Here at NAG, we’re pretty crazy for anything zombie-related. We strongly believe that any game from any genre will simply be made better by the addition of zombies. So, when we heard about Zombie Driver, you’ll understand that “we were excited” is a bit of an understatement. The concept is solid: take oldschool GTA-style driving, add zombies, mix things up a bit with a few weapons and you’ve got yourself a winner. Right? Well, not quite. While Zombie Driver does everything a good zombie game should, one can’t help but feel that the developers could have accomplished so much more.
Many games and movies before Zombie Driver have proven that the story only needs to be strong enough to drive the action from one scene to the next, and Zombie Driver isn’t about to break that sacred tradition. Zombie apocalypse hits the city; you’re a dude; you find a car; you decide that being in a car is safer than being on the streets, and the military feels that you’re the perfect lackey for the tasks at hand. These tasks are generally along the lines of “important person X is over there, but we can’t get him because of reasons, it’s up to you to bring him back here. And, no; you can’t have a tank.” You’ll then be required to drive to the poor trapped souls, kill the zombies gathering around their safe haven, wait for them to jump into your vehicle of choice, and head back to the HQ. Occasionally, you won’t even have to rescue anyone, as many of the secondary objectives just require you to vacate a particular area of the undead menace. It’s simple, in a kind-of good way, but it does get pretty repetitive.
Of course, there’s more than just heroics to keep you occupied. If you’re going to save the day, you need to stay alive. This is where Zombie Driver makes its best effort at redemption: while your car is capable of doing a whole lotof killing, it’s not indestructible. Each vehicle has a rating for armour, ramming and speed — all of which will affect your ability to charge through a horde of zombies without dying. Plough through a couple of zombies and they’ll splatter all over the road in a satisfactory manner, freeing you to go about your business. But try to ram through a whole horde of them, and it’s a different story. The more zombies you smash into, the more you slow down, and once you dip below a certain speed, the zombies can attack your car. Getting from A to B requires a careful blend of fast driving, clever swerving and well-timed weapon usage — it’s often better to carve up a horde before you go diving into it, if you’re not in the mood for losing half your health bar in the process.
While the weapons on offer are cool — comprising your typical machine guns, flamethrowers, rocket launchers, nitro boosts and even a railgun — you’re limited to carrying one at a time, and the amount of ammo you’re given is paltry compared to the number of zombies on the road. It’s a bit irritating at first because, well, I want to kill lots of zombies using lots of guns, but it makes sense as you progress through the game. You’ll soon realise that knowing when and how to use your weapons is the key to your survival. Some areas of a the game are horribly skint of any sorts of pickup (including health), but others are almost overflowing with options. You’ll also soon realise that the most likely place to find weaponry isn’t on the main streets, but rather in the back alleys and parking lots. Unfortunately, those places are also more difficult to manoeuvre around, so the question of “do I try get back to HQ with only 10% health, or do I poke around this dangerous-looking alley for a pickup?” is one you’ll often ask yourself.
There are a few more issues that I’ll bring to your attention, even if it’s just for the developers to read and hopefully learn from. This game needs a minimap — desperately. While you’re given waypoint markers to follow for your goals, there’s no way of knowing the best way to get there. Because of this, you’re forced to snake left and right through the roads until you reach your destination — there’s no way to plan the best route or know what major roads are on the way to your destination. Another grievance I have is with the camera. It’s a GTA-style bird’s-eye camera, except it follows you whenever your turn and rotates either too rapidly or too slowly. The result is a jerky, wobbly, simulation sickness-inducing camera that will make you hate doing donuts. Thankfully, the developers are already working to address this problem. The ability to shoot out of the car window, or fire a turret of some sort, with free-aiming mouse control wouldn’t be frowned upon, either.
Zombie Driver may have some issues, but that doesn’t stop it from being fun from beginning to end. The visuals are extremely impressive, and you probably won’t ever get tired of the explosions, powerslides, handbrake turns and mountains of zombie gibs you’ll encounter during your three to four hours of gameplay. We love the different zombie types that require different strategies to deal with, upgradeable vehicles and cheesy mission briefings, but no amount of silly, over-the-top fun will be able to bury interface and control issues.
Update 22/12/09: EXOR Studios has released patch 1.0.4 for Zombie Driver, which addresses a number of issues including support for game pads as well as two new camera modes. The static camera mode functions much the same as the regular camera, but doesn’t swoop and spin — instead it’s fixed perfectly to the back of your car and as a result just feels unnatural. The second, a mouse-controlled mode, allows you to point the camera in any rotation you’d like, and is much better, allowing for more control over handbrake turns and wiping out groups of zombies. I’m not sure why there’s still no fixed, North-pointing camera, but this is certainly a step in the right direction. You can read all about the patch at the official site.