STAFF REVIEW of ZAMB! Redux (Xbox One)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018.
by Adam Dileva

ZAMB! Redux Box art There’s no shortage of tower defense games available, so to stand out amongst the crowd you need to do something different or unique to catch those who enjoy the genre's attention. Sometimes this involves a specific gameplay mechanic, or in the case of Zamb! Redux, mashing up two genres together, specifically Tower Defense and Twin Stick Shooters. It’s true, this combination has been done before, but is there enough uniqueness and fun within to make a worthwhile purchase? Kind of...

Originally released on PC back in 2014 as Zamb! Biomutant Extermination, improvements have been made, rebalancing has been done, and of course, it has been brought for a new audience, those who play their games on console. The game is an interesting mashup that includes local couch co-op, a necessity if you want to have any longevity with its mediocre gameplay.

The game's heroes, Cye and Chrome, are tasked with taking down an evil genius’ biomutants. I’d like to report more about the story but that’s really the only framework given. We don’t learn anything more about the characters or enemy, and while a strong narrative would have been appreciated, there usually isn’t strong ones included for this genre; case in point.

Gameplay is pretty basic, as you control one character while a friend can locally control the other, or if you don't have a friend over, then the AI will control the other. You use your weapons to shoot, or punch through, waves of enemies while also building turrets and using special abilities for maximum damage. Waves of enemies will pour out along set paths after hacking into one of the placed reactors. Killing enemies levels you up, earning you skill points for upgrades that I’ll delve into shortly.

More importantly, mixing and matching combos and elements will cause massive damage, coming in handy when things become a little hectic. This comes in handy as enemies will drop gems quicker, which in turn can be used to build your turrets or use your special abilities, depending on whom you’re playing as and prefer. Each reactor will set off a handful of waves, becoming marginally more difficult each time, and you win the match by activating all reactors and killing every enemy before moving onto the next, and ever so slightly, different map and going through the same motions all over again.

If enemies manage to destroy all reactors, or kill both of your team members, then you lose the match and must restart. The difficulty is set fairly low, so don’t expect much punishment aside from some dullness. When playing alone, you’re able to swap between Cye and Chrome on the fly should you want to swap for their abilities. Obviously playing co-op would make this much easier, as your AI partner will simply follow you around and attack whatever is in its vicinity, as you’re unable to send them to guard or attack specific points separately.

Levels are setup almost like an arena, with the reactors placed in specific spots and the enemy spawning nearby. Unfortunately there is not much variation in the levels, as nothing, other than the boss fights, stood out from one another. Most stages will have barrels littered around that can also be thrown for massive damage, though as I found out the hard way, you can instantly kill yourself and partner if you are too close to the explosion. Because of the lack of stage variety, once you find a strategy that works, you can essentially do the same thing throughout your whole campaign. That being said, there are bonus objectives to strive for should you desire to work towards more stars.

Cye is a brawler who can use his fist-like swords to get up and close with the enemies. Chrome on the other hand, uses a blaster from afar, so they both play fundamentally different. Cye uses the collected gems to activate one time use abilities, like lightning sparks or setting traps, whereas Chrome uses the collected currency for placing turrets of many different types. Cye has to get close, so will usually take more damage, but he doesn’t feel all that much more powerful, whereas Chrome shoots for practically no damage but moves equally as slow.

Given that turrets will last permanently, as long as they aren’t destroyed (and they don’t have much health), I found they were a much better overall investment since you’re constantly struggling for gems to craft more turrets or use special powers. There’s a whole combo system in place to do big damage to enemies, but I found it was hard to time these correctly, and only a handful of enemies really require it in the later stages.

You’re only able to bring 3 types of turrets and abilities into each stage attempt, and you’ll have plenty to choose from as you unlock more. There are numerous types of turrets, from standard firepower to freeze rays, poison, healing and more, so there’s a healthy amount to cater to your specific playstyle or preferences. I do wish that turret placements had more strategy associated with them though, as I’ve tried to setup a tactical placement of turrets, only to have it not really matter much in the end. There are a few spots where, if a turret is placed, it will get a bonus to its range, damage or life, but these specified spots aren’t usually ideal.

Earning skill points from leveling up will allow you to spend them however you choose. You can upgrade each power a variety of different ways, or even the life, range or damage output of every single turret you’ve currently unlocked. While I did like this addition, it feels like quite a grind if you really want to max out all your abilities and turrets.

Graphically speaking, the game's visuals are passable. You'll find that the art style has a comic book vibe to it. Sometimes the camera is a little frustrating, hiding you behind a pillar or object, but the levels are so small that it won’t matter too much in the end. The audio is nothing special to write about either, as it’s just some bland beat looped indefinitely.

There’s a few boss stages that change things up, which I enjoyed, but they were too far and few between the monotony of the regular stages that have little variety. While I did like the leveling system, and being able to improve each type of ability and turret in many ways, it will take some serious grinding to upgrade everything, which normally wouldn’t be much of an issue if the core gameplay is fun and made you want to continue playing.

In my opinion, the regular $20 price tag is simply too high, and would still be a hard sell at about half of that. Given the lack of stage variety and basic gameplay, it’s mediocre at best, borderline boring at times, slightly improved if you have a partner to play with at home. It really comes down to if you want to play a new tower defense game, and if you do, enter into this one with caution.

Overall: 4.8 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 5.0 / 10
Sound: 4.0 / 10


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