Sunday, February 24, 2013

Game Review: Zombie Driver HD (XBLA, 2012)

A viscerally satisfying experience, Zombie Driver HD delivers about what you’d expect: cars, gore, and tons of zombies.  Unfortunately, the game overextends itself a bit, with a few features that detract from the solid premise, but it’s still good for some mindless entertainment.

Zombie Driver puts you in the role of a taxi driver during the zombie apocalypse.  Given the skills of your trade, you respond to the undead infestation in the only way that makes any sense: by recklessly navigating the town, plowing through hordes of living corpses for fun and profit.

What follows successfully embodies the addictive quality of some of the best Flash games – simple gameplay with near-instant rewards.  You control your car from a third-person perspective using pretty fluid controls, racking up money for stylishly crushing zombies.  As you progress, you’ll get access to a few car-mounted weapons to aid in your zombie slaying.  You also get to spend your hard-earned cash on car or weapon upgrades.  The formula, while basic, is effective: kill a bunch of zombies to make it easier to kill even more zombies.  If you enjoy the first few minutes of gameplay, you’ll likely enjoy it all.

While the gameplay may sound good on paper, what makes it really enjoyable is its execution.  Although the graphics are far from perfect, they do a lot where it counts.  Piles of corpses litter the city, you get satisfying blood smears where you splatter zombies, and bodies fly as you charge through a densely-populated alleyway.  The sound effects have a similar effect, successfully adding to the impact the zombie killing, while being pretty lackluster everywhere else.

But the best part is the way your car responds to the zombies.  As you’re cruising along, small groups of zombies will have little effect on your movement, but the thicker the horde, the more impaired your motion.  This one simple feature has a surprisingly large impact on the game’s overall entertainment value, as it allows you to feel the bodies you’re running over.  It makes the whole process that much more satisfying.

Zombie Driver has three modes to maximize your brutal zombie murder.  The first is the story mode, which takes you through 31 missions with varying objectives.  The mission objectives are always some variation on “transport these things” or “kill those things,” but the different ways they’re presented and the enjoyable gameplay prevent them from seeming like chores.  The bite-sized missions are pretty short, too, with most being doable within ten minutes, and the rest taking under fifteen.

The story itself is disappointing.  With a game like this, the story either needs to be stellar or campy to avoid distracting from the main reason most people would play it.  Sadly, the plot isn’t very interesting (standard zombie fare these days), the writing is uninspired, and the voice actors sound bored.  What’s worse, the moments of exposition during missions are unskippable, so instead of smashing more zombie faces, you have to spend a minute listening to someone dispassionately explain that you’re violating protocol by driving around the city.

A second game mode, Slaughter, cuts the nonsense by giving you a series of arenas where your only objective is the highest score.  In these arenas, you’ll fight waves of undead, trying to string together epic combos as long as you can survive.  It’s everything that’s great about the game’s premise without any filler.  I love it!

The third game mode, Death Race, is terrible.  Really, really terrible.  It turns the basic mechanics into a competition between apocalypse survivors.  A couple of the contests aren’t totally unexpected, as they’re based on using your car and weapons to kill either zombies or other drivers, but the races are some of the most frustrating gaming experiences I’ve ever had.  The slightest impact with another car either sends you spinning away or locks you against them, preventing all movement.  Both have huge implications for your position in the race, making your overall performance seem to be 90% luck.

If you stay away from Death Race, though, Zombie Driver HD is a great stress-relieving romp through a zombie-infested wasteland.  Thoroughly satisfying, if you are looking for a mindless distraction for an hour at a time and aren’t bothered by the general lack of depth, Zombie Driver is worth a look.  If not, you’ll want to pass on this one.

My Rating: 6/10 – decent.

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