Zombie games and the iPhone have struck up somewhat of a love affair. There are tons of flesh eating games on the AppStore, almost becoming an outbreak all of it’s own. A few twin stick shooters aside, most of these are lacklustre affairs, even within the likes of more official games, such as the two Resident Evil entries. So, can Gameloft inject some of their mobile might into creating a more authentic offering? Read on to find out.
Zombie Infection opens with a cinematic of our two heroes (and heroines), ex-soldier Damien Sharpe and news reporter Alex Rayne, in a helicopter on their way to rendezvous with a scientist who has information on a super-organisation, who are as powerful as whole governments. This leads to a storyline involving a chemical outbreak that stemmed from research to create a super soldier, and it’s down to our lead characters to bring down the company/regime and expose it to the world.
Parallels with the Resident Evil series are obvious. The storyline is pretty much an amalgamation of Resident Evil 2 and 3, with all the visual cues of 4 and 5. Gameloft obviously have no problem ripping off games, as can be seen with both Modern Combat, a Modern Warfare clone, and N.O.V.A, a Halo clone. That said, Resident Evil has borrowed from many a zombie film, so we can’t place full plagiarism on Gameloft for that.
For what they lack in creativity though, they more than make up for in both gameplay and presentation. Zombie Infection is a blast from beginning to end.
Since debuting on the iPhone and iPod Touch, Gameloft have consistently shown their skill with one main element, and that’s how to do touch based virtual controls right. What they dub as the ‘V-Stick’ is present in almost all of their event titles, from platformers, FPS’s and 3rd person adventures. In Zombie Infection it works a treat, and in some cases better than the more fast paced FPS’s. This is in part due to the slower nature of the game, where movement is more of a walk than a run, as you manoeuvre your way around the Zombie filled environments. Don’t get me wrong, the slowness I mention is not that the game lacks action, quite the contrary, this game is brimming with it. Instead it’s the slow nature of the zombies which allows more of a move > stop > aim > fire mechanic.
Aiming is controlled via the full touchscreen, slide your finger top to bottom to look up or down, and slide side-to-side to look left or right. While moving this will control your turning direction. When in aim mode, toggled by tapping your weapons fire icon, it controls your weapons laser sight. In this mode your general movement is slowed, and your viewpoint slighty zoomed in, it mirrors that of Resident Evil 4 and 5, and feels more realistic than that of a run and gun FPS shooter. The red dot laser sight allows surprising accuracy, allowing you to pin point a zombies body parts. Useful for disarming zombies that hurl knives, rocks and shovels, and disabling the zombies that are fast on their feet.
Speaking of the zombies – and let’s be honest, that’s why we are here – Zombie infection offers a good variety of the flesh loving beasties. So often in games such as this, and even the big guns such as RE and Alone in the dark, the zombies all look a like. Recent advancements in processor and memory have allowed more models on screen and more variety in look, but it’s not uncommon to see many of the same Zombie on your travels. I expected this to be the case with this game, but was pleasantly surprised. Early on the locals do look uncannily similar, but even then there are about four or five different models exhibiting not just a different skin but attributes too. Some are faster, running at you. Others are armed with implements, which they may batter you with, or occasionally throw at you. A fat butcher zombie is particularly nifty with a cleaver. Later they get even faster, bigger and more powerful…. to the point where they even carry guns and shoot you. In a nice change of pace to the game, you’ll even come across an elite unit of soldiers called the freedom fighters for some faster human-on-human action, more akin to Metal Gear in gameplay.
Generally you’ll be up against hordes of zombies as they unwittingly try and stop you from reaching your goal. Environments within a chapter of the game consist of various set pieces where you must escape from an area by clearing it of undead, and find the way out via basic puzzles or by obtaining a key from a mini boss. Every two chapters or so end with a large boss encounter, and surprisingly they can be quite tough, particularly the last few in normal difficulty mode. Unlike those of Iron Man 2, the boss encounters here are longer and require more than just raw firepower, replicating an experience similar to that of Metroid or Zelda.
A zombie slaying game would be nothing without a strong selection of weapons to slay said zombies, and Zombie Infection does not disappoint. You start out with your trusty handgun, but soon enough more powerful weapons become available. The hand gun is your best friend though, and for the first half of the game will be used the most. This is because it uses less ammo and can be effective long range, allowing you to pick off flesh eaters at a more comfortable distance. The shotgun is a last resort weapon, this you’ll equip when you are surrounded at short range, though despite it’s power, it takes longer to reload. The last two are power weapons, first up is the assault rifle, it’s rapid fire is perfect for large groups of zombies, and getting out of a sticky spot, but you’ll mostly use it for dealing damage during boss battles. The same can be said for the last weapon you obtain, the rocket launcher. The ammo for this is rare, so you’ll want to keep this for the big boys. Also available at your disposal are your own physical assets…. your fists. Occasionally you’ll find your self ammo-less, or in a zombies grasp, and so fisticuffs becomes the only option. Repeated button mashing is the order of the day here, and should you down a zombie in this manner, a red icon will appear that unleashes a finishing move to put the flesh eater to sleep for good.
Managing weapons is a cinch, you can either pause the game and arm yourself there, or for quick switching you can flick the weapons icon at the top right of the screen to cycle through them. Your health can be managed this way too. If your energy is low you must manually recharge it with med packs you pick up on your travels. It’s important to keep an eye on you health, as despite frequent auto saving it’s still annoying to be zapped back to a previous checkpoint.
The main campaign offers decent amount of gameplay. On easy I completed it in around 5 hours, but on normal and hard you can expect more deaths and checkpoint restarts. Once you do complete the story, a previously locked survival mode becomes available. I got hands on with this mode at Gameloft’s Paris event last week. I was impressed then, and after playing it more I absolutely love it. Dropping you into a large multilevel arena as one of three character (the third has to be unlocked), you must fend off an unlimited supply of zombies. It feels great, and exhibits more pant wetting moments than the main story mode can dream of. Being trapped atop a burnt out car, surrounded by all the Zombies you encountered in the games 12 chapters, is exiting. You’ll survive for a while but eventually you’ll have to venture off to pick up more ammo and health. The experience is the best and most fun survival mode I have experienced to date, and all it’s missing now is an online coop element and then Call of Duty Zombies will have tough competition banging down it’s door.
Graphically Zombie infection is great looking game, once again I’ll mention it borrows heavily in look and style from the recent Resident Evil 5, but it’s a testament that it looks better than Capcom’s own RE4 for iPhone. The environments are well designed with both high resolution textures and models, as well as level design that fools the mind into thinking that a bigger world exists beyond the game’s invisible barriers. Unlike Brothers in Arms 2, and even N.O.V.A to some degree, you never feel fenced in. The lighting is superb, especially in the earlier levels where the harsh sunlight of brazil casts crisp shadows onto the environment. I appreciate this is all faked with light maps on the geometry, but it looks great. I have yet to test the game on an older device, but on the 3GS it runs beautifully and I experienced zero slowdown.
The sound on the other hand is a mixed bag, and is a stain on an otherwise polished product. Let’s get the positive element out of the way first, and that’s the music. It’s a little generic in places but it sounds great and fits the action well, with suspensefully slow music changing to a faster pace as the action hots up. On the negative front though things take a turn for the worst, and… drum roll… it’s the voice acting! Those of you who have read my reviews previously will have seen my thoughts on such matters before, particularly Gamelofts voice work. And suffice to say that In Zombie Infection it really is terrible.
Strangely the main culprits are the lead characters, with some z listers actually sounding ok. Both Alex and Damien’ delivery though is awful, often out of sync with each other, with pauses in the wrong places and emphasis on the wrong words which combine to sound disjointed and almost comical. Their exchanges often come across as children having a tantrum, instead of an intelligent reporter and an experienced soldier. Having said that, I’m almost willing to let it slide this time. Unlike Brothers in arms, where the bad voice work harms the dramatic and emotional undertones of the source material, in Zombie Infection however, it doesn’t feel so out of place. Instead, and no doubt unintentionally, it fits within the B-movie horror feel of the genre… akin to the intentional tongue in cheek style of House of the dead: Overkill on Wii. Ultimately, the positives of the game far outweigh the negatives in the voice work… after all, you can always turn off the VO from the options menu.
After their lacklustre offerings of Brothers in Arms 2 and Iron Man 2, i’ll admit I wasn’t holding out much hope for Zombie Infection. What I’d played in Paris was impressive and promising but I could help think the end product would be lacking in some way. I’m happy to report then that I couldn’t be more wrong on this occasion. Zombie Infection is a great action game from start to finish. Sure, the story is uninspired and the voice acting is terrible, but the core gameplay is some of the best fun I’ve had with an action title on iPhone. Each chapter is better then the last, building up to big final showdown, and once it’s all over there’s the survival mode to keep you coming back for more.
At $6.99, this is a must purchase.