Alive 4-ever RETURNS doesn’t do much that’s new, but improves upon its predecessor in nearly every way. It’s not Alive 4-ever reinvented, but refined; less of a full sequel, and more of a version 2.0. And in this case, that’s just fine. After all, no need to fix what wasn’t broken to begin with. Instead, Meridian has taken off the rough edges and gussied the whole thing up. Compared to its predecessor, Alive 4-ever RETURNS looks better, plays better and is better.
Alive 4-ever RETURNS is the second coming of Alive 4-ever, released last year. The game is a zombie-themed dual-stick survival shooter with RPG elements whose narrative borrows heavily from the Resident Evil series. In short, an experimental virus has been released into the wild and is turning people into zombies. Playing as one of a small group of survivors, you must now survive the zombie hoard and make your way to safety. Over the course of 40 stages, you will level up to improve you abilities, and unlock new skills, weapons and equipment with which to customize your characters. Each stage has both a primary and secondary objective. Completing primary objectives will unlock the next stage and move the story forward, while completing secondary objectives will unlock new equipment and grant other bonuses to your party.
Aside from its general premise, the story is rather disposable. Something about the virus being en route to South America when the ship wrecks and the virus is unleashed on an island off the coast of California instead. There’s something about a zombie eating a sleepy lifeguard who never saw it coming, and then your survivors begin the game underground, in a subway station (which is ridiculous; a Californian island with an underground rail system?!), from which they later emerge into a forest (subway stations beneath forests?!). Ahem. So the story hasn’t improved, but everything else about Alive 4-ever RETURNS is better than the first time around.
The story really is of little importance. It’s the heroes, their guns, and the zombies they kill with them that matter, and there’s lots of each. To be precise, four upgradeable heroes, 37 weapons, and 18 types of zombies plus bosses. That adds up to a lot of survival-flavored carnage to be had, making Alive 4-ever RETURNS one of the most robust dual-stick action games currently available.
RPG Elements: The RPG elements in Alive 4-ever RETURNS really help the game to stand out from its competition in the dual-stick arena. The constant character growth that occurs after stage completion provides a lot of motivation to keep playing the game, and the possible combinations of weapons, skills and buffs are nearly infinite.
Diverse Objectives: Each stage has its own completion objectives, which may include kills a set number of zombies, surviving for a set period of time, locating specific items, rescuing survivors and more. Adding further variety are the secondary challenge objectives, for which you are rewarded in new gear. The diversity keeps the game feeling fresh from stage-to-stage, and helps to maintain player interest over the course of the game’s 40 levels.
Visuals: Visuals have been stepped up for this second outing. The four main characters are much more distinct than the protagonists in the previous game, and the zombies and environments look better too. The weather effects add to the atmosphere, and a greater diversity of environments once more helps to keep things from getting stale. You’ll spill buckets of blood during the course of the adventure, and it looks just bloody fantastic.
Co-op Play: Alive 4-ever RETURNS supports four-player co-op play over WiFi, with Bluetooth support coming in an update. Who doesn’t like that? Too bad you can’t play online, though. Your buddies need to be close at hand to join up.
More of the same: Wonderful as it is, Alive 4-ever RETURNS really is more of the same. If you weren’t keen on the first one, this second isn’t likely to grab you. The copious refinements are welcome and make this a fantastic release, but it’s only good this one time. When the inevitable Alive 4-ever RETURNS AGAIN hits, they’d better do something to mix things up, else the game will begin to wear thin.
The Story: Alive 4-ever RETURNS doesn’t always make the most sense. The story is atrocious, riddled with grammar mistakes and full of weird crap like subterranean subway stations on Californian resort isles opening up into undeveloped forests. I don’t even know why they bothered to write a story beyond, “Zombies! Kill’em!” In a way I can appreciate the effort, but when you’re cruisin’, why throw caltrops in front of your own wheels?
Just in case I haven’t driven the point enough by now, I’ll say it again: Alive 4-ever RETURNS is a step up from its predecessor, which was already a good game in its own right. Dual-stick shooters on the app store are much like zombies; they come in droves, slavering not for your brains, but for your dollars. There are so many, they threaten to overwhelm you, and so many so similar to the others. Alive 4-ever RETURNS manages to trump most of the competition by offering immense depth of character development, a massive assortment of weapons and other enhancements, and enough content to keep you engaged and busy for some time to come. If you’re a fan of the dual-stick shooter or of zombie games in general, Alive 4-ever RETURNS should be at the top of your shopping list.