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Containment: The Zombie Puzzler (PC) artwork

Containment: The Zombie Puzzler (PC) review

"Zombies are commonly associated with shooters. Most of us would not expect a puzzle game to successfully incorporate the undead without the result feeling like a real stretch. Containment: The Zombie Puzzler manages to do just that, though, all while holding your attention with a light storyline full of surprisingly effective character clichés, not to mention new gameplay elements that are introduced with each successive chapter."

Zombies are commonly associated with shooters. Most of us would not expect a puzzle game to successfully incorporate the undead without the result feeling like a real stretch. Containment: The Zombie Puzzler manages to do just that, though, all while holding your attention with a light storyline full of surprisingly effective character clichés, not to mention new gameplay elements that are introduced with each successive chapter.

The game introduces you to a group of survivors, all of which are represented using an assortment of colors. Police are shown in the classic blue shirt and navy hat, the military in olive drab green BDU's, doctors in purple scrubs, and street punks are decked out in orange tank tops and mohawks. The survivors are similar to the gems in Bejeweled, and this game also shares the top-down prospective familiar from match-3 puzzle games. However, the player’s goal is a little bit different. Instead of lining up three of your pieces (or in this case, characters), the goal is to position four members from any one of your stereotypical horror groups to the top, bottom, left, and right sides of a zombie. Positioning the members of your group in that manner prompts the characters to all shoot or hit the zombie at once (the precise action depends on your group type), which kills and removes all involved parties from your board.

The process works differently than it would in Bejeweled, since each move you make is not required to lead to cleared characters. As a result, you’re able to focus on chaining your kills. Attempting larger chains can very easily backfire, though, because the flesh-eating creatures will take a bite out of a surrounding character as you make moves. Over time, this can lead to more zombies that must be eliminated, and it lowers your chances of overall success.

There will be times when you will find yourself with an especially large grouping of zombies, which you can address using various items that range from the realistic to the abstract. All the weapons can inflict harm on both zombies and survivors, so you need to be careful where you deploy them. New items are added to your inventory when you manage combos, and you can have up to three items immediately available at any given time, with others available for pick up at the bottom of the screen.

Grenades and fire bombs affect characters in a small radius, while items such as the air strike and lightning rods affect an entire row. Careful placement is important. You might kill off a number of survivors you were relying on for an eventual chain combo, or you might produce a bunch of new survivors who slide in to replace any who were sacrificed. Given the array of killing items available, it’s surprising to see a lack of real defense items. Only the hazmat suit might be classified as defensive, since it essentially turns three survivors into wild cards. You can take advantage of that sort of ability in a wide variety of situations, but it is best saved up for moments when you’re running low on matching survivors.

As you obtain items from the streets, be sure to save them for encounters with the enemies you’ll eventually meet that are more fearsome than just simple zombies. Your travels through town will eventually lead to a few uncommon creatures, one of which is a super zombie. These beefed up zombies react more quickly than normal zombies, attacking and infecting survivors more quickly. This can quickly turn the tides of the game, and you'll find yourself without a means to escape if you’re not careful. Fortunately, the process for eliminating super zombies isn’t especially complicated; just surround him with survivors as you would a normal zombie, which turns him into a standard zombie, then repeat the process again to eliminate him altogether.

Another variety of zombie (and one that the player should worry more about seeing) is one you probably would not have expected: a zombie wizard. That type of zombie has the power to create a protective barrier around itself and adjacent zombies, including any nearby super zombies. You must surround each shielded zombie once to remove the shield, and a second time to eliminate it (or in the case of the super zombie, a third time). If you don't make dealing with the wizard zombies a priority, you may well find yourself retrying the stage. You’ll want to save your items and weapons for such instnaces in order to keep the scales tilted more or less in your favor

The story, as unattached from the gameplay as it is, can be quite enjoyable. As you complete each board, the camera moves through the city to show the widespread destruction as text summarizes past events and provides a glimpse of what you can expect in the future. Those summaries occasionally provide subtle hints to help you with objectives, including references to items on the various boards that might contain hidden items or zombies that will jump into play. Thrown in with such narration are occasional puns that will remind you of the classic "B"-grade zombie flicks of years past. Sadly, there are real enthralling plot developments, since this is first and foremost a puzzle game. Just the fact that it tells a story it all is somewhat refreshing.

You’ll find a number of elements here that you won’t likely find in most other puzzle games, actually. Hearing the survivors let loose a one liner when you clear a board is cool, and some unexpected and entertaining enemies make the experience one you won’t likely forget. Sadly, the shallow story doesn’t do a very good job of dragging you through the game just so you can see what happens next, but the boards change enough as you progress that you’ll still want to keep going. Containment: The Zombie Puzzler isn’t worth a hefty investment, but for $2 -$5, it’s a worthwhile twist on a concept that many gamers otherwise might not have given even a glance.


TomatoMan's avatar
Freelance review by Brandon Thissell (June 24, 2012)

Brandon Thissell is an enthusiast and collector of video games from the 8-bit era through modern day.

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