The first person shooter has become synonymous with modern gaming. The domain of the muscle bound hero (or if you prefer the voluptuous heroine) wandering cautiously around any number of perilous scenarios. Armed to the teeth with a wide variety of imposing looking weapons of undeniably phallic design, ready to distribute death or at the very least serious injury to any number of enemies. The first person shooter has a wonderful (if somewhat bloody) heritage going back to all those crude Apogee games like Wolfenstein and Doom and ending up in the here and now with such efforts as Unreal Tournament and Halo.
Impressive as they all might be it would be easy to accuse them all of being somewhat generic in their approach. What’s sorely needed you might say is a hint of originality, enter Stubbs The Zombie (full title: Rebel Without A Pulse). This might not be the newest game on the market (although it is to me, it originally made its debut in the latter part of last year), but it does stand up as one that tries to do something new with an established genre.
Firstly, forget playing the role of a lantern jawed hero. In this game you take on the role of the more than slightly dishevelled Stubbs. A hero who stands apart from his contemporaries in the respect that he is already dead. Shambling into action across an idealised futuristic city that is set in 1950’s America. Closer inspection of our leading man shows more than a passing resemblance to a young (and dead) Frank Sinatra, complete with cigarette dangling nonchalantly from puckered mouldering lips, although in truth I don’t remember Frank ever shambling around trying to hold his internal organs in place.
Stubbs wanders around Punchbowl, an experimental city from the 1950’s designed to be the future of American living with robots and hover cars all styled in much the way people in the 1950’s would style them. His objective is to find a woman he has fallen in love with (from looking at her on a billboard). As you would expect however there are going to be obstacles in the way preventing him reaching his goal.
Being dead limits Stubbs in a number of ways, he doesn’t so much walk through the city as drag himself through it and if you’re expecting him to put on some kind of super powered sprint you would expect to find in other games of this type then forget it. However Stubbs does have a number of tools at his disposal to help him out things get a little tricky.
Like all self respecting zombies (especially those of the old school variety) Stubbs has a hunger for brain matter and woe betide any of the civilians who get in his way. Chomping on someone’s head results in the victim joining Stubbs’ on his somewhat reckless quest and if you play your cards right you can quickly summon an up a little army that George Romero proud.
As the enemies become a little more proficient at looking after themselves (i.e. they have guns and stuff) the up close and personal approach ceases to become effective and this is where things can get messy. Stubbs has a more personalised arsenal than most, starting with a nasty case of flatulence which when unleashed has a devastating effect on anybody in the localised vicinity.
If that isn’t gross enough for you when Stubbs has eaten enough brains he can tear out a section of his gut and launch it a la grenade at his unsuspecting victims and detonate it leaving an area suitably clear for him and his undead cohorts to wander through at will. Sometimes however there’s a little more involved than mere violence, Stubbs has a nifty line in possession, by tearing off his own hand and dropping it on the ground (I know, I know that is kind of violent) he can send his severed limb behind enemy lines (a bit like Thing from The Addams Family) where he can pounce on an unsuspecting target and take control of him/her. So if Stubbs takes control of say, a soldier he automatically gains a rifle (something he cannot control in his own body).
And I’ll let you find out for yourself the neat little trick he has of using his own head as an exploding bowling ball.
Graphically the game is spot on, making use of the same graphics engine that was used on Halo. The environments used in the game are nicely represented (although I did have to turn up the gamma settings a lot to get the lighting how I liked it,). Animation is fluid, and some of the antics both you and your opponents get up to are quite funny. The game does come with a mature warning due to the level of blood and gore it contains but in honesty we’ve all seen worse and its so over the top it comes across as essentially harmless.
Needless to say the humour in here is pitch black, and a lot of it comes in the form of soundbytes, a good deal of them being at the expense of American 50’s mall culture. Even as you are tearing the limbs from one of your victims they usually have something amusing to offer as a parting shot.
The game also carries a heavyweight soundtrack in the form of a collection of instantly recognisable fifties songs covered by the likes Death Cab For Cutie, The Flaming Lips, The Ravonettes and The Dandy Warhols. Trust me the songs are infectious and it strikes me that the game manufacturers knew they were on to a winner here because the soundtrack is available as a separate purchase.
Playability is pretty much what you would expect from a game of this type, keyboard users will be familiar with the setup (W up, A left etc) and the character responds well, although being dead he’s not quite as instantaneous as you would like at times but that I suspect that is part of the game. The only occasional problem with control is when Stubbs commandeers a vehicle, either the controls aren’t up to scratch or Stubbs being dead makes him a lousy driver (again I’ll go with the latter). The game isn’t particularly difficult, some spots gave me a little bit of trouble but hardened gamers should be able to make mincemeat (ouch) of Stubbs in a few dedicated sessions.
So in conclusion what you get for your money (and I daresay you should be able to pick this game up a little cheaper now it’s a few months old) is a decent level based game with a nice line in twisted humour, and the possibility of some lasting appeal once you’ve completed it.
Stubbs The Zombie is available for Xbox, PC and Macintosh.