Monday, October 3, 2011

Zombie Driver (PC)




Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Inexpensive, fun, easy to get into and play
Cons: Short, not many different weapons or vehicles, no multi-player

Introduction

So, one day I was out robbing stores and beating up random strangers on the street for cash. My previous ride had blown up, so I went to steal a taxi from the intersection... but as I hopped in the seat and turned the key, I suddenly fell through the earth into another dimension. I still felt like I was in the Grand Theft Auto universe, but something was... different.

I had only driven a short distance in this new world before I heard an explosion. I looked at the green cloud of gas rising ahead of me and knew this was going to be a bad day. Before long zombies started filling the sidewalks and buildings, and there were almost no humans to be found. I seemed to be safe in my vehicle, as long as I didn't stop for too long...

Gameplay

Zombie Driver is a top-down 2D zombiefest. Basically the game revolves around rescuing survivors from various places on the free roaming map, bringing them to the safe house, and killing hordes of zombies in the process. It's a formula that's simple and fun, despite being recycled from 2 very overused parts.

Survivors hole up a few here and a few there in buildings spread around the map. The story mode consists of a series of 17 missions that all involve rescuing a certain number of some type of survivors. Not much variety here, but thankfully the game is rather short. There are at least submissions for each one, but they don't offer much more variety than the main objectives. These all tend to include finishing the main objective in a certain time limit, killing all the zombies in a certain area of the map, or killing a certain number of zombies in total while completing your rescue mission.

You get little icons on your screen pointing the direction to the places the survivors are holed up in, and you follow them like beacons until you get there. Once you reach the building with survivors, there's a white circle on the ground outside and red outlines on all the zombies in the area. When you kill all the nearby zombies, the white circle turns green, you park in it, and all the survivors (or as many as will fit in your vehicle) hop in so you can take them to the safe house.

There are a few different types of zombies. Big ones that explode and damage your vehicle when you get near them, some that are really fast, some will throw stuff to hit you from a short distance away. They all, however, only have one objective in mind: kill you. If they get close enough they will detract from your vehicle's health meter until it's gone and you die and fail your mission. Ramming through them at high speed causes you no damage though (strangely, you also take no damage from smashing through lamp posts, boxes, or other vehicles), so get to smashing...

Aside from just ramming through the zombies, there are also a few different weapons you can unlock to help you out. The machine gun, flamethrower, rockets and rail-guns all get unlocked at various points in the story. They can also be upgraded between levels if you have the cash. There are multiple upgrades for each weapon to increase their range, power, amount of ammo/uses, etc.

Killing many zombies in a combo nets you cash, as does destroying stacks of boxes or other cars parked along the sidewalks. There are also power-ups spread around the map, often down alleys or tucked into corners. These power-ups can repair your vehicle, give you money, or switch to a different weapon as you can only use one weapon at a time. They are pretty obvious, as the money power-up looks like money and the flamethrower power-up looks like some red tanks of liquid, etc.

The last "weapon" is nitro, which isn't really a weapon but is functionally similar. It boosts your vehicle speed when you fire it, and lets you more easily ram through zombies. Not my favorite, but situationally acceptable.

You also unlock additional vehicles during the story mode, but there are only a few in total. The Taxi you start out with, the Sports Car, the Limo, Ambulance, Police Car, Bus and the Super Car. They are not just cosmetic changes however, as different vehicles have different speeds, armor ratings, ramming abilities, and can carry different amounts of passengers. A vehicle that holds 3 passengers for example, isn't going to be all that useful on a mission that requires you to rescue 16, because it would take 6 trips to collect passengers and return to the safe house to drop them off. The vehicles can also have their various attributes upgraded.

Later patches to the game added a couple of additional game modes, namely Slaughter and Blood Race. In the Slaughter mode, you drive around in smaller enclosed maps with an endless zerg of zombies chasing you. Your goal is to destroy as many as possible and rack up as high of combos as you can to get a high enough score to earn a medal and unlock the next one. Power-ups can periodically be picked up and an additional power-up is dropped on the map after each wave you survive.

Blood Race has a couple different modes. Endurance places a bomb in your vehicle, and you must hit checkpoints to increase the timer. In Eliminator, you have a time limit to destroy as many other vehicles as you can. Then there's the regular race mode where you can race against other vehicles but with weapons and zombies. These add a little needed variety to the game, but unfortunately are still only single-player.

The main story may take you 2 or 3 hours to complete, and when you finish the game you just start over. There are, however, 51 Steam achievements, global leader boards, as well as the previously mentioned Slaughter and Blood Race game modes to help extend the play time.

Controls

The controls couldn't be simpler as there are really only a couple of buttons used. You can steer with either WASD or the arrow keys. If you prefer the keyboard, Space is your handbrake while you can use Control, Shift or Alt to shoot. If you're more of a mouse person, the right button will be your handbrake and the left will shoot. Pretty complicated stuff.

Graphics

Like previously mentioned, Zombie Driver is a 2D game viewed from a top-down perspective. When you turn your car, the camera rotates the map so your vehicle is always facing up on the screen.

While the style is very much like the older Grand Theft Auto games, it's really polished and nice looking. Everything is shiny and detailed, with abandoned smoking vehicles and skid marks when you make fast turns. When you smash into a stack of boxes, they all go tumbling and bouncing away before they just disappear. When you smash through a car on the sidewalk it blows up into a bunch of pieces, when you run over a zombie you can watch it splatter on the ground and come apart.

Sound

The background music was unremarkable and forgettable. The sound effects were hit and miss. Most of the weapon firing sounds were decent and the vehicle sound was decent, but knocking over lamp posts resulted in a couple different ding-like sounds you'd expect to hear in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The 1.2.5 patch thankfully added some pretty good voice overs to the mission briefings and character dialog.

Final Thoughts

There are a few mods available for the game as well, but you can likely count them on your two hands, and most of them are simply graphical mods. There's a tutorial for creating your own mods, but you can't really add anything new to the game. Replace existing models or sound effects, modify rate of fire or ammo count? No problem. Add a completely new vehicle or new missions? Not possible. Disappointing.

Zombie Driver is a fun game despite the length and lack of story. Who actually expects much story in a game about running over zombies anyway? It's inexpensive, polished, and a fun way to kill a couple hours here and there.

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