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There is nothing more played out than the zombie genre. No matter what take you have on the concept, unless it is something interesting as let’s say The Last of Us, I feel like I have seen it all. The formulaic and cliche patterns play out the same, no matter what the medium is. So when Dustoff Z came across my table, I thought it could be an interesting take on the genre. What I walked away with wasn’t a vast level of enjoyment. I wasn’t enthralled by what I played, and just like the survivors in any zombie movie, I found the foreboding experience draining.
Dustoff Z is a simple game in every facet with basic controls, simple gameplay mechanics, and graphics that don’t make the game stand out or draw you in. The overall design feels cheap, and produces an aura faintly similar to mobile games. That being said, I reviewed this game on PC, and upon learning about its mobile launch, I question why a console release was even considered in the first place. I don’t feel that ultimately effects my perspective on this title as no matter what platform it is on, it’s still a rather dull experience; but at least I have an explanation why. Nothing about this game feels necessarily rewarding, and there is nothing making you stick around besides pure addiction to what little gameplay offers or having to write a review.
You take the role of a police helicopter pilot whose ride gets destroyed by the zombies. Quickly, you come across a group of survivors who band together and take on the zombie threat. As a new member of this militia, you must manage your vehicle’s health, gas levels, and ammunition as you complete various missions. That is really the basic explanation of how the game persists. It’s nothing to really write home about, and there is barely anything to critique in this area due to its simplicity. It’s like trying to review water. This is where simplicity begins to teeter off into more obscure and maddening concepts.
Graphically, Dustoff Z is as dull as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or a plain knish. The polygon based models are simple, and not overly flashy. They don’t necessarily need to be either, as the game has you flying by levels so quickly that you barely have a moment to take in what is around you. The fact that this was developed with mobile in mind shows through. After several moments, you get bored of it all, and not even the basic color palettes can save your waning interests. The color variety is messy when more than a handful of zombies are on screen, and after several moments of this, your mind begins to melt as the colors swiftly blur together. It attempts to rely on the retro concept, which is fine. If it was more than this, it would give the impression that it excelled beyond the basic style of gameplay.
The game handles on a two-dimensional plane, allowing you to go left, right, up, and down. When you travel left or right, the helicopter begins to ascend up, and not pressing a direction allows it to descend. This makes it particularly difficult when you are trying to avoid level elements that move. I lost many lives attempting to pass a shipping container that moved up and down, because I couldn’t keep myself from slamming into it due to my vehicle ascending into the container. Times such as those, I find the suspension of disbelief to be shattered, as I have known helicopters to go around things. The nonsensical approach to the world continues its insane direction as you navigate a series of crumbled buildings, electrical wires, and noxious nuclear reactors.
Zombies will throw themselves at you, lunging towards your helicopter in an attempt to drag it down into the horde that awaits you below. Missions usually consist of escorting a convoy, saving people who are trapped, and fighting back the hordes of zombies which becomes more tedious as time goes on. Various safe areas exist in each level, providing you with a place to rest and reload between the hordes of zombies, thus assisting you in completing the levels.
The helicopter isn’t the only tool at your disposal, as your helicopter can be outfitted with an array of deadly weaponry. This ranges from gunners to mini-guns that will shoot the zombies while you fly about completing objectives. The problem is, you cannot determine where the gunners shoot. You press a button and they just fire on anything they deem fit. If there is nothing to fire at, they will just shoot into the air, consuming precious ammo. It makes sense because, once again, this was developed for mobile platform and poorly ported without any care for the overall experience.
You also have to equip the gunners to either the left or right side of your helicopter, which causes more issues than solves. You could have a machine gunner on one side, and a sniper on the other; but there are situations where both of them will unload their ammo even when only one of them can hit a target. Many times I was left with the slow sniper hitting an enemy, while my machine gunner just shot into the distance, without a single care in the world. Does this make positioning a priority and something to think about? Absolutely, but it’s boring, and doesn’t make for a fun mechanic as you are also trying to juggle three core objectives.
Keeping with the cliché mobile game theme, completing a level grants you a 0 to 3 star ranking. Each star gives you a resource used to help upgrade your helicopter or gunners. Some of the more sought after resources are locked behind that three star ranking, making you run through levels as fast as you can in order to properly upgrade your equipment. If you miss the objective to complete a mission within a certain time frame, then you might as well just start over until you nail it. This adds a level of monotony while once again throwing me back to the “mobile game” status I alluded to earlier.
As I said before, you get to upgrade your helicopter to hold more ammo, enhance speed, and increase armor. There are hard caps to each of these, meaning eventually you will move onto the next makeshift helicopter. Each helicopter seems to be an improvement on the one you currently are using. Once you reach a certain level, you can then use the in-game currency to buy the helicopter. This is another area where I step outside the box and question why you need to pay survivors to make a helicopter for you when survival is solely based on you completing these missions.
Gunners can also be upgraded, allowing you to increase their accuracy, damage, and fire rate. As you upgrade them, their blocky appearance changes, giving you a sense of progression in the gunners. For instance, one gunner went from green to desert camouflage. It didn’t particularly excite me, but it did make me appreciate the effort.
Despite the controls and basic systems not landing for me, I found myself chuckling at many aspects of this title. For instance, there is a moment where I am flying above a playground, and the zombies are playing on the swings and hanging from the monkey-bars. As soon as I get within their range, they begin to lambast me with lawn chairs and debris. Dialog and other worldly elements are direct references to major cult classic zombie movies. It feels like a love letter to the zombie genre, and this is where the heart and soul of these developers can clearly be seen. The surrealist approach to a serious situation pays off well, and it is something I greatly appreciate.
Dustoff Z is not the worst game I have ever played, Bullet Witch still holds that crown, but it’s damn close. The odd choice in porting this over to PC and consoles, as well as the accompanied the lazy control design, leaves more to be desired. And the “daily” mission objectives is not enough to keep me coming back. This is purely a one-and-done experience if you decide to jump in. In the US, the game retails for $14.99 (on consoles) and I think that is a rather steep price for this type of experience. I find this to be a difficult game for me to recommend, but if you are bored and you don’t mind the buy-in, you might have around two hours of fun.