Make them bleed, over and over again.
Being a humongous fan of the Metal Slug series I was mesmerized by the gameplay Apocalypse Max promised: a combination of Metal Slug, and zombies couldn’t go wrong. Playing the tutorial was as usual a pain in the behind having to go through yet another boot camp. Once over, and I got to fight zombies spawning from the ground this sensation of waiting for something to get going ensued. It never went away during the first worlds, and when the game came to an end I was left feeling quite puzzled. What had happened? For one I had managed to complete a game that resembles Metal Slug in a couple of hours. Given how many hours I have spent dying like a feeble pile of poo on various devices this felt like a pushover.
The name Apocalypse Max sounds really promising, and I was expecting to have a pulse of a sprinter with a serious heart condition. Nope, the hardest parts of the game turned out to be the jumping between barrels. The zombies are generally pushovers, and I kept running into the same ones on all levels. Sure new enemies are introduced for every world: such as the zombie piranhas jumping out of the sludge, vultures dropping rotten eggs and zombie marines with spastic aim. The same basic zombie kept coming as well, and just got slightly harder all the while.
Most levels can be blazed through at a sprint with the occasional jump to get past zombies, or reach some chests. Killing zombies, and opening chests give you money. This can be spent buying new ranged weapons, and ammo. The weapons can also be upgraded in the store. I found that the basic knife is quite overpowered during the first half of the game, and you don’t have to fire a single bullet if you want to conserve ammo. Furthermore I found that once I had gotten myself a pretty shotgun there were some collision detection issues making me vulnerable, and hence I went back to slashing most enemies with the knife. An enemy standing right in front of you can’t be hit with the ranged weapons if too close, and the same goes for the chests that have to be slashed to break open.
The controls aren’t my best friends in Apocalypse Max. The movement arrows work well, but everything I have to handle with my right hand makes the game quite a hassle to play. Throwing grenades, firing, and jumping using the on screen buttons are fine. In combination with the swipe to slash however I found myself having to choose either a melee, or ranged/grenade approach. If I had the option to use a button for melee as well it would have been chosen right away. Now jumping, shooting a vulture midair and landing with a slashing move sure sounds cool. In reality however it might turn into a jump, shooting a zombie on the ground and then slashing thin air. The auto aim of the ranged weapon often leads to the flying enemies having the time of their death bombarding me while I am shooting through a zombie that are too close to kill with the pistol.
Huge bosses, cool vehicles and massive incoming enemy fire are not to be found here at all. None of that, instead you get zombies spawning from the ground without any reason. Even standing on a platform without any dirt the zombies keep spawning. Sure it is easy to just slash them, but it makes the game feel more about patience getting good scores than actually being good at it. There is only a few enemies throwing knives, or shooting at you making dodging redundant.
Where Apocalypse Max excels however is in the graphics department. Everything looks polished, and even though the zombies are limited to a number of looks each of their respective deaths are cool. Slicing a fat zombie in half watching the top half sliding off is just plain fun. Shooting the rooting flesh off the zombie piranha is another highlight for me. The scenery is well drawn, and I especially enjoy the swamp and cemetery levels with their fog and ooze. It might actually be worth getting Apocalypse Max for the presentation alone if you are a fan of Metal Slug, and zombies.
Apocalypse Max is not the action shooter I had hoped for, and only the presentation really shines. Where it matters most the game is a bit shallow, and disappointing. The level design is too simple, and the enemies are too easy to avoid and kill. Overall it feels like if you took the first level out of a Metal Slug game, and then stretched it out as a standalone title. Apocalypse Max is still a cool shooter for those looking to just run about slashing zombies for a couple of hours.