Friday, December 25, 2009

Zombie Driver Review

Zombie Driver, developed by EXOR Studios and published by Akella.
The Good: Violent, car upgrades, simple controls
The Not So Good: Repetitive, limited to a linear single player story mode, annoying camera, disorienting city layout with no mini-map
What say you? About $10 worth of silly fun: 5/8

While playing Left 4 Dead 2, it made me think: wouldn't it be easier just to drive through all the zombies? That’s what developers EXOR Studios thought, too, as Zombie Driver is just that: you drive through the zombies. The car-running-over-pedestrian game has been been done before, but replacing real people with the undead makes the carnage seem less offensive. That’s what we’ll tell the lawyers, anyway. Priced about half of a typical budget title, does Zombie Driver provide enough thrills to fulfill its reduced cost?

Zombie Driver’s graphics quality is above its $10 price tag. The city has a nice level of detail, with plenty of fencing, houses, tanks, trains, and industrial centers to accidently run into on your way to the zombies. Zombie Driver uses the PhysX® engine to produce some® appealing destruction® along the way. The zombie destruction is pleasingly bloody, but since you are usually viewing the action from so far away, everything is usually just a simple red blob of redness. Unfortunately, Zombie Driver features a very annoying camera that I truly hate: it does not zoom in and out smoothly enough, and the height adjusts instantly when your speed changes: this becomes really disorienting when you are plowing through the zombie horde, as your view sickeningly goes in and out and in and out and in and out. You get used to it after a while, but initially Zombie Driver delivers some amount of motion sickness. The sound design is almost non-existent: there’s some music and the occasional crunching bones, but usually only simple car engine effects and weapon sounds dominate the game. Still, Zombie Driver delivers more graphical quality than its $10 price tag suggests.

In Zombie Driver, you are not a zombie driver: rather, you are a driver running over zombies. The game features only single-player action over seventeen missions; cooperative play is all the rage, especially with the zombie setting, but it is not available here. Each mission comes with primary and secondary objectives; the former involves typically driving to a house to pick up survivors and driving back to base. Secondary objectives are far more interesting, featuring stat-based goals like a time limit or a zombie death count. You must eliminate all of the zombies in the safe house area before you can pick up the survivors, and zombies are helpfully outlined in a bright red circle to easy pickings. Unfortunately, the missions are quite linear: although you can choose your particular path through the city to the objective locations, they don’t vary and the zombie concentrations are always the same. Since the single player game is on the short side (the seventeen missions only take a couple of hours), replay value is essentially non-existent with a lack of mission variety on subsequent replays. There are also no difficulty settings available; the game isn’t hard, but having additional options is always a nice feature.

Controls are typical for a driving game: WASD for moving and the keyboard or mouse for shooting. You’ll need to progress through each level without sustaining a high amount of damage, earned by having zombies bang on or throw things at your car. Pick-ups can be found scattered around the map (always in the same locations, though): repair, ammunition, and cash. Cash is also earned by running over zombies, and combo multipliers for even more cash can be earned by chaining together a bunch of kills. Cash is important because it is used for upgrading your sweet ride, which makes you a more efficient killing machine. Upgrades include improved armor, ramming power, and speed for your automobile; these upgrades do not carry over to other models you unlock, and since they are expensive, you’ll be “stuck” using one vehicle for most of the campaign. Your car can be outfitted with a number of different weapons: machine guns, a flamethrower, rockets, and a railgun. Unfortunately, all of these weapons come with a very limited supply of ammunition, so you will be using your front bumper most of the time. This significantly impacts the gameplay in a negative manner, making Zombie Driver far too repetitive than it should be. The large city location could reduce the repetition somewhat, since each mission has you travelling to another portion of the urban area, but the lack of a mini-map and a disorienting layout makes for some less than appealing gameplay. I get lost a lot and run into static objects as the roads curve in unpredictable ways; the train tracks near your base are the worst offender. The locations you need to reach are indicated on the side of the screen, but there is no navigation arrow (like in Grand Theft Auto) to assist with actually getting there in a timely manner. Because of the confusing city layout and abbreviated weapon use, Zombie Driver becomes too frustrating and too repetitive to fully recommend it, even at a cheap price.

What’s to be expected for $10? Zombie Driver does let you run over zombies, so on that simple level the game succeeds. But, of course, there is a good amount of repetition, as all you’ll be doing is running over zombies. You are allowed to make upgrades and given some weapons, but the ammunition supply is so small that you can only really use them when taking on large groups near objectives. The game’s seventeen-mission campaign takes place over the same city, just with different locations. There is no mini-map, so you will commonly run into things and get turned around, wasting precious seconds, as the town layout is anything but intuitive. Zombie Driver is also limited to single player combat, so there is no cooperative fun to be had here. The game is fun for a little while, but the combat is repetitive and the strategies are few, since all you can really do is run over things, which takes no strategy whatsoever. The advantages of Zombie Driver, like the graphics and enjoyable carnage, balance the disadvantages, the camera and repetitive combat, so it’s difficult to say whether Zombie Driver is right for you. Please, consult your physician.