First things first, you are NOT a zombie driver. Instead you’re a bloke who has to rake it around a city in a variety of cars, rescuing the survivors of a zombie apocalypse whilst avoiding, ploughing through, or gunning down the undead that litter the streets. ‘Zombie Roadkill’ may have been a more accurate title.
Zombie Driver is a top-down game of giddying simplicity. You get issued a primary mission (rescue X amount of survivors) and a secondary mission (such as completing the primary mission within a certain time limit, or kill a specified number of a certain zombie type), and you’re handsomely rewarded for your efforts with either cash, cars, or upgrades.
The cars range from taxis to buses to secret military machines, and all have different strengths such as passenger capacity, speed, and armour. Most of these attributes can be upgraded using the cash you garner throughout the game. Upgrades are unlocked through completing the missions and include such treats as rockets, machine guns, and nitros, as well as the aforementioned vehicle improvements.
The main fun obviously comes from ploughing into a group of zombies and smearing their entrails all over the pavement. Apparently the game rewards stylish mashing and you can rack up combo road-killings, but I didn’t tend to notice as I was concentrating on rescuing the designated survivors. Each group of them has a timer that gradually ticks towards their doom - fail to clear the area before it hits zero and they’re zombie fodder. I suppose this is a necessary game mechanic - without it the game would be stupidly easy - but it does get in the way of the vehicular zombicide that it’s meant to be all about. There are pick-ups along the way too, such as cash and ammo for your weapons, but disappointingly I didn’t find any unique items with which to kill harder.
All this won’t hinder your fun as much as the camera though. Its angle is fixed and is utter toss. You can’t zoom out, which you desperately need to be able to do as you spend a lot of time stuffing your ride into walls – it doesn’t damage you (a bit like with Land Rovers - only zombies can cause damage), but it’s massively annoying. Nor can you zoom in to watch limbs and heads fly as you power your bus into a gaggle of Zombies. Worst of all though, the camera can’t handle handbrake turns without freaking out and twitching all over the place. I actually had to turn the game off once as it was giving me a headache. You spend as much time rubbing your temples soothingly as you plough into a wall you had no idea was coming up, as you do admiring the flesh-grinding action.
It’s too short as well – it’s over in a couple of hours and you’ll probably have no desire to return to it, as it doesn’t really add much after the first few levels. Sure, the weapons become pretty powerful but there are too few, and I’d like to have seen more zombie variety.
When Felix passed me Zombie Driver for review, he mentioned that in some ways it reminded him of the original Grand Theft Auto. He was right; it is vaguely reminiscent of the 12 year old classic – especially in the beautiful smearing of guts over the concrete. But this highlights a problem – GTA1 does all this, and much more, far better than Zombie Driver, and it’s 12 years old and free.
I wanted to like Zombie Driver more. The ploughing of a heavy, metal car into soft, pliable, undead flesh should be, and is, fun. There’s just nowhere near enough to it, even at this price, and the camera is one of my Least Favourite Things Ever.