[Note]: this review is from the perspective of using a dual analog gaming controller.
In a time where many are beginning to grow tired of the zombie culture that has infected pop culture and gaming, Exor Studios introduced a fresh take on the genre back in 2009. Zombie Driver is the name of that new concept, a top-down driving shoot-em-up mayhem-style feast for those of you who get sick satisfaction out of mowing down countless undead creatures.
It’s finally gotten a port to Android, and what better crop of devices to launch them on than those bearing the Tegra juice that the game surely demands? Will this be a dastard trick or a tasty treat for those of you craving some wholesome Halloween fun?
Well, there’s a bit of both. Zombie Driver aims to deliver a horde-like experience that shoves seemingly-countless seas of rotten brain-eating creatures right into your face. The intensity factor won’t alarm you quite like a Left 4 Dead or Dead Rising will, but that’s due to the nature and perspective of the game. Instead of being on foot trying to mow these things down, you’re instead nestled safely (well, as safe as you’re going to get, anyway) inside a vehicle for which to do your bidding.
The core objective is to drive around and spill zombie guts all over the pavement, and you don’t do so without some interesting weapons to toy around with. Things like a flamethrower, rocket launcher, rail gun, and machine gun keep things fresh if you like to stay varied. You can get these terror-inducing weapons via pickups throughout the map, and their effects can be upgraded at the end of each mission for the right price.
And, of course, there are those trusty old bumpers at either end of your vehicle of choice — there’s nothing like ramming a full-sized school bus right into the gut of these blood thirsty monsters. Blood will splatter onto your vehicle as if you’d just emerged from a giant pool of ketchup, and the streets will be drenched in zombie flesh as you behold all the dead cartilage and mayhem you helped cause.
You’ll get several vehicles to choose from including a limo, a sports car, a police unit and even a tank, though whether or not you unlock them depends on your willingness to complete several secondary objectives throughout your campaign missions (hint: they’re not hard at all).
Cars will take damage and progressively appear worse on screen if you don’t find a health pickup. I never knew it was possible to drive around in a flaming taxi for more than 5 minutes without it blowing up, but I’ve pleasantly been proven wrong.
I had a hard time adjusting to the controls initially. This sort of top-down action tends to be accompanied by little more than dual analog controls, but being inside a vehicle means you have to account for things like braking and physics, unidirectional shooting, and more. It was nothing that I couldn’t get used to in a half hour’s time so don’t let it deter you if things feel clunky at first.
Perhaps the most damning element of this game is the hurl-inducing camera work. The game’s “smart camera” aims to swivel and swerve around your car to give you the best view possible, but the effect it had on me is something akin to those awful shaky cam movies like Blaire Witch Project that turn my stomach more due to the lens instead than the gore and horror. There’s a fixed camera angle for those who might find themselves suffering from an episode of motion sickness, thankfully.
Much of the game’s content will be provided through its campaign, though this probably won’t be your most favorite mode. There are 31 missions spread across a few different levels, and you’ll find a grand total of three boss battles throughout it all. I felt those boss encounters were a tad too sparse for my liking, and the lack in quantity wasn’t made up for in quality as I found them to be rather boring for the most part.
The missions themselves aren’t anything to jump for, either — “go here, kill these zombies, escort these folks back to the base” seemed to be a common theme throughout all of the missions. In fact, I spent more time driving around aimlessly looking for power-ups and driving from point A to point B than actually engaging zombies and carrying out my objectives.
As boring as that may sound you do get the urge to fool around a little bit between locations, like seeing how fast you can build a combo multiplier, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find much else. It’s not that I’d expected to go into this game expecting some Call of Duty-esque thrill ride, but a little more variety would have been nice.
Likewise, I wasn’t expecting much out of the game’s story-telling so the fact that it’s driven along by cluttered mission briefing cards and mediocre voice acting didn’t catch me by surprise, either. The upside to playing these story missions is that this is where you go to unlock those aforementioned cars, as well as earn cash (either through pickups, combos or objectives) to unlock upgrades for them.
But for all of that “bad” there’s a nice balance from the “good” pool to keep this experience fresh. Blood Race mode pits you up against anyone (AI driven, but work with me here) willing to go toe to toe with you.
A classic race will equip you with your guns and plop you onto streets full of zombies as you race your foes to the finish line. Eliminator is a destructive race to see just how many pieces of scrap metal you can make out of innocent vehicles waiting to be blown up, and Endurance is like the movie Speed — there’s a bomb on your bus and you’d better keep moving fast toward the finish line before you find yourself blown to smithereens.
All of these racing modes offer the much-needed excitement that was lacking from the campaign, and they’re set up to be perfect for those 5-10 minute spurts of gaming you need while waiting on your next train or a ridiculously expensive cup of coffee from Starbucks.
Just as exciting as all that is Slaughter mode, a Gears of War-style horde mode where you take on waves of zombies ranging from the slow, frail guys to the big, scary brutes. The action takes place in 7 different “arenas,” though you’ll find that these are just smaller bits from the bigger maps you’ve seen in other modes. That’s not a bad thing, though — the constricted space makes for more intense action. Waves get stronger and bigger the longer you survive, and things get quite intense quite fast so you’ll no doubt be spending a lot of time here.
Unfortunately none of this comes with the multiplayer experience that would be perfect for this type of game. Had I been able to tag team some of the Slaughter waves with friends or gone head to head with someone that had an actual brain in the Blood Races it would add a tremendous amount of replay value for me. But without multiplayer this game would quickly become one that only serves as a quick time waster instead of an engaging and compelling experience after you’ve experienced the meat and potatoes of it all.
Zombie Driver does a lot of things right — it has great visuals, a nice variety of modes, and a good amount of things to unlock — but I can’t quite get over the lackluster campaign and I can’t quite find that feeling of needing more like a zombie that hasn’t had a blood meal in half an hour. Go into it knowing that you’ll be experiencing it alone, it’ll have limited replay value, and that it isn’t a game that aims to do one thing great, but does a bunch of other things very good. Find it in Tegra Zone and the Google Play Store to try for yourself!
Happy Halloween! Stay tuned to Phandroid for details on how you can win one of two Nexus 7 16GB units, courtesy of NVIDIA!