Ya'ver drink Brazilian bold from fkn dunkn donuts!
The zombie culture phenomenon which has become a dominating theme in the realm of videogames continues on with another take on the genre, except now we are driving cars very fast into hoards of the wretched things thanks to the independent, Exor Studios. With this tidal wave of zombie themed multimedia, in film, games, books, erm fanfiction (shudder) has the theme been done to death and has Zombie Driver risked becoming nothing but an afterthought before it really had a chance to shine in its own right?
The premise is very simple, there is a town where zombies have taken over and it is up to you as the cab driver to drive around, pick up any straggling survivors and return them to home base while you mow down as many undead in your path as you can. The game plays out very much like the first Grand Theft Auto, a top down perspective with limited vision ahead of you, except you never leave your vehicle, instead the survivors must come to you.
To reach any one left alive you must choose a vehicle, starting out with nothing but a humble taxi you must drive to the waypoint on the screen, there is no in game map, so before your mission starts it pays to study the route you should take and do your best to get there in one piece. The waypoint indicators on your screen will tell you how far away you are, but to get there on your own you must duck and weave between main roads, alley ways, back yards, and parks. Once you reach your destination the fun begins.
To get the survivors to escape from their hideout you first have to clear out the undead in the local vicinity, by destroying as many of them as you can, running them over generally does the trick, but not all zombies are the same, some are wild animals that are incredibly quick, some of them will throw objects at you chipping away at your vehicles health and the most deadly of them will explode if you hit them, bringing your car to a wreck.
Los Angeles traffic. Yesterday.
Clearing them out isn't necessarily a hard task, but care must be heeded, running into groups of zombies will slow you down, and Nvidia's Physx does a good job at enhancing that feeling as you bump into a bunch of enhanced zombies. Hit too many of them and you'll come to a complete stop, giving them the chance to surround you and beat your car into submission, eventually destroying it and this is where the tension and fear is generated in Zombie Driver. Careless driving will be the end of you, of course unless you take advantage of the weapons at your desposal.
Yes weapons are available as pickups and range from all different kinds, flame throwers, machine guns, rocket launchers, turbo boosters, and the almighty rail gun will all have their pros and cons for dismembering the dead. Their ammo is limited, but effective in reducing the chance of coming to a complete stop.
Once the zombies have been cleared from the area the survivors will enter your car and you will chaufer them to a new safe house where upon you will be rewarded with money, which can be used to enhance your vehicle and weapons. The better you perform, the more vehicles you will unlock and the more powerful weapons you will get. A fully upgraded machine gun can tear down hoards of zombies with little effort and the railgun, it is really something else.
Speed 3: Public Transportation Strikes Back
Unlocking extra vehicles is the most fun in this game as they all handle a little differently, the sports car is insanely quick, but doesn't have much armour and can only carry three people. The bus is enormous and can get through hoards without stopping much, it can also carry a huge number of passangers, but it is slow and it is a bit hard to control. The medium size cars are the most fun to drive, popping the handbrake will allow you to drift into a group sideways maximising the carnage, increasing money earned and it looks just darn cool.
Speaking of handling it feels very arcade like, while physx is used a bit in this game, especially for gibbs and for giving the car a bit more weight it still doesn't completely lend itself to reality, when you manage to do a J-turn in a bus in the middle of suburbia, things don't always quite add up. To fully describe the car driving, it's kind of like Mashed, very arcade like, fast and at times ridiculous, which is absolutely brilliant as this game lends itself to the more fun side of the spectrum rather than the fully realistic side that publishers love to boast about.
Considering the arcade nature of the game and the rather short story mode, there are a few extras to keep you busy after finishing the 60-90 minute campaign, the race mode, which encompasses classic racing elements against other players, except with zombies and weapons (kind of like micro-machines or our old friend Mashed again), checkpoints and eliminator, but the most fun I had was with slaughter mode.
Essentially you are put into a small section of the city and face wave after wave of zombies that gradually fill the area. After a certain number have been killed the wave is complete and you get an upgrade, be it for your vehicle or for a weapon, fight more waves, get more upgrades and money, and so on until you eventually explode from taking too much damage, all your money is tallied up and added to the leader board where you can see how you did against all the other players, it's over fairly quickly depending on how well you play, but it is what will keep you coming back, to climb that ranking ladder and to best your last score.
Visually the game is pretty sharp, lighting and special effects are nicely detailed and the smoke effects are quite impressive. What struck me the most was one particular night level in the slaughter mode where your headlights highlight your path, casting shadows around light poles, bushes, other cars and the zombies themselves, its eerie and very impressive. The only real disappointment sensory wise is the audio which is a little flat, the engine noises are lacklustre, the sound effects don't drive much impact and the voice acting is b-grade at best (although I must admit it adds to its charm), if the sound effects were improved the whole experience would be just that much more enjoyable.
These late night game launches bring out the worst in people.
Zombie driver is one of those games that look pretty good, plays lovingly simply, sounds okay to the ear and is over in 2 or 3 hours unless you spend more time in the race and slaughter modes. For its low price it is brilliant fun but the game will not appeal to everyone, which is a shame. The world map tends to get a little familiar, there isn't a huge amount of variety in the story mode and at times it feels uneventful or not dynamic enough in its approach. Having some surprises with bosses or some random encounters during missions would have shaken things up a bit, otherwise it was a bit predictable outside of increased zombie numbers.
Overall it is a very enjoyable, if short top down driving zombie slaughter simulator that can be a lot of fun for very little money. All it needs is more variety in story modes and more dynamic levels that aren't so flat. A little more style is what's needed, but Exor Studios are onto something with this game, with more ambition from this solid frame work a sequel could become even more successful, which is what I feel the game and the devs deserve, as I had a hell of a lot of fun with it.