I'll let the developers' own captions do most of the talking.
I should probably preface this review by saying I am a weak proponent of touch controls. Give me a controller to interact with my video games. At least then I can count on the precision expected of plastic peripherals. That said, Apocalypse Max’s ability to make me forget I’m playing on an iPad speaks volumes about its polish and interface.
The action originates from source material that many gamers abhor. This hand-drawn, 2D side-scroller reeks of Metal-Slug-meets-zombies inspiration. The undead infect the App Store as they would any real human populace, yet Apocalypse Max represents the foolhardy hero that charms his way into the survivors’ hearts, ushering in new hope in the face of the repellent plague (that plague being zombie games in general).
Part of Max’s appeal identifies with the ease that he navigates the environments. Be it swamps, sewers, cemeteries, or forests, Max commands his maze of surroundings with lethality, while the game works to remove touch control frustrations common to most iOS releases by auto-targeting enemies. As the last man on Hellthroat Island, the journey is one of escape. All you need to do is point left or right, fire, then occasionally double jump.
The animated art wouldn't be complete without verbal sound effects.
That simplicity translates into the routine weapon variety. Besides the instant-kill knife and screen-clearing grenades, Max carries a pistol, assault rifle, submachine gun, shotgun, grenade launcher, and pulse rifle. Weapon upgrades make Max’s course to “cure” the outbreak more forgiving. You’ll need those enhancements if you hope to overcome the elite zombie horde, and the knowledge to use them in the right situation. For example, the shotgun pierces multiple bodies in close range, but the damage diminishes at greater distances, as does the pellet spread. At first, only the standard shambling undead rise from their eternal slumber. That changes once these walking corpses start throwing kitchen cleavers, spewing noxious acid, or returning sporadic rifle fire. Even the animals hunger for a bite of Max, from piranhas to vultures.
Each level rewards players with a high score to best on eventual returns to the putrid locales, but the gameplay means to steer survivors towards in-game microtransactions. The zombies cough up an abundance of gold to be spent on weapon upgrades, though you only receive additional moneys for return playthroughs if you collect more currency than on previous runs. That dwindling cash flow begins to affect the number of augments and ammo mags you can afford. In the meantime, your virtual coin purse waits to be replenished through the exchange of physical dollars.
That setback does not apply to munitions gathered. You’ll need to replay several levels to prepare for the final boss, who eats bullets, well, like a boss. Simply reaching his sanctuary is no mean feat. Quicksand slows Max’s movements, while rows of spikes, sewage lakes, and electrified floors zombify him instantly, regardless of the reserve health packs stashed in his inventory (Max does consume a health pack automatically should his meter reach zero otherwise). During the longer stretches between checkpoints, panic sets in when simply walking into a spike results in a game over.
Zombie vultures love to drop exploding eggs.
The levels pace the increase in challenge, even if the touch controls were not meant for the more taxing platform sequences. The close proximity of the arrow keys may lead players to accidentally tap the left arrow when they wished to jump right, and there’s no option to space the movement buttons a few extra centimeters apart despite the iPad’s larger real estate.
None of the microtransactions or platforming errors detract from the presentation. Hellthroat Island may not be the ideal military getaway, but its levels and backgrounds contribute to the grotesque beauty. The developers also ripped Max’s movements straight from Metal Slug – that is, they’re shockingly smooth. Similarly, zombie types may attack in the same manner, yet their appearances differ based on the environment They even look good when Max splits their torsos from head to groin after a double-jump slash, or severs their bodies at the waist, spilling their entrails across the stage.
Although Apocalypse Max can be completed in a two-hour span, assuming the final boss doesn’t exhaust one’s ammo cache, $2.99 nets players a grade of polish that may as well cost five times more. This bargain side-scroller incorporates saturated source material without solely relying on its zombies to sell the fun. For a game with a subtitle of “Better Dead Than Undead,” the unparalleled touch controls and vibrant animated visuals breathe fresh life into this portable apocalypse.
Developer: Wandake Game Studios
Release Date: September 14, 2012
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign)
Platforms: iPad (Reviewed), iPhone