The tale of Zombies at the Gates starts out with a pretty simple scenario: the kingdom is dealing with an economic issue, times are hard, and money is rare. So when a gold coin rolls into a fountain, it is not surprising that the King goes after it. And with that, goes the adage of why people and deep wells never mix. The king topples all the way to the bottom and is knocked unconscious for the night. When he wakes up the following morning, then climbs up the well and back to his castle –only to find his lands now overrun by zombies!
There is literally no back story as to why the zombies are rising from their graves –they just are, and it is up to you to guide the king to safety. The game starts out with the king armed with nothing but a small twig and a powerful foot stomp. From there, you must slowly drive away the zombies, gather resources and re-build your castle to its full fighting potential.
The castle in the center of the map is more than just a giant background object, it is actually a very important war asset. The castle’s ramparts are armed with powerful crossbows that will shoot at nearby zombies, the upper deck holds a balloon that promises a safe exit away from the chaos, and of course, the stone walls prevent any zombies from getting inside. But for the castle to be functional, you need to be productive in gathering resources. Each rock, chest, crate, and breakable object hides a stash of goodies. These can be exp stars, gold coins, or just raw material. All of these will be used by the King at the end of each round.
The whole point of the game is to survive wave after wave of zombies. Each wave allows you to store all the resources you gathered and purchase upgrades. Dying in the middle of a wave will force you to restart the wave without saving any of the resources you have gathered since the start of that specific wave. This means that farming the waves for coins is not an option!
It is pretty rare for us to encounter a browser based game that has so much focus on play skills. Normally, the challenge curve is based on the fact that players have to invest time and effort in order to gather the necessary resources to gain skills and upgrades that would improve their gameplay. With Zombies at the Gates, the upgrades take a back seat to player skill. There is an emphasis on being able to kill zombies, gather resources, and still manage to survive long enough without getting bitten more than twice in a single wave.
It is not a simple challenge, and some players may feel frustrated at having to repeat waves over and over again with no hope of gaining more coins or stars. That being said, this is not a game for the everyday casual player. If you just wanted something fun and easy, you will definitely want to pass this up. On the other hand, if the vanilla browser games are starting to bore you and you would want to step up your game to something that feels a little more hardcore, then Zombies at the Gates is perfect for you.
The game is played in a simple side scrolling two-dimensional environment. Players move around the game using the WASD or cursor controls (though only left and right movement matters), and the attacks are mapped to L and K or Z and X (depending on which movement controls you use). This button configuration is the default setting and you can switch from left-handed to right-handed mode anytime. We really appreciate the versatility and the accessibility of the of the control system –no need to toggle any options, they are available right from the start of the game.
Combat is a simple matter of whacking enemies with a short range melee weapon or shooting them with an arrow from long range. The challenge is that you have no mid-range attacks. If the enemy is too close, you can only hit them with the melee weapon. If the enemy is far, you can use the arrow. But as the enemy is charging at you, it is likely that your arrows will just fly past them so better keep that finger on the melee button ready.
Aside from using your weapons, the king also has a special ability at his disposal: a powerful foot stomp that will automatically stun any enemies nearby. This ability has a cooldown bar that consumes half a charge each time you use the skill (so with a full bar, you can do the stomp twice). The stomp has plenty of uses –aside from crowd control. The stun ability allows you to keep the last zombie at bay –which means that you get to farm the map for crates as much as you want.
The only thing you might want to tinker around with is the graphic quality settings –particularly if you are playing on a low end device. The game is a bit of a resource hog, so if you are playing on a netbook, setting the quality to medium or even low might be a necessity. That being said, the game is pretty darn good to look at.
The visuals as pretty well made and all the elements are detailed nicely. The sprites for the king, the zombies, different weapons, stage items, breakable objects, and interactive stage content are all nicely made. The art is clean and rendered with a slightly muted finish, giving the game a very fresh atmosphere with its soft and bright colors.
The music is a also worth putting on headphones for –the tunes match the game’s pace and action and the sound effects help give more life to the content on screen. Speaking of life, the animations for this game are incredibly well made. The king’s attacks, the way different zombies move, and even the way the sheep run across the field are all distinct and unique. The animation certainly provides an additional layer of variety to the many zombies you encounter and more important, helps improve the immersive qualities of the game.
It may seem like an odd thing, but when resources are scarce and every coin counts, those coins are precious! This concept of resource gathering is what makes Zombies at the Gates a really interesting game for us. While it is far too common in upgrade-style games to get players all pent up on collecting shiny coins, it is an imperative objective in Zombies at the Gates. The thing that the game never really tells you is that you need to get as much money as you can from each wave before you finish it. Therefore, if you can smash every single crate before killing that last zombie, then you would maximize the coins and resources that you have earned.
The reason for this is that each new wave is stronger than the last and if you have earned a small amount of coins, then you will be ill-equipped for dealing with stronger waves. It actually takes plenty of skill and effort to whittle down the zombies down to the last zombie standing. But if you can, then your efforts will be rewarded by having access to better weapons.
It is not common for a browser game to be so challenge inclined, or more importantly, potentially frustrating. We already expect a lot of players to shy away from this one, and several others to actually want the added challenge. Granted that doing things over and over can get repetitive and boring - the difficulty of dealing with zombies while trying to acquire resources will certainly keep you on your toes for most of the game. With its efficient controls, challenging gameplay, great graphics, and lovable music, Ridlake's Zombies at the Gates is certainly a surprise hit for us.