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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Stubbs the Zombie

It was the best of zombies. It was the worst of zombies.

Four score and seven zombies ago ...

Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt!
OK, so I finally finished Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without a Pulse, the seminal work from Wideload Games. And while the game may not be the cat's meow, it's got a ton going for it, and I really recommend it for the game play and humor.

Why am I playing (and writing about) a last-gen Xbox game that came out in October?

Because (A) I've been hyping the hell out of the "coming zombie game from Halo's Daddy" for a long time, and (B) I was promised a free review copy, so I held off buying it. Which actually didn't show up until mid-December -- after I was well into Xbox 360 insanity.

Not that I'm looking this gift zombie in the mouth (because it's like a gift horse, except bipedal, and undead, and ... Look, similes aren't really my thing; it's like me driving a car with a ladle).

Besides, despite all my writing about the game industry, I've never asked for any freebies, so this unsolicited one for something I was genuinely excited about was pretty cool.

Right -- about the game.

Awesome! Best thing since sliced brain!

Concept, gameplay, and humor are the three areas where this pussed little gem really shines.

Setting the game in a 1950s idea of what the future would look like? Brilliant! Zombie specific powers like being able to toss a gut grenade, detachable possessing hand, unholy flatulance, and exploding cranium? Brilliant! A soundtrack with covers of 50s tunes by today's musical hotties (Ben Kweller, The Raveonettes, Death Cab for Cutie, etc.)? Brilliant!

Oh, and the humor. Read signs. Everywhere. Notice that packages of hamburgers have several normal looking ingredients ... except for eyeballs. Read the menu in the diner level. Read it!

Not that everything on the game play front is pushing up daisies, though. Shambling sucks. Seriously, there are some booooring sequences where you have to watch your third-person zombie move coagulated-blood-slow from one end of a level to another. And forget getting away from a vehicle that's hell-bent on mowing you down.

And the story is seriously lacking. You're kind of thrown into Stubb's rotting skin at the outset, with a teaser of a story that isn't fleshed out enough to keep you going (and the denouement bites) -- so if the game play and humor hadn't been there, this title would have sunk. Luckily, the game play and humor are there. In spades.

And though I like being able to call and shove my zombie brethren, the truth is the game has brain dead squad controls; they're inconsistent, and unavailable when you want them most.

And though they trumpet the game being built on the Halo engine, the graphics, honestly, look like warmed-over death. I put in the original Halo to see if the engine is just that dated, but no (kind of), it's Stubbs. Part of it is I was playing the game on the Xbox 360, so hi-def on a projector really showed off the jaggies.

And the game is playable on the Xbox 360 (thanks, I'm sure, to Microsoft enabling Halo), but there are some levels that are so dark as to be almost unplayable. I had to ramp my projector up all the way and due total light killage to get through them.

And the sound is great (and funny), but it turns the constant screams as heard by someone outside the gaming room (and missing the humor) can be alternately grating and freaky.

All that said, the game is a solid 8(ish) out 10, and soooo worth spinning through for the humor, the game play, and the innovation. And for co-op. Thanks to Wideload for getting how important it is that every game have co-op. Tag-teaming unholy flatulance and a gut grenade is one of those beautiful moments in cooperative gaming.

So, shamble outside and pick up a copy of Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without a Pulse today. Support Wideload. Support Austin-based publisher Aspyr Media, Inc. Support good game innovation and design, and an innovative model for game development (applying the Hollywood staffing model to game production).

I think you'll find the purchase worth it (it's also available on PC and Mac).

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