It's been a little while since I picked up a twin-stick shooter. It's a genre I'm rather fond of but, with big RPGS and AAA titles taking up all my time lately, I just haven't had the opportunity to squeeze one in. Until "Splatter: Zombiecalypse Now" came up for review that is… It's a visceral and gory top-down shooter, featuring zombies and a film noir-style story, so I just knew I had to try it out!
The story starts with our character Max quarantined in his home, something we're all familiar with in the current climate until a soldier appears at his door. Their squad has been going from home to home, checking that every resident has been evacuated, and are a little surprised to see Max still around. They quickly tell him to come with them, which Max does, just as a horde of undead appear and start shambling towards his home. But obviously, these walking lumps of dead flesh are no match for members of the US army. After a brief firefight, they quickly take Max to the nearest checkpoint where, after handing him a basic pistol, point him toward the safest route out of the city and go about their duty to search for other survivors. We quickly discover that "safest" is a relative term, however. The world has gone to hell, with the entire country in chaos as the undead run rampant.
Max isn't the type of guy to just go hide though, now he knows how bad things are and having nothing better to do, he decides to sort things out and heads off to save humanity. Now I don't want to get too into the story for spoiler reasons, it's pretty standard fare for the most part anyways but would like to point out that it has a strange tone to it that I can't quite pin down. You see Max is…well Max is strange. He's rather obviously based on Max Payne but I can't quite tell if it's a serious portrayal of a rough-round-the-edges no-nonsense character who knows how capable he is, or if he's a parody of an edgelord having a power fantasy and who only thinks he's cool. Max is a leather trench coat-wearing, stubble-on-the-chin-having type of character, who sports a black fedora that is, of course, tilted at what he probably thinks is a rakish angle. He even has a voice actor that's doing a growling whispery sort of Clint Eastwood in " The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" impression during cutscenes. Back in the late 90s or early 00s this type of character was cool, Max Payne and the Matrix being the epitome of the look, but now in 2024 it feels like he should be searching for "m'lady" while hugging a dakimakura and wielding a katana. He is played 100% seriously though, always thinks he's the guy to solve the problem and has no doubt he can handle anything. And he's right. He can. He effortlessly goes on his journey, winning all the way. But the character still feels like it's a self-insert power fantasy from some edgelord and, while it's possible that memes have ruined the character style for me, I just couldn't quite shake that feeling. To be fair though, I think this game originally came out almost ten years ago in 2014, and the trope of the anime lovin', fedora, and trenchcoat-wearing edgelord maybe wasn't as strong then. It's entirely possible the creators were intending this character to be genuinely cool but I just keep thinking he was a loser and waiting for everyone to realize it. They never did though.
The story isn't particularly deep, it's the usual "survivors trying to hold onto civilization" story but does have some nice ideas throughout. Humanity seems to have pulled together for the most part, with most people willing to help you unconditionally just because you're alive, which was nice but also includes elements that didn't make sense like money still being important. So it's a mixed bag but also easily ignorable being, for the most part, nothing more than bookends for the individual chapters of gameplay. So let's get to that, eh?
Gameplay wise what we get is a pretty straightforward twin-stick shooter. Most of your time is spent moving through various locations, exploring, and shooting up huge swarms of zombies, monsters, and mutants. The top-down view allows you to see all around you, in every direction, but this might not be enough. The environments can be dark, especially in the cramped confines of the many locations you'll come across, but this also allows the torch to really shine (pun intended) as a useful object with light and dark being used to great effect. Many times I approached the door of a building, which was pitch black inside, only for it to be slowly illuminated as its beam of light pierced the darkness when I entered. Using the torch is vital too as many enemies are conveniently placed to be hard to see. Zombies hide behind crates and furniture, giant leaping frog monsters crouch in corners and behind doors, while others will rush you the second you're spotted. It's easy to get surrounded, as rooms can be packed with brain-eating undead but luckily you have a small but effective group of weapons to deal with them. You start with a pistol which, although weak, has unlimited ammo and can carry you far if used to deal with small groups. Shotguns, Assault rifles, grenade launchers, and more all get added as you go through, giving more powerful options to deal with the hordes. Ammo for these is limited however and must be collected from around the environment.
However, guns aren't your only means of defense. Quite early in the game, Max will discover a weakness of the mutant infection: bright light. You can throw flares into crowds of enemies, causing them to panic and either cower in pain or retreat altogether. Carefully throwing them in front of you in a corridor can block the entire group of approaching zombies, allowing you to take them out while they can't get close. On later levels, you'll discover towers with lamps set up by survivors and can use these islands of safety to move through the pitch black forest trails. You might even come across enemies that require these lights to be dealt with in any meaningful way at all, bringing a little bit of tactics into play. You'll ration your dwindling UV flare supply so you can create makeshift tunnels of light through areas covered in otherwise invincible flesh-eating worms. Guns feel fun to use and aiming with the twin-stick controls works really well. I never felt like I was being hindered by difficult aiming or that I kept missing. The very mild auto-aim is just enough to be effective but not too much that shooting becomes brainless. You still need to adjust tiny amounts by strafing left/right or moving the stick position but I found it had a nice balance between no help at all and a bit too much. One exception to this though? Weapons that fly through the air, like the flares you can throw or the grenades from the launcher you'll pick up. These took a little more skill to use as they are flung upwards in an arc and can easily sail over the heads of enemies, landing behind them or in the middle of large swarms. They can also bounce off targets and return back towards you which, while realistic, can make things difficult in the middle of combat. I had occasions where I wanted to launch flares into the distance, only for them to bounce off an invincible worm and come land directly at my feet instead. Even worse when it happens to a grenade you've fired. Once you get the hang of the arc, it does have its uses, but I did find it screwed me over a few times. Max also moves slow and has no dodge, so an explosive landing at your feet can easily spell disaster.
Now while combat is important, and you'll be doing a lot of that, there's also some exploring to be done too. Each level has several secret locations, a certain amount of cash, and perhaps even a hidden piece of a very special weapon to find as well. As you explore you'll also realize that many items in the environment are capable of being destroyed. Shooting out doors and windows of buildings can allow you to see inside otherwise dark locations, which is useful to make sure you aren't walking into a horde of ravenous undead. Once inside locations though, you'll find that many decorative environmental objects can also be destroyed. Desks, TVs, racks of clothes, shelves stacked with food, crates, barrels, and more can block your vision, allowing mutants to hide behind them or even worse can block your rapid retreat when a horde attacks, so blowing them away with your weapon becomes second nature. By doing so you'll uncover the fact that many contain collectible items hidden within. Money is most common but bullets, flares, shells, and more all can be hidden too. You might even come across a switch or two that allows access to hidden rooms containing sweet rewards.
Looks wise you might find "Splatter: Zombiecalypse Now" a mixed bag but it has a style of its own that I rather liked. You won't be singing its praises to all that will listen, it is a small indie game that was originally released in 2014 after all, but it's got some atmosphere. The attractive use of light and shadow is definitely of note, and I quite liked the look of the zombies and mutants. They look…sort of "clay-like" is how I'd put it. They kinda reminded me of the old-fashioned claymation you'd see in the movies your dad would watch on a Sunday afternoon. It's not the most amazing-looking game but the style works to its advantage. For instance, there are large jumping frog enemies spread around and, when sitting still, they can barely be told apart from the bushes, barrels, and other junk that litters areas. This applies to most Zombies too, many times when standing still you won't even realize they're an enemy till they suddenly run towards you. It's especially effective when in a dark area and you're having to use your torch beam to sweep the environment. It's so easy to overlook a nasty hiding in a corner and it really adds to the atmosphere. What I most liked though was the way enemies explode into surprisingly chunky and bloody bits. Heads, arms, legs, and guts go flying when an enemy is jibbed leaving pints of blood all over the place. Enemy parts and blood stay after death too so a battle with a huge group can leave the floor strewn with crimson liquid and lumps of flesh. It's satisfying with even the normal handgun but really fun as hell with the shotgun, machine gun, and more. Watching enemies explode, like a pinata filled with spaghetti hoops, never gets old and great care has been taken to render them effectively. Although kinda basic looking in some areas, it still has an aesthetic that's fun to play through. The main story campaign takes around 4-6 hours to run through, slightly more on higher difficulty, but there are also a few extras modes like survival and a couch co-op death match. These additional modes are barely extras though so consider the main campaign as "the game".
So ultimately what we have here is a fun little twin-stick shooter. A story told through a slide show of film noir images tells a fairly typical zombie survival tale, although it does have a more humanitarian bent to it with humans seemingly much more likely to cooperate than you usually find in the genre. Max himself is a strange bag, part Max Payne homage, and part fedora-sporting edgelord, but has a heroic streak that keeps him on the right side of likable. Huge hordes of enemies, of which there's a good variety, explode satisfyingly when shot with the small but effective arsenal of weapons at your disposal. Combat is the focus but each level has a certain amount of money, secrets, and weapon upgrades to find, giving more to do than simply blasting away at hordes of mutates. Great use of light and shadow marks exploration dangerous though as enemies can hide in dark places, waiting till you get close or your light beam falls upon them. It's one twin-stick shooter fans might find some diversion in, although short it's satisfying and fun to play. While not up there with the best of the genre, it's a nice little experience to pass a few hours with.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 7/10
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