I don't know about you, but I love games that let me build and maintain some type of empire. Whether it's a farm, island, city, resort, or even a simple restaurant, I take pleasure in starting an enterprise from scratch, growing it, unlocking items, and completing missions. But as much as I've enjoyed playing these types of games over the years, I've always felt there was one element missing: zombies. Until now, that is.
Meet Zombie Lane for Android (download), a freemium simulator-style game that's part FarmVille (iOS) and part "The Walking Dead." It's got the addictive elements of an empire-building simulator, plus the undead charm of the zombie apocalypse. In other words, it's something of a dream come true for me, minus one major element (I'll get to that later).
In Zombie Lane you are one of a handful of survivors, fending for your life as zombies rip your neighborhood to shreds. Armed with only a shovel and a few shotgun shells to start, your goal is to reunite with your family, keep your home safe, and help out a few fellow survivors along the way.
Similar to many other simulator games, Zombie Lane starts you off with a basic mission: rebuild your home. You have to fix the damages, protect it with fences, clear rubble from around it, and even decorate it. But in order to meet your objectives you need two things: energy and currency. Every action you take uses one unit of energy, with your reserves replenishing automatically as time passes. This means that the game limits how much you can do in a single sitting, which is probably the most frustrating part of Zombie Lane. If you get sick of waiting, you can purchase more energy, but that requires an in-app purchase using real-world money.
Zombie Lane currency comes in the form of coins, dollars, bricks, and chickens. Whenever you kill a zombie or complete a task you are rewarded with some type of currency, which can then be used to buy new weapons, buildings, decorations, fences, or crops. Also, certain levels of currency are required to complete missions, so picking up money should be high on your priority list.
Missions include helping neighbors find lost items, saving them from attacks, or helping them grow crops in their yards. Also, your spouse sometimes barks orders at you through a walkie-talkie (she is missing, and one of your main objectives in the game is to bring her home).
The best thing about Zombie Lane is its level of detail. The animation is cartoonish, though still polished; the weapons vary from silly-looking flaming boxing gloves to realistic assault rifles; and you can even change the attire and physical attributes of your characters. Plus, it looks like the developers are working on expanding the neighborhood to include real-world friends, which would add a stronger social element to the game. Altogether, these details make for a rich gaming experience, with the potential to get even better.
The one thing that really drags this game down, though, is its low stakes. When I first started playing, I was surprised to find out that zombie attacks carry almost no consequences because there's no way to die or even get hurt in the game. See, while the action in most zombie games is propelled by an unnerving fear of being torn to shreds by the undead, Zombie Lane eliminates this fear altogether. So, getting attacked by a zombie doesn't mean certain death as one might expect. Instead, it means a slight inconvenience on your way to planting that flowerbed in front of your home or repairing that fence next to your tool shed. And that's a shame.
As unique and fun as Zombie Lane is, I can't overlook the fact that there is no risk of character death in it. With such low stakes, the game feels a bit empty at times, with more conflict to be desired. That said, I still recommend giving it a try. Building and protecting your property is addicting, and there's something undeniably pleasurable about smacking a zombie with a shovel (whether that zombie is dangerous or not).
Zombie Lane (download) is available now for free on Google Play. But before downloading, be sure you have enough space on your device, as the file is quite large.