You Should Play: Zombie Gunship

[These days, keeping up with games can be a full-time job. So how do you separate the signal from the noise, the wheat from the chaff, the Temple Runs from the Temple Jumps? Allow us to help by regularly selecting a game You Should Play.]

I’m not going to lie to you: Whenever I get a press release in my inbox alerting me to the existence of yet another zombie-themed game, I really begin to envy the undead. Slap a zombie into a game, some app makers seem to think, and it saves you the hassle of having to come up with compelling gameplay or even an original idea. It’s enough to make a man flee to the relatively innovative genre of Angry Birds knockoffs.

Which is not to say that all zombie-themed games are cut from the same tattered cloth. The ones that stand out from the lurching crowd put their own unique spin on the concept, throw in features that encourage replayability, and embrace the conceits of the zombie genre for all that they’re worth. Few games execute this formula better than Limbic Software’s Zombie Gunship.

The basic gameplay of Zombie Gunship remains the same—kill zombies and rescue humans—but developer Limbic Software has added new terrains and in-game objectives to unlock.

Thanks to a series of updates, Zombie Gunship is a very different game from the version I reviewed for Macworld nearly a year ago—though it remains as outstanding as ever. Back then, Zombie Gunship put you in the gunner’s seat of an airborne AC-130 aircraft, as you scanned a barren after-scape on the hunt for zombies. A trio of different caliber weapons lets you blast the zombies to kingdom come, but be careful—the landscape is also dotted with survivors of the zombie apocalypse fleeing to the safety of a nearby bunker. Rack up too much collateral damage—or allow the zombies to reach the bunker—and your mission comes to an end.

Subsequent updates released since that early review have added a couple new landscapes to Zombie Gunship. In one, you’re protecting a power station from the marauding zombie hordes; in another, the battle shifts to a housing tract overrun by zombies. Even with the new terrain, the basic gameplay remains the same: You earn coins for killing zombies and rescuing humans, which you can then use to upgrade your flying fortress. (You can also buy coins via in-app purchase, but where’s the challenge in that? At least, unlike many games these days, Zombie Gunship never forces you into parting with any money after your initial download.)

Complete these objectives, and you can bolster your rank, which increases the amount of coins you earn for slaughtering zombies.

One of the most recent updates to the game added a new element—in-game achievements that, when unlocked, help you reach a new military rank. That, in turn, boosts your score multiplier, allowing you to earn even more coins from your zombie slaughtering. It’s just another reason to give Zombie Gunship a fresh look if you haven’t played it in a while—or, if you’ve never played it before, to discover it for the first time.

Here’s a few other things iOS gamers will appreciate about Zombie Gunship:

Atmosphere: Limbic Software has done a masterful job of recreating the claustrophobic look-and-feel of a good monster movie. Instead of flashy graphics, the developer has opted for a striking monochromatic look. There’s no distracting background music—just the roar of your plane’s engines, the occasional crackle of the radio, and the frequent report of your assorted weapons. It’s a very immersive experience: On occasion, when a voice on the other end of the radio yells at me for inadvertently shooting a civilian, I’ll yell right back.

Controls: The control scheme in Zombie Gunship is as uncluttered as the game’s graphical look. Tapping in the upper righthand corner of the screen lets you toggle between weapons; tap a fire button in the bottom left to unleash hell. Use your finger to pan around the landscape to find more zombies in need of a blasting. Whether you’re playing the game on an iPad or on the smaller screen of an iPhone, it’s easy to get up to speed rather quickly.

Use the coins you earn to upgrade your weapons … but which upgrades should you make?

Strategy: In Zombie Gunship, it’s not just a matter of blasting away at anything that moves—there are all those civilians you’re trying not to wound, remember? You also have to come up with some sort of attack plan. While the game gives you unlimited ammo, your gatling gun can overheat if you fire indiscriminately and your larger-caliber weapons take time to reload, so you’ve got to pick your moments for unleashing the howitzer. Even upgrading your weaponry requires some strategic thinking—do you want to increase the range of your arsenal, bolster your radar, or beef up your bunker defenses?

Challenges: Killing zombies is certainly fun, but even that loses its luster in time. That’s why Zombie Gunship’s new in-game achievements are such a welcome addition: They breathe new life into the game. Instead of the same old mission of shooting zombies and ushering civilians to safety, I can concentrate on individual challenges like sniping a certain number of zombies or firing off a set number of 40mm rounds. It keeps things fresh—which is something one can’t often say about zombies.

Developer: Limbic Software
Platform: iOS
Price: $2

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