Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse
|a game by||Wideload Games|
|User Rating:||9.5/10 - 4 votes|
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|See also:||Download Zombie Games|
ZOMBIES. Ghouls. The restless dead. If you're a gamer, you've probably dispatched hundreds of the shambling critters in your time. You probably enjoyed it too, didn't you? But maybe you haven't been looking at the bigger picture...
Because zombies are people too. Or at least they were at one point, anyway. They have wants and needs (mostly to do with devouring the still-warm innards of the living, true, but that's beside the point). Did you ever stop to think about that before you clicked your mouse button and decorated a nearby wall with their pus-ridden guts? However, Stubbs The Zombie might just change all that, because - as the name cunningly suggests - it puts you in the decomposing skin of Edward Stubbs' Stubblefield, a newly risen member of the undead. Stubbs was a travelling salesman in life, struggling through the hard times of America's Great Depression. His amazing streak of bad luck only came to an end when he was brutally murdered and dumped in a Pennsylvanian field.
Fast-forward 26 years. It's 1959, and a super-rich playboy has decided to build an ultra-modern city called Punchbowl on top of Stubbs' resting place, waking him from his eternal slumber in the process. The zombie doesn't know much - who killed him or why he's back - but he has an unbelievable hankering for human brains and the sort of power he never possessed in his previous existence.
So the game casts you as the fagsmoking, hat-wearing ghoul, rampaging through various parts of Punchbowl -a fusion of small-town Americana and Flash Gordon - in a gore-drenched third-person action stylee. Developer Wideload Games' past experience with Halo (many of the team helped make it) has led it to use the game's engine, and so Stubbs is shaping up very nicely indeed on the visual front.
Zombified And Ancient
Stubbs himself has access to a remarkable range of talents. Like any self-respecting ghoul, he loves to feast on brains. Should Stubbs kill a human this way, he or she is resurrected as a zombie ally who attacks adversaries on sight. While you can't control these directly, you will be able to influence them by either whistling (to attract them to you) or shoving them in whatever direction you want them to go. These septic sidekicks aren't much cop on their own (except as decoys), but like most zombies, they can be deadly in large numbers.
If he's in a tight spot, Stubbs can also call upon his supernatural zombie strength, which allows him to pummel victims to death, sometimes using their own torn-off limbs as improvised cudgels.
Lending A Hand
Our rotting chum also has the ability to hurl his rancid guts at enemies, or loose a burst of unholy flatulence upon them. Finally, he can send his arm toddling off in search of living prey; find a victim, affix the hand to its bonce and hey presto, you can then call on any of his or her abilities (reminiscent of Shiny Entertainment's cherub 'em up Messiah). If you possess an armed redneck, for instance, you can start popping shots off at other humans.
Wideload's Alex Seropian claims that all these powers - and the inclusion of driveable vehicles - will work towards making Stubbs The Zombie a rewardingly non-linear experience in places. Say there's a posse of cops in pursuit of Stubbs. He can bum-rush them and try to beat them purely through brute strength in melee combat. Either that, or he could hide somewhere and send his hand to possess one of the cops and then use him to shoot the rest. Or he could zombify several less dangerous enemies - a gang of teenage hoodlums, for example - and lead them to where the cops are.
The whole thing is beginning to look extremely promising, not least because of the jet-black humour and the chance to experience the world - albeit a weirdly skewed sci-fi version of the 1950s - from a zombie's point of view. Fans of indie music may also be intrigued by the lineup of strangely-coiffed bands enlisted to provide audio accompaniment. It includes The Flaming Lips, Cake, The Dandy Warhols and Phantom Planet, who've supplied an original track appropriately entitled The Living Dead. Yep, Stubbs The Zombie is rapidly becoming a ZONE favourite and we can't wait for Rebel Without A Pulse. Gory Flash Gordon-influenced undead action from a team that helped bring us Halo? Where do we sign up?
Download Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse
A game That makes you the zombie. A game with a wonderful comic spin and a '50s veneer. A game in which pedestrians scream, "He's eating, lie's eating my brains!" and, "Now I'll never go to college!" A game in which you can rip off your hand and have it scutter Thing-like through the level. Stubbs looked like a dead-cert a winner, a supreme reason for living. "Could it be magic?" we asked ourselves, with a collective shimmy of the hips. Could this really be the zombie game?
No, unfortunately not It's a broken game whose conceit far, far outweighs the consistency of both level design and action. All together "Oh, tits." Bit louder? "Oh, tits." Thank you. Let's see what went wrong.
Despite its faults, Stubbs The Zombie (the man and the game) is inherently lovable. In terms of pitch, angle and consistency of ribtickling, the chaps at Wideload, an offshoot of Bungie no less, have got it bang-on.
Stubbs sees you jumping up from the dead in the city of Punchbowl, a self-automated 'world of tomorrow' affair with chunky Robbie the Robot' robots, hover-cars and other faux-future paraphernalia so beloved by the gullible dolts of the American '50s. The on-screen action is even complemented by a flickery filter that presents the murderous rampage of the titular zombie with dust-specks, dampened colours and the occasional stray pube. Behind this, robots cheerfully fill up cars via their groinal attachments, citizens trot around their promised land of Americana and (if I heard correctly), policemen scream, "My wanking arm!" as Stubbs merrily relieves appendages from their sockets. Its presentation is impeccable, and it even has The Flaming Lips on the soundtrack.
No Ordinary Zombie
In the interests of creating a diverting game, Wideload has made sure that Stubbs dispenses of many hallowed zombie rules: he can amble at two speeds (one slightly faster than the other); he can jump; he can use bits of his guts as grenades and he can fart noxious gas. In many eyes, this rejigging of zombie lore would be a crime second to none, but thankfully key Romero-isms remain. Stubbs eats brains, those relieved of brains become his shambling followers, and these followers also gain a penchant for cerebral matter. Your zombie pals then amble around helping you off the innocent, absorbing bullets left, right and centre and generally causing a nuisance in the malls, streets, multi-storey car parks, police stations and bumpkin environs of fair Punchbowl.
You generally don't want your followers to be too greedy though, since chowing down on brain matter charges up your gut grenades and associated abilities, which unlock themselves as you stomp through the game. A particular highlight comes when you detach your own arm and control it skittering through the level, up walls and across ceilings, until you come across an armed man ripe for possession. Then, with questioning voices piping up around saying that you're "looking a bit different", or perhaps wearing a new shirt (with a green forearm attached to the rear of your chosen innocent's head) you can unholster his weapon, run into a room packed with his friends and colleagues and bag yourself some headshot decapitations.
On the surface at least everything appears well and good: it's gory, it's funny, its undead tongue is lolling out of a hole in its cheek. But the game mechanics simply do not work in any way, shape or sinister form. You can fill a game up with enough great tunes and neat gags to raise an instant smile, but if the rubric of being a zombie isn't fun, then where's the point? Combat is a button-tapping mess followed by rudimentary noggin-gobbling, the guns of the possessed are diabolical and your horde of zombie-followers are useless when the action gets going.
If this game had lived up to its ambitions, you could have had some sort of tactics in mind - creating shambling pincer movements with your followers perhaps - but as it is, everything feels loose and irrelevant Offing your foes too often becomes simply wandering towards an insurgent and taking their bullets one after the other, eating their brain and then standing behind a shed until you automatically regenerate. This isn't fun. It's like Wideload is somehow expecting you to use your skills in some way to get through it in a slicker way -but you're buggered if you know how.
Yawn Of The Dead
It doesn't help that your zombie powers are so few and far between either. Your poisonous farts are useless, while the limited availability of gut grenades and head-bowling ball-bombs, coupled with their complete inaccuracy, makes lightweight nonsense out of some wonderfully-crafted animations of cartoon violence. Vacant level design, meanwhile, has large areas populated by relatively few characters - despite the sizeable amount of zombies that may be futilely trailing in your wake. My biggest bugbear in gaming meanwhile, the 'Halo effect', in which the same interiors are repeated ad infinitum, also makes a return to the fray.
In essence, the game mechanics are as rough as a butcher's clog, yet it remains a game that will make you smile, and one that you'll finish - not least because it's so damn short. With the best soundtrack in history (Ben Kweller, Cake, Death Cab For Cutie, The Dandy Warhols, The Flaming Lips et al), and enough dainty '50s lip-gloss applied, despite its cavalcade of issues, there are reasons to play it - but very few reasons to part with your hard-earned cash for it. Certainly not on PC either - Stubbs loves the console, and loves it hard.
And with that, the last great hope for zombie gaming is snuffed out. But you know zombies - they'll be back for more. One day. One day soon.