating that I wanted them to die as quickly as I want the Canadians in Never Die Alone to die. Sorry, Canada, but this Canadian themed game isn’t doing you any favors.

After the jump, does this game really want to hurt me?

But let’s just suck it up and forget about how annoying these people are. The bigger problem is how the game is put together. The basics hew close to the original Zombie Apocalypse: twin-stick shooter, great graphics engine, satisfying gunplay, survivors to rescue, occasional superweapons to pick up, grappling as a last resort, and a scoring system based on racking up crazy multipliers by not taking any damage. Ah, if only Dead Nation on the PS3 were as good an action game as Zombie Apocalypse!

But Never Die Alone adds — wait for it — a drawn-out RPG system. Which might be okay if I could get past the third level where a pair of giant Hulk zombies jump me at the end of the level. At which point my only option is to restart the level, with no progress to show for the time I’ve spent playing. I’ve tried to get past these guys numerous times since the game has been released, both in single-player and multiplayer. I actually got past them once, only to discover it happens again later in the level. So once I lose a few times, it just kills my already waning interest. What’s more, the only way to play is with all four characters at once. All the frantic action of a twin-stick shooter with all the unwieldy party management of an RPG! Never Die Alone is no Left 4 Dead, but not for lack of trying.

When they’re not yapping, I do appreciate how the four characters are distinct. For instance, the priest gets a shotgun and a healing ability, the hot sniper chick builds a turret, the videogame nerd gets an SMG and adrenaline, and the rapper drops a boom box that freezes the zombies. Because, you know, zombies apparently dance when they hear music. And the best part is that the boom box plays Culture Club’s Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? “Hey, what happened to my mix tape?” the rapper complains. However much Konami paid for the rights to that song is money well spent.

And while the moment-to-moment gameplay is mostly solid, Never Die Alone has precious few ways to actually play. If there’s a survival mode, I can’t reach it until I get past the Hulk zombie ambush and whatever horrible obstacles wait beyond that. Maybe the survival mode that made the original Zombie Apocalypse so good is in the DLC Konami is already selling. Whatever the case, Never Die Alone feels like a sloppy, grating, incomplete version of a good game. Zombie Apocalypse was a simple, smooth, inviting twin-stick zombie massacring simulation, fast and easy and perfect in small doses either alone or with friends, locally or online. Never Die Alone is poorly made feature creep.

2 stars
Xbox 360