Typically, Friday the 13th is a day reserved for black cats, bad luck and Jason Voorhees. But this year, in which we get three Friday the 13ths, I'm willing to make an exception for zombies.
Actually, there's been a lot of zombie this month. Between Burn Zombie Burn!, the Resident Evil 5 release and a preview of Call of Duty: World at War's upcoming zombie map (more when the embargo expires next week), I've seen just about every type of undead you can image: fast, slow, exploding, Nazi, ballerina and — of course — flaming.
Burn Zombie Burn is one of those games that sells itself in the title. If you really have to ask what the game is about, you should probably get your reading comprehension checked. The only thing you might not know from reading the title is that it's a PlayStation Network exclusive. Which is too bad, because if there was ever a game with enough zombies to go around — Left 4 Dead notwithstanding— this is it.
What Is It?
Burn Zombie Burn is a PSN game from developer DoubleSix. The game almost didn't make it to release on account of the original publisher going under - but, like the undead, you just can't keep a good game down.
What We Saw
The game has a grand total of six maps and three different modes playable on each. I saw them all in various combinations and played Secret Lab, Graveyard and Army Base in Challenge and Arcade modes. Gamer beware: in the retail release, you'll have to unlock each level one at a time using the different modes.
How Far Along Is it?
Burn Zombie Burn hits PSN March 26 at $9.99. Aside from everything being unlocked in this build, it's pretty much final.
What Needs Improvement?
The control scheme: It's a weird thing when the controls seem more complicated than the gameplay. DoubleSix Creative Director Jim Mummery (awesome surname) explained that they'd originally wanted to map the controls like any other arcade shooter, using both analog sticks for movement and aiming. However, this made switching between the various weapons way too difficult, and so they settled on a system where different buttons control strafing, shoot-at-nearest-target and the default torch weapon you use to burn zombies. Once you get the hang of it, it's not so bad - but the temptation to mash on the right stick is a hard habit to break.
The wordy-as-hell tutorial: It's cute that they call it Zombie Academy; but it gets old fast when you've got to click through line after line of text explaining the various ways you can set zombies aflame. I'll cut them some slack because this is a downloadable game where you can't page through a physical manual; but I don't doubt that they attached a Trophy to completing the tutorial as a way to make up for how tedious the whole thing is.
Big Red Button payoffs: Each level has a Big Red Button that you can press after a certain number of kills. Pressing the button brings down an environmental hazard to the zombies - like helicopters dropping bombs on them or rain that slows them down. But what the buttons do didn't seem dramatic enough to make me want to work for button presses.
You can't really "clear" a level: You play 'til you run out of lives and advance to the next level based on how many zombies you killed before you died. I would have loved this if I were still a kid in an arcade with a limited number of quarters - but as an adult who wants a sense of satisfaction, I want to see some proof that all my burning of zombies has made the world a better place.
What Should Stay The Same?
Good, ol' fashioned zombie burning: The game delivers what it promises - a mindless zombie-torching spree worthy of any arcade shooter ever.
Split-screen co-op: Because you want to turn and punch the guy who stole your health pickup, not just yell at him over team chat. Oh, and best moment of my hands-on? I had one gigantic horde of fiery zombies chasing after me, Mummery had another, we smacked into each other mid-map over a stick a dynamite. The explosion killed us alright, but the score counter was through the roof.
Lots of Trophies and unlockables: Because what else are PSN games for?
Bring on the horde: This game has a max zombie cap of 120 on screen at any one time. That's the way it ought to be with zombie games; totally overwhelming and really amazing to watch if you blow them all up at once. You hear that, Chop 'Til You Drop? MORE ZOMBIES.
Layers of strategy: The map layouts, the modes and the various weapons all combine to add an element of strategy to Burn Zombie Burn that I wasn't expecting. For example, you get a score multiplier for each zombie that's on fire, but they die when on fire for longer than six seconds. Ergo, to get the highest score, you wanna torch 'em, run to a wide open space and then blow them all up at once. But! If you're playing Defend Daisy mode (where your girlfriend is hanging out in a Cadillac mid-level), you can't blow them up if they're too close to Daisy, because she'll take damage. So you've got to work with your weapons (like the brain gun) to lure them away, set them on fire and then blow them up. Word of caution — watch out for choke points where fast-moving ballerina zombies can box you in.
Homage where homage is due: This is a game made by people who love zombie films. Lots of little details are homages to films we all know, love and have played video game adaptations of (the Army of Darkness chainsaw and the Shaun of the Dead cricket bat, for example). The main hero is even loosely modeled after Bruce Campbell, minus some IQ points.
The music: Mummery called it "Green Day meets Theremin" and I totally dig it.
Zombie means "mindless" right? So it's fitting that Burn Zombie Burn is mindless fun. Still, after Flower, I wonder if people will be expecting something a little more high brow from PSN games. If not, this game will stand as everything right and true about PSN games. If so, Burn Zombie Burn will wind up at the bottom of download barrel.