Robert Kirkman's zombie apocalypse infects Apple's computer tablet in The Walking Dead: Assault (Skybound and Gamagio, reviewed for iPad 2, rated 12+, $2.99).
With no disrespect to Telltale Games' wonderful episodic interactive story tied to Mr. Kirkman's work, this much purer action game dispenses with the angst ridden choices tied to the human drama and sticks to the most important task at hand, strategically killing lots of walkers to survive.
Sure, that takes away most of the macabre charm of Mr. Kirkman's introspective prose in the comic books, but it's a cathartic release for fans that lovingly endure the emotional roller coaster ride on the AMC television show and in the pop art.
This top-down, squad-based shooter tosses a solo player into a very comics authentic, three-dimensional world starring Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes and his not so merry band of humans.
The game's first episode, titled "Days Gone Bye," takes its name and settings from the early story arc of the books and offers eleven chapters (missions) of fun.
A tutorial immediately puts a player in control of a tiny Mr. Grimes (with ten-gallon hat on head) as he walks out of his hospital room, needing to escape the flesh eaters.
He utilizes an axe and pistol along with a handy ability to deliver headshots to the aggressors with his pistol.
Our hero automatically attacks when in range of his foes and collects ammo and supplies (to upgrade attributes), designated as boxes or circular yellow icons during his breakout.
Eventually, a player will get in and out of Atlanta while new familiar companions are unlocked by collecting a certain number of those valuable supplies.
Before each mission, a player selects form a total of four characters to take on a challenge with possible Dead stars such as Lori, Shane, Dale and even the children Carl and Sophia available.
The iPad touch screen offers tight navigation with a swirl of fingers used to look around environments (especially the back alleys), a pinch to zoom and a drag to alter the camera.
Characters move one at a time with taps on the screen and groups can move together with a finger held on an area.
Each hero has weapons to employ against the undead and a special ability that regenerates over time.
For example, Andrea has a rifle and crow bar (easily swapped with the tap of a button), can camouflage her friends to move among walkers (just by standing by them) for a short time and provides a team bonus that let's the group enact their special moves more often.
With a cell-shaded design style ripped from the comic's illustrated pages and artist Charlie Adlard's work, The Walking Dead: Assault is a dreary, atmospheric virtual world of horror often splattered with the blood of the recently killed undead.
Help from a haunting musical score cements the somber mood perfectly.
Bonuses and extras, ranging from comic art to trivia, are rewarded for meeting such requirements as saving other survivors or getting through a chapter without a special move or in under a set amount of time.
However, I never capitalized on finishing missions in so few precious minutes. Mr. Kirkman's world is too cool to appreciate to just speed through the grisly battles.
Another wrinkle to the action involves either avoiding packs of human hunters or deciding to shoot or beat them to death, depending on whether you want their supplies or ammo.
I'll also remind warriors, each mission can be played over and over again to get all of the rewards with a different combination of characters.
The action also really gets tough after chapter five and remember to not always shoot first because, at any time, the noise can attract a herd of zombies that almost guarantees starting over again.
A nice touch also allows the player to set off objects such as a car's alarm or use a horse carcass to lure batches of lurkers into one location for either a quick escape or, much more satisfying massacre.
The Walking Dead: Assault arrives at a ridiculous price and offers a surprisingly complex set of real time strategy scenarios celebrating the goriest moments of the pop culture franchise.
Better yet, it's just a starting point for future downloadable episodes following the comic's timeline ("Fear the Hunters" and "Safety Behind Bars") and teases eventual access to legendary characters such as the Samurai sword wielding Michonne.
Additionally, comic book readers will love the easy access to buy the actual digital versions of the sequential art series from the game. I highly recommend enjoying the trade paperbacks in this format for those wanting to admire the art or having reached the reading glasses phase of their life.
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