What really keeps you coming back to Flotilla, though, is the space combat. The first time you get into a fight in Flotilla, you’re overwhelmed. You’re basically playing an RTS in a fully 3D space, and it’s really hard to figure out how to move and use your ships effectively to take someone out. It takes a kind of thinking that I, at least, had never really experienced before in a game. It’s really cool.
However, there is an optimal strategy to the combat, and you soon find it, and then Flotilla becomes much less fun. Until that point, though, it’s great.
I told you that story to tell you this one: Atom Zombie Smasher does not have those problems. In fact, as much as I hold Flotilla close in my heart, Atom Zombie Smasher is probably a better game. It’s a game that’s constantly forcing you to make hard decisions, much like you would, in theory, be making during a zombie apocalypse of some sort if you were in charge. Most importantly, though, the strategy is much deeper, even with so few pieces. I’ve played enough games of Atom Zombie Smasher to feel like I have a real good grip on what I should be using all my various units for, and how to maximize their effectiveness, and I still constantly run into missions where I am flummoxed about what to do in order to be successful and have to change up my strategy.
Atom Zombie Smasher basically has two modes. The first is a view of the country you’re controlling, with everything broken up into sections. You have a base on the left side which gives you points every turn on a victory bar at the bottom. However, all across the country, zombie outbreaks occur, and at the end of every turn, each outbreak still in play gives the zombies victory points. Each turn you’re tasked with picking one outbreak area to send a rescue or assault team into to either rescue a certain number of civilians, or destroy all the zombies. There is always more than one outbreak: it’s impossible to get it totally contained. Instead, it’s a race for the most points on the victory bar.
The second mode is a top-down view of a cityscape, with zombies and civilians represented by little cubes moving about the map. You place troops in strategic locations so that civilians can get to your rescue helicopter uninfected and you can keep the zombies away long enough so that you can airlift them all out, getting victory points for each civilian you rescue. Alternatively, you can, instead, try to kill all the zombies before nightfall, taking over the area and making a new base on the map which will give you points every turn.
The genius thing about this game, though, is how it restricts what units you can use. Eventually, you have a lot of units on hand: a sniper unit that shoots from rooftops, an artillery unit that mortars an area you mark, land-mine layers, zombie bait layers, remote controlled explosives, barricades to block off streets, and a good old fashioned ground unit that can run around and shoot zombies around it. However, you can only take four units, and your rescue helicopter, in on any mission, and it randomly picks those for you, saying the other three units need a break.
This is where the hard decisions come in. You know what four units you have before you pick what area to roll into. Sure, you may really need to take out that Level 4 Infection area, but can you do it with a roadblock crew, one-time-use timed explosives and mines, and zombie bait? Maybe you’d be better off settling for an easier mission. But those harder missions raise the victory points of the zombies quickly, so you don’t always have the luxury of ignoring them. You can’t just see if you can complete the mission and back out if you can’t either. While you can retry a mission an infinite number of times, you’re stuck in it until you complete it or you surrender, basically wasting a turn and ruining your chances of victory. You’re always having to make a judgment call on what can I do versus what do I need to do. That’s awesome.
Of course, this is just with the game on default settings. There are tons of built-in modifiers that let you play the game as you like, such as Chooser, which lets you always pick what units are in your team, Triplets, which gives you three copies of each type of unit instead of just one of each, and Alternate Zombie Placement, which starts the zombies in the center of the mission maps, instead of along the outside. You can make the game extra easy or extra hard, if you want. It’s nice to be able to get frustrated at a game, start a new one on Casual with extra troops that I get to choose for each mission, and steamroll the AI. Well, I find that fun, anyway.
Even if you’re using the in-game cheats, though, the strategy of the missions continues to be varied and interesting. Every map is different, and each presents unique, but beatable challenges. You always have to think about your strategy. I like that.
- Released: January, 2011
- System: PC
- Publisher: Blendo Games