November 26, 2008
Zombies are cool ... well not zombies themselves, but rather the act of butchering them in a gratuitous way. After all there is nothing more fun than taking your trusty shotgun and beheading a few dozen members of the undead as you romp to freedom. Obviously Valve came to the same conclusion and have decided that pitting players against the endless hordes is the way to go, so they’ve dusted off the Source engine, given it a few tweaks and then set it loose at your jugular.
First things first – this is primarily a multiplayer game, so if you have no internet access, no interest in internet access or no friends (maybe the zombies got them?) then this is certainly not the game for you, so disregard the rest of this review and go and look elsewhere. Sure you can play this game on your own with some A.I bots backing you up, but the sense of drama is just not the same as when you’re going through the mean streets with three other people. If you’re tooled up with some buddies and ready to tackle the end of the world then read on.
The games premise is simple, you take on the role of one of four survivors and have to navigate through each of the four scenarios in a bid to escape the hordes of zombies that are swarming throughout the area. I keep saying zombies (well it is cool right?) but all of your grisly foes are actually known as the infected and come in a number of varieties. The main foes are the horde; who are zombie like drones that will attack on sight; then there are a number of special infected that have a variety of abilities. The Boomer will vomit on your team in a bid to attract more of the horde; the Smoker will try and drag team members off with it’s tongue attack; the Hunter will try and pounce at you from the shadows and claw you to death; the Tank is basically a giant mass of muscle that will throw objects at you or just beat you to death with its bare hands; and the Witch is a sobbing wreck that gets upset if you disturb her – ripping off your head upset. Basically all of these foes stand between you and a chopper ride to safety.
The four scenarios are made up of five different acts, with the last chapter always seeing you in a desperate last stand – trying to fend off a swarm of foes before a rescue vehicle can arrive. You can play the game alone (or even in split screen on the same machine), in which case the other survivors will be A.I bots, or with up to three other online. You start off in a safe room and have to progress through each level in your chosen scenario until you eventually escape. The safe rooms always mark the beginning and end of each act and you can stock up on weapons, ammo and health packs before making a fresh assault. Once you’re out on your own though you’ll have to scavenge for supplies as you go or rely on the charity of your team mates to get you out of tight spots.
The weapons are all fairly generic but do their jobs wonderfully, you can choose from an uzi, shotgun or duel wield pistols at the start and powered up versions of these will appear the further along you get, along with a sniper rifle. You’ll also come across Molotov cocktails which can set your foes alight or block off chokepoints and pipe bombs which emit a beeping noise to attract the infected before reducing them to smouldering ash in short order. Even more important then these, may well be the medical supplies you discover, as each survivor can only carry one first aid pack and set of pain pills at a time – both of which will be obvious lifesavers on the higher difficulties. Obviously your weapon set comes down to personal preference but with anything other than the pistols you need to keep one eye on your ammo; not to mention an eye on your team mates health, as if they (or you) take too much damage you’ll be incapacitated, with only your pistol to protect you, and the need to be revived. Suffer any more damage in this state and you‘ll end up dead. Your friends can ‘rescue’ you from a closet later in the game if this happens but if you all wind up at death's door then its back to the last safe-house to start again.
The play mechanic is kept fresh by the AI Director code, which sees enemies and supplies spawning in different places each time you play depending on your performance for that scenario. This means your routes are never pre-planned and your opponents are never where you expect them to be. It’s a great idea and one that makes the game feel just like a horror movie as you never know what or how many are going to be around the next corner. In fact the whole experience is perfectly tuned to maximum enjoyment with minimal brainpower as you blast your way through the infected hordes. Each of the difficulty settings also increases the tension as your opponents numbers increase and they get more deadly whilst your supplies seem less forthcoming.
Despite this system though the game seems woefully short lived, as there are only four scenarios on offer and you can complete each one in about an hour and a half tops. It doesn’t help matters that there is pretty much no story to speak of either as each of the survivors has the bare minimum of back-story and a few stock phrases as you go along. It never tries to explain the infected or what your team is trying to accomplish other than the obvious (that would be escape – in case you were wondering). The replay value really comes in finding some like minded friends to tackle the tougher difficulties with as things soon get frantic and hilariously riotous, with the infected coming from every angle.
You can also step into the shoes of the infected too, though only if you can play online. In this role eight players split into two teams and take it in turns to be either the survivors or the infected. If you’re on the side of the infected then your job is to stop the opposition from escaping in any way you can. You have a few advantages, such as being able to see in the dark and being able to climb to places inaccessible to the survivors (perfect for ambushes). The only problem here is that you are randomly assigned a special infected to control and some of them are more fun than others. The Boomer, for example, is painfully slow and his attack, while fun, is fairly limited whereas the Smoker is perfect for snagging foes from afar and generally causing chaos with. I suppose it stops all of the infected team from choosing the same creature to control, thereby making things a bit unbalanced, but it does seem a bit unnecessary.
Despite the games limitations as a single player experience the A.I is pretty much top drawer, in fact they may even be too good as they’ll often take down threats before you even knew they were there. The infected varies from incredibly dumb on Easy to a total pain in the ass on Expert though a lot of this comes down to increased numbers and damage rather than anything else. My real issue is the fact that infected seem to ‘stick’ to you, for want of a better term, when they attack. So even if only one of them is attacking you it seems hard to get away which is rather strange but not entirely game breaking. Your team also seems in no hurry to save your ass sometimes either, as on a number of occasions I’ve been left to bleed out and die while incapacitated (which is game over on single player) when I could have easily been rescued. Obviously this is less of an issue if you’re playing the game with your pals, as you can scream profanities at them until they man up and save you.
The graphics and sound are probably the weakest part of the whole package and it’s not something that can simply be accepted because of the amount going on at any one moment, because there have been plenty of 360 games that have had a full screen of enemies and still look better than this. The characters are all bog standard stereotypes, though this does fit with the whole B-movie feel, but they tend to move smoothly enough. However, on occasions they seem to look rough around the edges and there is far too much clipping going on. Limbs constantly vanish into the scenery or through doors and the infected also suffer from the same fate. Despite some drab areas in levels (notably the subway sections and corridors) there is plenty going on and lots of nooks and crannies to explore. Frankly the whole game is played a such a break neck speed that the issues become less of a problem simply because you’ll be having too much fun to notice.
The achievements here are mainly geared towards co-operative play (though you can get most of them in single player too) as your computer controlled allies will often kill foes before you can or heal you against your wishes – thus stopping you from getting certain tasks done with ease. Still the list offers a lot of fun and means you can play certain levels, time after time in a bid to pick up specific points. My only concern would be the fact that certain achievements seem to be entirely down to luck rather than judgement, so you could soon get frustrated trying to headshot a hunter or not be hurt after being vomited on. However, with a good enough team and a willingness to step into the shoes of the infected you’ll be well on your way to 1000 points in no time.
If you can’t play this game online then you can probably adjust my score down to about sixty or so, as without a bunch of compadres there really is very little point. The single player A.I is extremely competent but the shortness of the game and a lack of control over your team will mean you’ll soon get bored. However, if you manage to get four friends together the game transforms into a sublime multiplayer experience assuming you can get past the ropey graphics and sound. Playing with friends makes this game seem like a breath of fresh air as you’ll be inclined to battle the hordes for survival time and again. It may be just a modified Counter Strike title – but once you’ve saved a few buddies and ran manically from a bunch of infected, you won’t regret your purchase.
The voice over work is fairly competent but there is no story to speak of and aside from some grisly calls from the infected, the whole game seems to be lacking. The score swells suitably in time with the drama but is pretty unremarkable the rest of the time..
Probably the weakest aspect of the title as the characters are all very rough around the edges and the scenery is rather bland and clichéd. With so much going on at any one time it was always going to be the case that something would get sacrificed but we’re used to so much better on the 360.
An absolute blast in multiplayer but far too short lived for anyone going it alone, you’ll be able to blow through the entire game in a few hours but you’ll enjoy playing it time and again as long as you have like minded buddies.
A great change of pace for players wanting some frantic action, and the game never tries to take itself to seriously either. Each time you play the game something new will happen and that’s what makes it so fun. You’ve seen zombie games before but the co-op aspect takes this up a notch.
A very solid list that rewards long term play as well as individual accomplishment. Some of the tasks seem to have more than a pinch of luck about them to be honest but the full 1000 never seems out of reach.
Without a doubt this is one of the best multiplayer experiences you will find on the 360, however anyone wanting to go it alone will quickly tire of playing the scenarios over and over again. Repetition is kept to a minimum thanks to the A.I Director but unless you have LIVE and a solid squad of friends then you should probably give this a miss. Though if there was a game to get online for – this is it.