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'The Walking Dead: Assault' is a refreshing, complex zombie game

"The Walking Dead: Assault" is a squad-based strategy game for iOS devices that gives you a simple challenge: Kill the undead.

The controls are simple but precise, the graphics are true to the comic book source material, and game play allows for various strategies and tactics. Despite the simple goal, this is a rich experience for strategy fans.

"The Walking Dead: Assault" follows the canon of the comic books, though just barely. There’s no emotionally-stirring monologues or tough decisions to be made like in those other Walking Dead games. In fact, there’s no conversation at all, and the story is largely inferred.

Fans of the comics will be happy to see and unlock familiar faces like Shane and Glenn, just don’t expect the game to unfold in the same manner as the story you already know. "The Walking Dead" IP merely provides a framework for the game, and that’s fine.

For those looking to learn more about this dark world, there’s trivia and art for your iPhone or iPad to be unlocked, and links to buy the iBook versions of volumes 1-16 of the comic book. For everyone else, this is a real-time strategy game about killing zombies, and doing so in a smart, efficient way.

Killing ‘em smartly
Using a touch-screen for complex gaming has always been a struggle for the mobile market, but "The Walking Dead: Assault" keeps responses tight and accurate, so that the touch-screen of your iOS device never feels like a hindrance. Part of the reason for this is that many of the controls are gestures you’re already familiar with; pinch to zoom, swirl two fingers to rotate, drag to shift the camera, and double-tap to move characters.

When you begin, you’ll only have "The Walking Dead" protagonist Rick Grimes as a playable character. As you progress through each chapter you unlock more possible additions to your squad, which can hold four at a time. Each survivor, out of a total cast of nine, has a unique melee weapon, ranged weapon, special move, and team bonus. Rick, for example, has a revolver and a fire axe, while his special move guarantees headshots, and his bonus of leadership makes the rest of your squad more accurate.

Each weapon has a different fire rate and range, and since the game allows you to swap through weapons at will, you can mix and match how you please. You can also move your squad members around individually, which allows you to set up all kinds of combo attacks and traps. It’s surprising that an iOS game can provide this much depth, and it allows for a wide variety of techniques and strategies when dealing with the undead hordes.

In one level, I had Rick, Shane, Glenn, and Andrea set up as my squad. I could see a large group of walkers lying in wait down an alley, but due to the narrow width of the alley, I didn’t want to charge forward. So, I had Glenn stand at the alley entrance, Rick and Shane flanking, with Andrea far back, standing in the street. Andrea uses a long-range rifle, while Shane and Rick both use close/medium range weapons. Glenn does very little damage with either his ranged or melee weapon, but his special move allows him to draw walkers to his location. I activated it, and as the walkers shambled out of the alley, bottlenecked by the narrow space, they were easy prey.

There are 11 chapters available right now, which follow the events of the early comic book issues, as the cast of survivors fight through Atlanta and its outskirts. The game replicates the comic book’s black-and-white look with only a few splotches of red for blood, yellow to highlight supplies, and green to highlight distractions. It’s a visually engaging presentation, but it’s also very helpful for players looking for the next objective in the level.

The only downside is that every level has the same objective: kill all the walkers. If you’ve read, seen, or played anything related to "The Walking Dead," you know that going after walkers is generally avoided, because it’s a bad idea. It may not make much logical sense considering what we know about "The Walking Dead" universe, but when the game throws in faster and tougher walkers, as well as survivors both hostile and friendly, it keeps things interesting. There are also bonus objectives to be met. Again, picking your squad and utilizing their abilities will be crucial to success.

One level starts your squad near several groups of hostile survivors. Your bonus objectives are to complete the level without hurting the hunters and/or to lure walkers into killing the hunters for you. There is a distraction you can activate, though doing so means getting uncomfortably close to the hunters.

After several failed attempts to brute force my way through, I went back and re-selected my squad. This time I included Andrea, since her special move allows her and the group to move about undetected for a short time. I switched on her ability, snuck up to the distraction device, and successfully lured a large enough group of walkers into the hunters’ area. Andrea took a couple hits getting out of that mess - I had figured she would - so before I set out to complete the level, I used Carol’s special ability to heal up.

As you move through the game’s levels and collect supplies, you’ll be able to trade in these stashes for more characters, increased ammo capacity, increased damage, increased health, and decreased cooldown time for special moves. It’s a robust customization system that allows you to play how you want, and it rewards multiple, thorough playthroughs.

The game is incredibly difficult even on normal difficulty, so if you plan on collecting everything, playing every difficulty, fulfilling every challenge, playing smart is a must. It’s wonderful to have a hardcore game released almost as a surprise, and on a mobile platform.

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