Friday, April 18, 2008

Night of a Million Billion Zombies Review

Night of a Million Billion Zombies, developed and published by PowerUp Studios.
The Good: Hectic gameplay, multiple characters to control with varied weapons and abilities, each zombie enemy requires a different tactic, great background music
The Not So Good: Starts out very slowly, repetitive, sometimes ridiculously challenging and no difficulty setting, enemies routinely get stuck on objects, models could be more detailed, unlimited ammunition removes some strategy
What say you? Some chaotic fun, but repetitive and a bit rough around the edges: 5/8

The most classic theme in horror movies is the zombie: brain-dead humans hungry for flesh. Our intrepid hero must fight them against all odds to save his beautiful female companion and wise-cracking male cohort. This, obviously, makes for some good computer gaming, and several franchises have been established to take advantage of hot zombie-killing action. Most of these games have been on the dreaded consoles, so it may be up to independent developers to take up the cause. That (sort of) brings us to Night of a Million Billion Zombies, a game full of hyperbole and zombie killing. Will this title fill our ferocious need for undead blood? Does anyone have a ferocious need for undead blood?

Being an independent title, the expectations for Night of a Million Billion Zombies in terms of graphics and sound are not very high, and the game certainly fulfills those expectations. The graphics are in 3-D but they are only passable at best: the textures are not detailed, the models are blocky and poorly animated, and the environments are repetitive. Night of a Million Billion Zombies does not compare well with other contemporary third-person action games, which is a shame because the horror genre can exhibit some graphical feats. While the sound effects are average, the background music is well done and the highlight of the game’s presentation. The theme clearly invokes some memories of Beetlejuice (in a good way) and fits the slightly comedic tone of the game well. So while the graphics and sound of Night of a Million Billion Zombies is not extravagant, I wasn’t anticipating them to be and neither should you.

Night of a Million Billion Zombies features twenty-five levels of zombie-killing action. Each of the levels has a generally linear design, restricting your movement to city streets and providing typically one or two paths to the objective. You start out with one intrepid hero, but unlock new characters every five levels that will accompany your party. Most of the levels involve simply getting to the end and standing on the target for a harrowing ten seconds, but there is the occasional defend mission to undertake. There isn’t much replay value in Night of a Million Billion Zombies, thanks to the linear level design and objectives. The only incentive it to accumulate more kills; you need to essentially decapitate a zombie to register a kill, as simply knocking them over will only stun them long enough for you to sneak by. Night of a Million Billion Zombies lacks difficulty settings of any kind. This is pretty disappointing, as a simple health increase (or enemy damage decrease) would make the game more approachable; as it stands, Night of a Million Billion Zombies gets crazy hard starting with level four.

Controls are straightforward: WASD to move and the mouse to turn and shoot. You can’t tilt the camera, so you are fixed at an isometric perspective that’s not low enough for my tastes. You can directly control any of the characters in your party, and switching is a simple mouse wheel flick away. Each character has a primary weapon (usually medium to long range) and a secondary weapon (usually melee). These weapons have reload times but unlimited ammunition, making conserving ammo not a concern. Melee weapons (and the larger primary weapons like flame throwers and bombs) and hit more than one enemy at once, which makes dealing with large crowds possible. Finding the exit to each level is easy with the minimap and large directional arrow, but enemies do not show up on the map.

Obviously, the objective is to reach the end of each level alive. Night of a Million Billion Zombies relies on large numbers of dumb AI for difficulty, and it certainly succeeds in being a challenging game. You can run past enemies without engaging them, but they will follow and they generally move the same speed as you do, so when you stop to kill other zombies they will catch up. Because of this, it’s always a good idea to kill everything. Enemies do tend to spawn behind you; whether this is fair or not is a personal decision, but it can be annoying and disorienting. The enemy AI of Night of a Million Billion Zombies is downright horrible, as zombies will routinely get stuck on objects (light poles, cars) as they run straight for you. I realize that they are zombies, but the AI should be able to walk around a fire hydrant. Friendly AI is better, as your cohorts will engage enemy units on their own without you having to directly control them. It’s more fun to take command of the characters with the bigger guns, and switching between your roster is easy and fun. Night of a Million Billion Zombies is really good when it is frenzied but fairly balanced: fighting off hordes of beasts with a motley crew is good fun. However, for much of the game there are either too many enemies or too few allies. You don’t get your first partner until level five, and, quite frankly, the game is pretty boring until then, as all you’re doing is fighting enemies by yourself. The lack of difficulty settings doesn’t help matters, as the game seems to be geared towards experienced players. The repetitive nature of the game is a problem that could have been alleviated by getting new characters earlier and more often: once you get a new character, the game plays the same for the next five levels until you get somebody new.

Night of a Million Billion Zombies is good when it’s good, but there are several things holding the game back. The hysterical action works well when you have several characters to use and the enemies are coming at a balanced pace. This, however, happens too infrequently. Also, the enemy AI is garbage: coming straight towards you is fine (they are zombies, after all), but getting stuck on objects is not and that happens a lot. I like the inclusion of different controllable characters, the simple controls (especially switching people), the music, and the gameplay on occasion. But Night of a Million Billion Zombies is too unfair or too repetitive more often than not, and this makes for a less than satisfying experience.