If my Facebook suggestions and invitations are any indication, the Farmville and Café World fads are nowhere near over, so it's no surprise that The Playforge is adding its own real-time farming simulation game into the mix with the new Zombie Farm app for iPhone and iPod Touch. In the game, players are given a plot of land to transform into a zombie-infested goldmine, all the while checking back to the app frequently in order to tend to crops that are on a strict harvest schedule.
Let's see here, carrots, potatoes, and oh yes, the undead. Good crop this year.
The game has two major activities: maintaining your own farm and invading neighbouring real estate. The former involves a task list of plowing, planting and harvesting, all of these are performed by tapping the plot of land. The zombies you reap become part of your zombie army (which is used for invasions), while the other crops are sold for gold. The gold acquired can be used in the market to buy everything from carrot seeds, fences and potatoes, to more unusual farm supplies like headless zombies and palm trees. The food and zombie seeds, of course, are planted, but some of the decorative objects serve an important purpose as well. Adding flora increases your life source, which makes for a happier farm and prevents stillborn zombies.
Visually, Zombie Farm recalls Farmville. Initially, the farm is unremarkable and consists only of dirt that needs plowing, but after gaining gold further on in the game, décor can be purchased to give the farm personal touches. Basic stats, tools and tasks to be completed linger around the edges of the screen. Everything from the large-headed farmer to the adorable zombies wandering the farm is cartoonish and each one of the monsters you harvest comes with a name, making it hard not to feel a pang of maternal guilt when one falls in battle. The graphics are attractive and cutesy (with the exception of a few grammatical typos), particularly during the zombie invasions.
Once your army has reached sizeable proportions and your zombies are starving (clicking on them with the multi tool shows how hungry they are), you can tap the red "invade" icon to go into a full blown zombie battle. During invasions, the undead approach the neighboring farm one by one. As they prepare to fight, they often get distracted and tapping their thought bubbles reassigns their focus to the task at hand and sends them, drooling, into battle. This must be done quickly, as the goal is to get all zombies to attack the neighbour's farm. Zombies eat the enemy but the farmhands put up a good fight and chuck pitchforks and the occasional chicken towards the intruders, killing them. If your army can manage to outlast the neighbours, you acquire a hefty sum of gold and other bonuses like a brain (which can buy higher end items in the market).
The Playforge knows just how to keep players interested, and offer random prizes and tasks that can be completed for other incentives. One (obnoxious) way they set about getting users more points is by offering rewards for downloading other games. This isn't an uncommon marketing trick in the app world, but Zombie Farm extended this offer so often it got on my nerves. Likewise, I couldn't log into the game without being asked to connect my game play to my Facebook account.
Zombie Farm is absolutely addicting, but not necessarily because it's fun. There's a pressure that comes with performing activities in a timely manner, and the wastefulness of crops that have withered away can be a real letdown. Most users are likely to find themselves drawn to the game several times a day, but more out of some warped sense of obligation than for the reason that they actually get enjoyment out of the infinite cycle of raising enough gold to buy zombies to invade to get gold.