Update 2: As of this morning, the developer took to deleting our discussion thread on STEAM. A strange move, considering most reviews have been negative on this game (16% favorable reviews at this time).
Update: This review is based on a pre-release edition. Prior to today’s release, the game received an update. One that corrects some of the aspects discussed in this review. Bolded sections are added impressions following that update.
Sometimes a game looks so stupid, it’s probably loads of fun.
Sometimes it’s just a stupid game.
Enter Zombies on a Plane, a game promising anything but realism, but hoping to deliver waves of absurd entertainment. This new shooter releases today on Steam. Taking cues from the movie Snakes on a Plane, the premise instead replaces killing snakes with zombies (there’s even a character that looks too much like Samuel L. Jackson). The film however soared to cult classic status, but this game has difficulty getting off the runway. What could go wrong with blowing away zombies after the “No Smoking” signs turn on?
Despite an obvious setup that lends itself to nonstop shooting mayhem, Zombies on a Plane is frustrating instead of fun. Who was expecting a long drawn out story, intricate strategic possibilities, or RPG style customizations? No one. If mindless dismemberment and maiming, a la Dead Effect, is all players interested in this genre are looking for. Instead of a fast paced undead shooting gallery, gamers are subjected to repeated exasperating scenarios with little reward.
The main action modes offered are all wave based variations. Defend the Cockpit and Defend Plane, feature rounds of zombie waves attacking sections of the plane. The match ends when either you run out of health, or all plane sections are destroyed. The difference between the two modes is one is played inside the plane, while the other occurs outside on the plane. Combat outside the plane has an unexplained low gravity setting, similar to gun fighting on the moon — and no acknowledgment of the 500 MPH winds that should be blowing everything off its surface.
You start off with a slow firing pistol, progressing towards better weapons based on your score. You do have the option to aim down your sights, increasing accuracy. Zombie legs, arms, and heads can be blown off individually; but the advantage in doing so is not what you’d expect. These undead enemies will stream towards vital airplane parts damaging them a bit per second upon arrival. Shooting them will divert their attention from chewing airplane parts to chewing on you.
Yes, these zombies enjoy chomping on fiberglass, hydraulic gears, and metal rods with their decaying molars (you know, because human flesh is too tough and chewy). This isn’t the only manner in which this game breaks from standard zombie conventions without logic or explanation. Remember how a typical genre zombie dies when their brains are splattered in some fashion? Not these undead frequent flyers. Blow their heads clean off, and they’ll just keep coming for you. How? I have no idea. A side effect of a high altitude air conditions? These headless zombie can still follow you around a cabin, with rows of chairs in the way, without ever losing “sight” of you. As if that’s not ridiculous enough, these limb-challenged beings are still able to clamber over the main body of the plane even on the outside.
I surmise these developers never had to deal with TSA. Air Zombie allows limitless red plaid lumberjacks passengers, each wielding mighty chainsaws. Never mind how they got past the metal detectors, it’s more dumbfounding watching a headless and legless lumberjack wiggling after you, still clutching its chainsaw and attacking. Zombie dogs will apparently escape from their pet carriers and attack, they don’t need heads, limbs, or tails either. Zombie dogs, like zombie passengers, love to eat ailerons and rudders as if it were Kibbles N’ Bits.
Update: With this update the more difficult enemies move slower, and are easier to kill off. They still behave as they did pre-release. However, because they have been toned down, surviving waves has been improved. Thus adding a little more enjoyment to this game.
Another odd enemy is the black woman from the old Tom and Jerry cartoons that spawns regularly. She has boarded these flights 200,000 times. Blow her rollers off, and she’ll keep coming. She’ll require zillions of bullets to take down. Not ridiculous enough? Well then, there are glowing fungus giants who are even worse, have fun with that (but you won’t).
I can understand the reasoning behind a variety of enemies in this wave shooter; you need arcade like elements for variety and challenge. The problem is fighting these implausible creations, is far more annoying than entertaining. The only strategy that would seem viable, early on, is to use the pistol to pop the heads off incoming zombies, make your way towards the parts feasting fiends to draw them off as well. Problem is the headless ones are equipped with Samuel L. Jackson Look-A-Like GPS systems. They will find you, and gnaw on you, with their bloody toothless neck stumps. There’s no health meter, screen just gets redder then you die. Therefore you’ll waste time dispatching “stumpies” before focusing on the airplane parts, in most cases.
Animations are horrible. Zombies move as if they snacked on cocaine and espresso ice cream before popping through the airlocks. I imagine the swaying movements are intended to make shooting their heads challenging. Wait … shooting them in the heads doesn’t matter, so why bother with skill shots?
There’s a combo system that grants bonuses, but to be honest, I never quite figured out how that combo system worked. It is based on kills, but taking damage does not wipe the combo meter. Each shot does not have to be a kill shot to keep the combo going either. It maybe based on killing your next zombie within a certain time limit, which can be difficult if you are using the initial pistol. Even with the speed, damage, and trap bonuses the combo meter grants there are too many bullet sponges to make combat effective or logical for players.
Update: With the release day update, enemies are felled with a little more ease. Allowing for a more sustained combo system. Ammo also lasts longer, and the game feels much more balanced than before. It is also noteworthy that proper explanations have been added to all the game mode menus, eliminating guesswork.
Once your score reaches a certain level you’ll unlock a more powerful weapon. Before you bust out the confetti and noisemakers, the joy of firing faster, or with more damage, is short lived. Ammo is not limitless, so enjoy the better weapons while you can.
Expect to make it to one of the later waves, with far more powerful zombies, and then find yourself with the starting pistol in no time due to lack of ammo drops. Which will in turn make the combo meter very difficult to boost on a map full of Mammy Two Shoes and Lumberjack Joes.
Between waves you can repair parts, and one of the combo bonus levels repairs all parts in an instant. You can even repair parts, if you’re quick enough, while the wave is going on. You would think this would offer a minor strategic component, but it’s wiped by the ridiculous enemy antics.
The third mode is called Survive the Horde, and it is the same idea as the first two, sans the stupid airplane parts gnawing. I actually enjoyed this mode the most. Which isn’t saying much. This mode is rated by how long you can stay alive. Most of my sprees came to end when I accidentally backed into an open exit door. Still it’s the only mode that even resembles what this game should have been: mindless shooting fun.
There are also a few modes included that allow you to fly the plane. In one, by jerking your plane around you must shake zombies off the plane before they can gnaw it to bits. As they destroy sections of the plane, it becomes harder to fly. This mode is plagued by horrendous flying controls, both with keyboard and mouse and a controllers. Controller mapping is poorly implemented, more like a lazy afterthought than a bonafide tested and included item. Maneuvering the plane and positioning the camera is frustrating beyond belief. But if you want more controller based torture please feel free to try out Free Flight.
Update: Flying mode controls much better. Use any 360-style controller and take the skies. There are more explanations and prompts that help you knock zombies off your plane parts. For example, rolling loops will knock zombies off your wings. Intense swoops towards land and jamming your pitch back will knock them off your tail. I found the flight modes MUCH more playable, and entertaining. If the FPS portion has you bogged down, the flying mayhem is a very nice change of pace.
If it wasn’t for Survive the Horde, I would score this FAA tragedy a 2 out of 10. However I scored it as a below average game not only for that mode, but also because I believe it still holds promise. Refinements to a few keys areas and this game is transformed into the kind of stupid-fun cult classic I believe most were hoping for. Animation work would be the biggest area of concern, it would complement the otherwise decent graphics on display everywhere else. Second a, better balance between defending the plane and blasting zombies. And last, killing these ridiculous monsters should be satisfying to gamers in some way; turning off the ultimate seeking AI would be a start. Here’s a title I would love to re-evaluate should it be updated and improved, but as it stands I have a hard time recommending this to any gamer — save those that just really need to shoot things on/in a plane.
Final Comment: All of the puzzling zombie behaviors and gameplay trappings remain after the update. I have to admit the game is far more playable than before. The flight modes in particular off promise alongside Survive the Horde. I am still not a fan of this game’s animations, and limbless attacking zombies. This is now a more entertainment budget title, and average wave shooter. I see it appealing to FPS fans looking for a silly fix, and further wanting to buzz cruise ships and ocean waves in zombie covered airplanes for quick stress relief. There is still much room for improvement, but I am raising the score for this game.