Guts, guns, and gasoline: it’s a match consummated in the underworld. At least it should be, but EXOR Studios’ matter-of-fact PlayStation Network racer Zombie Driver HD gets its wheels in a spin in some crucial areas. It results in a braindead isometric zombie slayer which sadly lacks the bite of its subject matter.
You fill the overalls of a survivor in a corpse-crammed suburban city. Armed with an expanding garage of everyday vehicles and access to the government’s secret stash of lethal artillery, you embark upon a campy adventure in which you attempt to get to the bottom of your home town’s undead predicament.
The title does attempt to weave a conspiracy plot around its blood-soaked premise, but you probably won’t pay too much attention to it. Despite the digital download’s talkative tone, there’s very little substance to the narrative aside from shoddy dialogue and terrible voice acting. You will garner some fun out of trying to guess which accent the budget performers are trying to ape, but that soon wears out its welcome when you realise that you can’t skip conversation sequences in-game.
The gameplay fares better, but is flawed in key areas. The action takes place from an isometric perspective, with two camera options to choose from: ‘Smart’ attempts to predict your movements, while ‘Static’ changes perspective as you turn the wheel. The former set-up is loose and gets stuck behind the scenery, meaning that you have no choice but to plump up for the latter. Unfortunately, while it’s easier to navigate your vehicle in this setting, the constant twitchiness of the camera can be nauseating, especially when you’re moving fast.
In single-player, you’re challenged with 31 different missions, each set in a huge open-world environment. Sadly, the campaign’s variety doesn’t live up to its scope, with most objectives finding you driving to different locations and relieving them of the undead. There are secondary errands for you to complete, but these often slap an arbitrary time limit on the endeavour, or force you to plough through a specific number of corpses in return for monetary bonuses.
Cash can be invested in vehicle upgrades, but the game stops you from grinding your way to the best goodies by forcing you to unlock them first. This means that you have to play through the majority of the campaign before you can even consider getting your driving gloves on a well-powered vehicle. For at least half of the adventure you’ll be stuck behind the wheel of a flimsy muscle car or limousine, though the latter half of the campaign is made more appealing by the introduction of the bus, police car, and — lastly — super car.
But even when you’re in control of these more appealing rides, the gunplay isn’t particularly satisfying. This is not a dual-stick shooter, so you’ll spend a lot of your time recklessly reversing your vehicle in an attempt to get its bonnet facing in the direction of the enemies that you need to kill. Ammo is restricted, so you’ll constantly need to go in search of power-ups to keep your stocks replenished. To make matters worse, not all of the weapons are particularly effective – the flamethrower, for example, is useless compared to the rocket launcher or machine gun. Unfortunately, you’ll be forced to use this weapon type if it’s the only upgrade that’s nearby.
Upon completing a mission, you’ll often be prompted to park on a highlighted spot near to your objective point. However, should any new zombies wander into the alerted area, you’ll be forced to take them out before you can progress. This leads to an infuriating loop in which a new zombie stumbles into the scene just as you’re about to park, forcing you to realign your vehicle and take it out, only for the same to occur again and again. The claustrophobic nature of the world doesn’t help, as it never feels like you’ve got enough room to properly manoeuvre your car. This is particularly problematic when you’re driving the bus or limousine.
It can be hard to see where you’re going, too. The game boasts some outstanding visual effects, but these can be overwhelming. Some missions take place at night with only your vehicle’s headlights and the crackle of lightning to illuminate your path – but while these stages look stunning, it can be near impossible to navigate your way through the open-world’s windy back roads with so little lighting. It doesn’t help that the compass system and map overlay is dreadfully clunky, making it hard to know where you’re going in even the clearest weather conditions.
As you progress through the campaign, you’ll constantly be earning cash. The game boasts a combo system, which sees you richly rewarded for initiating kill chains. In order to maximise your score, you need to use various different kill tactics in a single string. For example, you’ll need to kill enemies with the front, sides, and behind of your car, as well as with different weapons, turbo boosts, and more. Making the most out of this mechanic is essential, as it enables you to afford the aforementioned vehicle upgrades, and makes you more versatile in combat.
The narrative itself is dotted with boss fights, but these aren’t particularly interesting. You’ll spend the majority of these encounters hunting for ammo, unloading it, and then repeating for a good ten minutes or so. Once you have a good understanding of where the nearest weapon and health pick-ups are, you’ll cruise through these battles without breaking a sweat.
Outside of the lengthy campaign, there are two additional modes to hold your attention. Blood Race sees you competing in increasingly difficult tournaments which include a trio of different events. These span straightforward races, Twisted Metal-esque elimination rounds, and endurance challenges which find you attempting to delay the destruction of your vehicle by squashing corpses and passing checkpoints. The better you perform in each round, the more goodies you’ll unlock at the end of the tournament, with custom paint jobs up for grabs.
The last of the options, Slaughter, transforms the core experience into a more traditional arcade affair, as you speed around small arenas picking up upgrades and defending yourself from waves of increasingly difficult enemies. While this strips the game back to its simplest form, the more open environments and frenetic pacing make this one of the more enjoyable options the title has to offer. Sadly, the cheap sound effects and dreary sci-fi music will detract from your enjoyment during prolonged sessions here, but the lure of the game’s leaderboards will encourage you to progress regardless.
Zombie Driver HD has many of the components of a decent downloadable game, but repetitive missions and clunky controls make this more of a messy car crash than an exhilarating death ride. You may harvest some entertainment out of the dodgy dialogue and straightforward Slaughter mode, but just don’t expect the novelty to last anywhere near as long as your average Hallowe’en slasher flick.