Sick of zombie shooters? Me too. Luckily, Nerdook is here to breathe new life into a genre that's been done to (un)death with Zombies Took My Daughter, a side-scrolling action title with some clever changes. You play a nameless, grizzled fellow whose daughter, Anna, happened to be in the city when the zombie epidemic du jour began. You have 36 hours to find her before transportation leaves without you; no small task given how big the city is, and how dangerous it's become. Rescue survivors, track down criminals, and use clues to figure out where Anna is before time runs out. The best part? Each time you play everything is randomly generated, from items to monsters to the layout of the city itself, so you have a new challenge each time you play.
Use the left and right [arrows] to move, [up] to interact with things or climb in either direction, and the [spacebar] to attack. If you don't want to risk a confrontation, you can use [down] to sneak past zombies who are unaware of your presence. As you explore, you'll find clues that will help you track Anna down; the city is big, and travelling through the subway takes a lot of time, so the more you can narrow your search the better. If all else fails and you find yourself backed into a corner, don't worry; death isn't permanent, but you'll lose two hours of game time and half your cash each time you respawn at the nearest subway station. Keep an eye on the bars at the top of your screen that show your location in each city block; unless each one is green, you still have places to search within them. Time only passes when you're travelling or incapacitated, so you can take your time and explore each area.
Along the way, you'll not only discover "weapon" is a broad term (death by baguette, anyone?), but you'll also encounter other survivors if you're fortunate. (And hostile escaped criminals you'll need to deal with if you're unfortunate.) As long as they're alive, they'll follow you to the next subway station and help you fight. And speaking of fighting, You can only carry four weapons at a time, and you cycle through them with the [C] button; you need ammunition to use guns, obviously, and melee weapons gradually decay. So, you know, as much as I respect your dedication to that priceless ming vase, you might want to drop it in favour of a fireaxe or something, cowboy.
Analysis: Although it might remind me a bit in spirit of the best zombie game of all time, Zombies Took My Daughter is a remarkably generic and cheesy title. I passed by it several times before I noticed that then developer was also responsible for the puzzle/murder mystery surprise hit ClueSweeper and decided to give this one a chance. I'm very glad I did. While the action is pretty standard, if only somewhat enlivened by a fairly large arsenal (the teddy bear is a personal favourite), Zombies Took My Daughter wins a lot of points for trying something new. Instead of most similar titles, with objectives such as "kill some zombies" and "kill some more zombies", the search for Anna gives you a solid goal, not to mention you can also track down supplies and wrangle escaped criminals if you're a completionist. The random generator doesn't hurt either, keeping subsequent playthroughs from feeling too predictable, and the time limit adds just enough challenge to keep things interesting.
All of this would be so much better, however, if the gameplay were tighter. Ranged weapons aren't any more accurate than melee ones, but you'll want to use them anyway because they'll at least put some distance between you and an enemy when you miss (which you will, and often). Fellow survivors also tend to be painfully stupid, frequently wandering into the path of your bullets, and will almost always get cut down by attacks from behind since they're so slow to react. A bit more narrative would have been nice, even if it was just your typical B-Movie exposition, but the story doesn't take a backseat to the gameplay; it's dozing in another train car after one too many complimentary beverages.
Since the game is random, it took me four tries to actually find Anna, and when I finally did, I had stumbled across her within five minutes of play in the first neighbourhood. Once you've got her, you'll have to make it back to the ferry without getting killed; succeed, and your reward is... not particularly satisfying, consisting of a congratulatory message and some statistics about your gameplay after the credits roll. It still feels like it needs a bit of fleshing out to make it something you'd come back to over and over. While not perfect, it's several giant steps in the right direction, and is exactly the sort of clever innovation that can turn something old and tired into something new and fun.