All Zombies Must Die is the other sequel to a very good twin-stick shooter about killing zombies that jumps genres and aggressively shoves bad writing in your face. But unlike the similarly misguided Zombie Apocalypse: Never Die Alone, this one from the developers of Burn Zombie Burn has its gameplay smarts still intact.

After the jump, JAFZG?

All Zombies Must Die makes a terrible first impression. It makes a terrible last impression. It’s got no shortage of grinding small areas when you’re in that stretch between the first and last impressions. It’s also got some truly awful writing that thinks it’s funny that it’s truly awful. That’s not how it works, guys. Pointing out that something is awful doesn’t make it less awful. The better approach is to make it less awful in the first place or, failing that, hope no one notices. Pointing and laughing as if you meant to do that doesn’t help.

But at its core, All Zombies Must Die is basically the same smart twin-stick shooter as Burn Zombies Burn, but this time with a modest RPG system where an open-ended play-forever high-score system used to be. Whereas Burn Zombie Burn was based on setting zombies on fire for a score multiplier, All Zombies Must Die is based on using elemental effects that tie into a loot drop system. You basically harvest zombies by electrifying, irradiating, deafening, and — of course — burning them to make them drop what you need.

The action really comes alive when you’re trying to accomplish mini-objectives to travel somewhere, or to build something, or both. Maybe you’re venturing out to the bridge with a flamethrower to collect a barrel of toxic waste so you can build a sludge gun. Or you’re trapped in the mall where you went to find a boom box to make a sonic katana, but now you can’t get out until you kill 15 zombified SWAT officers. Or you’re just doing a quick massacre to get your characters to the next level. These situations give developer Doublesix’s smart twin-stick shooter gameplay context beyond “get a high score”. These are classic zombie survival situations, powered by great level design, a spread of useful weapons, and more zombies that you can shake a burning stick at. Just because it’s got the same playful look as Lucasarts’ classic Zombies Ate My Neighbors doesn’t mean it’s not serious stuff!

But in the end, it feels disappointingly slight, partly for the writing, partly for all the repetition, partly for the weirdly useless local multiplayer, and mostly for the smallness of it, hemmed in as it is by doors for the inevitable DLC. Suddenly it’s over and you’re left to grind if you’re so inclined. I guess there’s no reason to expect anything much bigger than, say, Costume Quest. But it’s almost as if Doublesix has created an ambitious zombie apocalypse survival game and then cut it down to fit inside a shoebox.

3 stars
Xbox 360