Icebreaker: Zombies

I’ve never really liked zombies in games. I’ve spoken of this before. They usually strike me as more annoying than scary. The zombie pyramids in Icebreaker are no exception to this, although for completely different reasons than in most games. My problem with the typical zombie is mainly aesthetic: they’re unpleasant to look at, in the same way as skin diseases, and the usual zombie moan is designed to grate on the ear. Of course, the degree of irritation varies from game to game. In general, it seems like the games that want their zombies to actually be scary try to achieve it by simply turning the irritation up, while games that treat them abstractly or humorously can stylize it away. And zombies don’t get much more stylized than the ones in Icebreaker.

No, the annoying thing about zombie pyramids is their effect on gameplay. Consider first the way that they can respawn underfoot. The chief effect this has is that when you’re standing still to blast something repeatedly — a stone pyramid, say — you might have to suddenly and unexpectedly abandon what you’re doing, move over a bit, and blast the freshly-spawned zombie before going back to what you’re doing. All other Seekers give you a little bit of tactical room to maneuver when they chase you, but zombies can effectively just say “stop what you’re doing for a few seconds right now or die”. Add to this the fact that zombies take three hits to kill, which tends to increase the amount of time that you spend standing still and blasting stuff, which tends to increase the probability of the above happening.

Also, there’s a strong bond between zombies and swamps. Swamp tiles seem to be the only places where zombies will spawn, so any level with zombies will have a lot of them. The other particular property of swamps is that they slow you down when you go through them. They don’t slow the zombies down, though, so you really want to stay on normal ground as much as possible, to preserve your speed advantage. But you don’t always have that choice; where there’s swamp, there will probably be large areas of swamp, with pyramids in the middle.

In short, zombie levels give you the three conjoined annoyances of slow movement, slow killing, and periodic but unpredictable interruption in your pursuit of goals. These all have the same effect on gameplay: slowing it down. And that’s what I find annoying.

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