Kill zombies. Do it with a guitar controller. The concept behind Rock of the Dead sure sounds like a brilliant idea, but the horrible reality of this tedious "strum or die" game quickly sets in.
Rock of the Dead feels like an intentional riff on Sega's The Typing of the Dead, a game that transformed light gun arcade game The House of the Dead 2 into a frantic type-fest against zombies and mutants. Instead of a keyboard, you'll use a guitar or drum controller to tap out colored patterns that will decimate foes. Assuming the role of a dude who discovers he has the power to slay zombies, aliens and mechanical beasts with his guitar, you'll travel from trailer park to outer space to save the planet—and get the girl.
The Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 owner who likes to hear a handful of Rob Zombie songs emitting from a speaker while playing a video game. Also good for masochists and curiosity seekers.
Why You Should Care
Few titles make use of Guitar Hero and Rock Band controllers for anything but straightforward rhythm music games, which Rock of the Dead certainly is not. Maybe you really liked Fret Nice? Maybe you shouldn't care.
Guitars and zombies? What could possibly go wrong? Rock of the Dead simply doesn't have the gameplay chops. Strumming the colored sequences of notes that hover over enemies—no timing is required, but quick reflexes are—just isn't enjoyable. There are two major types of encounters. For most enemies, you'll see a quick note chart pop up on screen. Tap out the sequence correctly and quickly to destroy whatever beast is currently shambling towards you. You'll also face tougher enemies that stop dead in their tracks instead of attacking you who can be dispatched via a longer, scrolling sequence of notes timed to a music track. You'll do that throughout the whole game. It's repetitive and dull.
Felicia Day voices Mary Beth in Rock of the Dead. She's the game's most attractive feature.
But what if I like tapping out repetitive patterns on a guitar? Then you should at least know that Rock of the Dead's presentation of those patterns is highly confusing. When enemies swarm the screen, it's often difficult to see which note sequence you're playing through or which one you might have accidentally committed to playing. Visually, it's a mess.
So. That's it? That's it. You'll occasionally be thrown a rapid-fire challenge that will require you to help a fellow human being in a bind, which tends to offer a challenge. You'll also be able to collect hidden crystals and guitar picks, upgrading your character's shield and his screen-clearing blast attack along the way. There are a few boss fights that stand out as clever, like the colossal trailer park boss and a subway car chase.
At least it's got Rob Zombie in it. Does it ever. The vast majority of Rock of the Dead's soundtrack is comprised of White Zombie and Rob Zombie songs—and snippets of songs—played again and again. There are a few heavy metal covers of Johannes Brahms and Johann Sebastian Bach tunes, but you'll definitely feel Rob Zombie fatigue by the end of the game.
Surely Rock of the Dead must have some redeeming qualities? A few of the gags are amusing, as is the rare one-liner delivered by Neil Patrick Harris. But Harris' performance, a monotone reading of lame puns and painfully self-deprecating jokes, is mostly annoying. To Rock of the Dead's credit, it gives a clear impression that it's perfectly aware of its B-game presentation and nonsensical plot, acting accordingly.
At least it's budget priced! Rock of the Dead does carry a lower price tag than the norm, but the poor production values, ugly graphics, meager content and dull gameplay aren't worth the $40 USD, not when you can put your plastic instruments to much better use this season.
Rock of the Dead In Action
The Bottom Line
What sounds like a great idea on paper doesn't work so well when printed on a game disc. Rock of the Dead has too many problems, too little ingenuity and polish to recommend. It's campy and quirky, but also grating and repetitive. Play Rock of the Dead if you dare.
Rock of the Dead was developed by Epicenter Studios and published by UFO Interactive and Conspiracy Entertainment for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, released on October 19. Retails for USD$39.99. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the campaign on Xbox 360 and tested other modes and difficulties.