.George'd be proud
A derivative of Dawn of the Dead? Yes. But is it fun and does it stand up to the source material? I spent the last 12 months looking at this in videos and previews and was a complete naysayer. A friend of mine was ultra excited for it, and I just couldn’t see the big WOW factor.
It seemed like a poor man's Resident Evil to me only with pretty visuals and next-gen body counts.
I'm here to say I stand corrected. This is a bloody good game.
.DAWN, DAY AND NIGHT OF THe...
The premise is initially pretty bog standard, but the way it plays out is damn original. There are several components to the game structure that make sure you always have something to do.
Number 1 on that list is the fact, Frank (the player’s character), has 72 hours to complete a number of story based missions.
Number 2, Frank, is a photojournalist, and has the task of trying to capture events and scenes on film during his travels to score picture points (PP). These points go toward Frank’s RPG-style experience to open new skills, increase his health, inventory size and so on.
Number 3, because Frank is a photojournalist, he is always on the lookout for a “big story”, so he is constantly given “scoops” that the player can try and achieve alongside the main story. These usually require the death of some nutcase, the saving of some poor hapless idiot, or some strange combination of both.
All of these concepts put together give you so much to do, that at the start it can be a little overwhelming. But as it turns out, there is a reason for that. You are meant to play this game more than once, which to some people clearly seemed to be a turn off. But, as you increase your experience and skills, these are saved outside of the current game you are playing and, when you likely fail, can restart the game with your more experienced and skilled character.
.Bring Out Your Dead
Obviously one of the most fun parts of this game is killing zombies. Hundreds and hundreds of zombies. There are countless ways to do so, which is one of the things that help make the game so interesting and replayable. Practically everything can be used as a weapon, from handbags to chainsaws.
Frankly (sorry) it is incredibly fun. You can grab a huge umbrella and barge through piles of zombies, you can hit them with benches or try and knock their skulls in with a giant fake lipstick from a makeup store. It’s brilliantly bizarre and superbly surreal. On top of that, you also have Frank's personal combat skills that you unlock as you gain experience. These range from a simple flying kick to a disembowelment technique! The multitude of ways you are given to destroy your living dead enemies is wonderfully refreshing and very addictive. I couldn’t wait to see what the next weapon would be and exactly how it might help me dispose of these bone bags.
One of my favorite things about the game is the contrast between when you are playing the game and the cutscenes. The cutscenes, and consequently, the story, are fairly serious and straight, and the cinematics are put forward as such. The characters are most certainly stereotypes, but I think that helps it play out just like a classic zombie flick. In contrast, the game time is really very over-the-top.
What the player does, the characters he tries to save and the general feeling given by the interactive sections are extreme and exaggerated. It makes the whole thing a lot of fun. One minute you have a cop laying down the law in some crazy cutscene, and the next minute you’re running around in a dress hitting zombies with a Nerf gun (with little effect obviously).
It’s like a modern day B-movie with some excellent comedic nuances that have most certainly appealed to me perfectly!
Another cool little feature they implemented was the ability to mix food types in a blender to make unique items. Zombait, for example, makes you more attractive to the zombies so they are more likely to leave any survivors tagging along with you alone. The mixing process also tends to increase the strength of foods. However, this only really comes in handy when you have upgraded Frank’s health bar quite substantially.
.MISSING IN ACTION
Now, perhaps I’m crazy and totally missed something important, but there is a distinct lack of music in the game sadly. You get the occasional muzak in the mall (which is a nice touch, if not irritating after a while), but there doesn't appear to be any real soundtrack. Yes, I guess I could plug in an ipod and play my own music, but… why would I want to?
The sound overall is pretty good though and has all the right zombie-type sounds you’d expect. The chainsaw, when ripping through zombies, makes a particularly satisfying sound!
Okay, so what isn’t good? Honestly, not a whole lot. But I do think this game will really only appeal to a particular type of gamer. I don’t think it will please a huge percentage of the people that end up getting their hands on it.
In my opinion, they made a mistake with 72 hour mode being the main campaign/story mode. The first hour of game time is seriously heavy on story and very thin on killing things. When all is said and done, killing swathes of zombies is by far and away this games greatest strength and the biggest part of the game, however, it's basically impossible for a person to just pick up and play and start having fun. They have to get into it. That is a real shame. I believe they could have hooked a lot more people if they’d started the story differently and had Frank reach the meat of story at the beginning by having to hack through zombies after being dropped off somewhere (or something along these lines). It would have given the player a taste of things to come. I think this will be a major reason a lot of people will not play it long enough to see its true strengths. A couple of other things are either irritating or just poor; the controls can be a little twitchy and this makes pulling off some of the special moves particularly annoying.
The game camera is never automatic, which is a bad decision in my opinion. In this game, you never want to not be looking or facing in the direction you are heading, so why not auto reset the camera’s heading when you start moving? It just means you are given one more thing to worry about, when honestly, there is already plenty enough to keep you occupied.
The item selection system is clunky. Sometimes you have to scroll through 5 things to get to your desired weapon. When you are surrounded by zombies, this can be infuriating. I would have preferred a Splinter Cell-style inventory system that allowed you to pause (or just slow down) the game while you select an item.
My biggest gripe is with the absurdly stupid AI of the Survivors that are meant to follow Frank. They’ll stop to fight when it’s completely unnecessary, meaning you need to go and bail them out. The path-finding is either non-existent or just completely useless, and they have no flocking behaviour or avoidance system to speak of. If they need to climb up something and you have more than 2 of them following you, they’ll all try and do it at once and keep bumping into each other. The outcome? None of them ever make it! You literally resort to hitting them with things to get them out of the way of each other. The other solution is to anticipate when this could be a potential issue and give them a direct “go there” command so they go towards the obstacle spread out rather than huddled around you. Super irritating.
.On The Whole
What can I say? Sure it has its problems and bugbears, but it’s definitely original and jam-packed with fun. The story and cinematics are generally well delivered and the feeling of slaying hundreds of zombies in a matter of a few seconds is unrivaled. To me, it’s the first truly next-gen title for the Xbox 360 and that is certainly a good thing to see. It might take a while to get into, and you’ll get frustrated a few times without a doubt.
That said though, if you stick with it, you will be rewarded with many, many, many hours of zombie slaying fun. You won’t be disappointed.