App Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS
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I can’t help but be impressed when a game that appears incredibly simple on the surface ends up not only surprising me with complexity but also a ridiculous amount of fun to be had. Looking at Earn to Die, it’s easy to write off as “just” a game that adds zombies to a pre-established formula. But zombies aren’t what make it special. It’s being stupefyingly fun that does it.
Earn to Die is split into eight levels across three game modes, all of which revolve around driving a vehicle a specific distance. The catch (besides the zombies) is that each mode of conveyance has a set amount of fuel; so reaching the end of a stage most likely won’t happen the first or even the tenth time. But. There’s always a “but.” Smashing into and through the living dead earns cash that can be used to upgrade the current vehicle or even unlock better ones. The starter bug may not amount to much at first but once it’s been decked-out with a better engine, transmission, tires, gas tank, booster, and zombie-mulching spikes it can be remarkably effective.
As I’ve said, I’m incredibly impressed with Earn to Die’s design. Plowing through zombies or obstacles and watching all manner of parts - squishy and otherwise - fly through the air in slow motion is most definitely satisfying and never fails to bring a smile to my face, but I’m actually talking about the level and progression. Each stage ups the distance and difficulty just enough to require lots of playthroughs, which in-turn get players accustomed to the layout in a natural manner. That, in-turn, makes it easier to adjust to other obstacles that present themselves later on and the cycle continues. Factor in the desire to keep playing to unlock the “next thing” and the sheer entertainment value of vehicular zombie carnage and we end up with a game that’s ridiculously hard to put down.
The endgame, however, is another matter. Earn to Die’s Story Mode is fantastic, however the other two (Free Ride and Championship) aren’t quite as habit-forming. Especially Free Ride - a mode that lets players use any fully upgraded car or truck they want on any level - since most of the fun involves earning upgrades and better vehicles in the first place. Championship’s method of giving players a specific four-wheeler and a set budget, then tasking them with creating something capable of making the fastest time across the leaderboards, is a much better option but it still lacks the Pavlovian draw of “more, more, better, better.”
I know some people prefer to avoid digital violence, and I respect that, but everyone else who enjoys (or at least doesn’t mind) goring zombies owes it to themselves to play Earn to Die. It’s an insane amount of fun from just about any angle.