A zombie appeared. Will you hug it, or blow its brains out? Choose option B.
Stop us if you've heard this one before. An iPhone and iPad game with zombies. Sound familiar? Although a wealth of titles exist starring the undead, companies continue to produce them at a rapid pace. The most recent comes by way of Gamevil. Zombie Gunner is a 2D side-scrolling shooter that brings us back to the early Sega Genesis days, largely because it features some of the lowest resolution artwork we've seen; it's an insult to most if not all 16-bit games. The controls are also suspect, as you wrestle with the virtual slider and directional shooting button more than you should. At the same time, there's no denying the fun you'll most likely experience as you lay waste to hordes of flesh-eating corpses, and the variety of items to unlock keeps this one interesting. Even better, it's free, perhaps for a limited time.
To that end, Zombie Gunner casts you as Andrew, an everyman who sets off to rescue his daughter before those brain-munching monsters snack on her medulla oblongata. During his travels, he comes to realize that more people need his help, prompting our hero to do whatever it takes to save the living. This involves plowing through a series of bite-sized levels with different (albeit typical) objectives, like escorting people to a hideout, preventing said hideout from getting destroyed, surviving for different periods of time and taking down a boss. Not exactly the most original ideas, but when the developers put the focus squarely on shooting things, the goals don't matter much.
On that note, you guide Andrew with a slider that only moves him left/right, and aim with an eight-way directional pad, which is a bit tough to wield in a pinch with baddies attacking on the ground and from the air. Things get nuts, as they often do, and you wind up taking damage from all sides while wrestling with the controls.
This is made somewhat easier by the assortment of weapons at your disposal, which you can purchase (like all things in the game) with gold coins, dropped from dead zombies and/or earned from completing and even failing missions. The default pistol comes with unlimited ammo, but is relatively weak compared to the flamethrower, bazooka and shotgun. What's more, you'll eventually unlock machines to use in battle, like tanks and mechas. Meanwhile, pets (known as "friends") imbue Andrew with different abilities when equipped. The pig, for instance, drops gold when tapped, while the rabbit restores 100 percent stamina and the dog repels zombies temporarily. Not sure if this makes sense in the inevitable zombie war, but here, it's a cute addition to the game.
Of course, with any free app of this type, there will come a point when the more expensive items and pets seem out of reach. For that, Gamevil offers more gold at various amounts, so there's that.
What really bugs us, though, are the graphics. Gamevil made no attempt to take advantage of the newer iPhone or iPad's Retina displays. The result, blurry and pixelated 2D visuals, are among the sloppiest, most depressing visuals we've seen in a smartphone and tablet game. They get the job done, sort of, but considering the advancements in technology, this is inexcusable, even for freemium.
Of course, you also get what you pay for, which is zero, but don't let the lack of eye candy prevent you from giving Zombie Gunner the old college try. Is it a by the numbers effort? Yes, but much like fast food, it still manages to satisfy, and the fact that it's still cheaper than anything on the dollar menu is a plus.
What's Hot: Provides a few hours of zombie-blasting fun, impressive mix of weapons/pets/machines, 16-bit style graphics, free-to-play with the option to make in-app purchases.
What's Not: Horrid low-resolution visuals, average controls, unimaginative missions.