Place your bets, gamers: how long do you think the Zombie pop-culture phenomena will survive for? Until the moment this genre is all but a dried up decaying carcass left in a pool of void creativity, every format, be that of film, TV, or in this case gaming, will milk this Zombie cash cow dry for as long as we keep buying into it. I’m beginning to wonder if developers and publishers alike play a game of, ‘throw random words into a hat, pick one out, preface it with the word zombie and hey – we have grounds to make a video game!’. I’m self-aware of my ramblings right now, but type ‘Zombie’ into an app store or the steam homepage and you’ll have a horde of Zombie related games to play; type it in on the PSN store and you’ll likely find Zombie Vikings.
Zombie Vikings is a new instalment brought to you by the same guys who created ‘Stick it to the man’. Now, I didn’t play a lot of their previous title, or at least enough to give you an accurate review of it, but I did however, remember the game having character and distinctly having personality – this game definitely follows suit in this area and at times, invokes the odd chuckle or two where appropriate from clever and well-placed dialogue.
So, here’s the catch: the ever mischievous Loki has stolen Odin’s eye of Wisdom from him to do, well, evil stuff (one can only assume), and it is up to the recently revived heroes of Valhalla to retrieve the eye. A simple concept, but this is indeed a beat ‘em up game, and we all know these types of games are meant for one thing: hitting, smashing, pulverising and battering everything in your path to proceed to the next level. This is indeed a simplistic design, but the game manages to pull a few tricks to enter this genre with its own stamp and not seem copy-cat in its approach, especially the art design.
I love Beat ‘em up games and consider them to be my favourite along with RPGs, so I knew exactly what to expect when starting the game up, I did not however, expect to see a shop menu on the home screen. No, this shop menu wasn’t the in-game shop, it was the kind of digital shop that lets you buy characters to join you in the game with real cash – this is not DLC, this is stripping parts of a finished game and selling it to you as soon as you’ve already bought the game – naughty, naughty. Be that as it may, I don’t think the character available is an essential part of the game itself – more an add-on, but one must be attentive in this current climate of seedy micro transactions and doing this sort of thing doesn’t uphold trust.
Four players are given to the gamer at the start, each with their own unique strong attacks, light attacks and wacky personalities to guide you on your way to rescuing that eye of Odin’s. It must be said that the game implores players to work as a unit in multiplayer as opposed to playing by oneself as most dialogue, be that cutscene or in-game, seems tailored for the other personalities on screen. Likewise, in a multiplayer match, there is a small chance of revival should another player rescue your freshly decapitated head. In single player, once you die, you die. This is all fine if you have local / online friends, but if you’re a loner such as myself and have only the voice inside your head to keep you company, one might feel a little alienated throughout their play-through. This doesn’t take away from the core game however, and let’s face it: who plays this genre of game alone anyways?
Each part of the map you visit, or locales, are designed specifically for each characters backstory. For example, Gunborg, who is a mightily huge female Viking with varicose veins aplenty, visits her football-loving homeland to find ruffians beefed on steroids, angry, and ready to scrap in a game involving a gnome being tossed at each other’s goal – silly? It’s meant to be. Not one area of the map is without fantastic design too, and this unique aesthetic adds in favour to the humour and look of the characters as well. From having a conversation with the north sea itself and claiming he had to scoot off from “having to appear as a metaphor for life in a Hemingway novel”; a witch doctor that literally is a witch dressed as a doctor and a worm boss reminiscent of the Earthworm Jim franchise, this game nods to various pop culture giants and does it through wit and clever word-ship. Even the pause menu has character!
A sense of progression is here somewhat, with swords and runes to buy for your desired characters that buff and add certain effects. Side quests are also apparent for those that wish to trophy hunt and obtain all of the crazy weapons at hand; although when I say side quest, I mean a slight branch in path from the main game that involves tasks not hard to complete and don’t add a whole lot of time to the overall experience. Furthermore, most weapons in the game are pointless aside from enjoying the crazy look of them and I didn’t buy a single rune through my play-through, or at least feel I needed the help of one. One of the best swords in the game for example, wasn’t all that expensive in the shop, so taking a little time to grind out a few pennies had me breezing through the story in no time. Bosses too become a slight chore when most take the routine tactic of, pick up bomb, throw bomb – rinse and repeat. This game isn’t bad, it’s just a little shy from being decent.
My real gripe doesn’t come from spamming the square button to win most encounters, nor does it come from doing the same thing again and again with bosses, no, my gripe comes from the product itself: Zombie Vikings is as bug infested as a decaying skull.
I am one to understand quite clearly that things can be faulty. This is why we expect a patch or two from a developer to either enhance or fix a few bugs in a game. Originally trying to give this game the benefit of the doubt, I waiting through screen tear; getting stuck in walls; staring at floating barrels and even a game breaking bug where I literally could not get past a certain section to hopefully be patient and look past being given/sold something unfinished. Accidents happen (even though one should not release an unfinished product) however, of recently news, I have found plausible rumours on the net that the company are set to selling a retail copy with added features: including characters and stages for those wishing to buy. So, to those who have bought the game digitally through means of excitement, positive reviews, or being a fan of previous games, have been somewhat punished and given a dodgy version almost.
Kudos to the writing of the game, and as a whole, Zombie Vikings isn’t bad; there’s just too much stopping me from saying that it was great.