Indie developer EXOR Studios recently released the car-as-weapon action title Zombie Driver through Steam. They’re best known for 2008′s DIPRIP (Die in Pain, Rest in Peace), and Zombie Driver holds a few similarities for fans of their first title. While the advent of zombies seems to be growing exponentially in today’s entertainment culture, Zombie Driver manages to remain a fun experience in an increasingly over-saturated market.
The game is a 3/4 driving title in the vein of the original two Grand Theft Auto titles. But rather than exiting vehicles to create some on-foot mayhem, Zombie Driver takes place entirely behind the wheel of your heavily armed and armored cars. It’s up to you to drive through a post-apocalyptic city, rescuing survivors while battling off the zombie hordes trying to kill every last breathing human. Set across seventeen missions, you’re able to earn different cars and upgrade everything from their armor to the size of its futuristic rail guns. Each mission gives you a different set of survivors to rescue that will help shed some light on both what happened and how humans will survive thereafter.
One of the best elements of Zombie Driver is its simplistic controls. During the loading screen, you’re told to use the arrow keys to move, spacebar for your handbrake, and control for your weapons. Three buttons, infinite mayhem. This basic control scheme allows the player to concentrate on gameplay and upping their zombie kills into the triple and quadruple digits.
The driving and physics in Zombie Driver are entertaining from the getgo. The cars handle smoothly and grow stronger as they’re upgraded, but I never got to a point where I felt overpowered. I found this both a positive and negative. On the positive side, the game feels balanced throughout, but at the same time, no matter how many upgrades I purchased, the cars never really felt stronger to me. Crowds of zombies still brought my car to a near-stop, and even by the final level in a fully upgraded car, it only took a few hits from giant exploding zombies to take me out.
I stumbled into a few technical flaws while driving through the post-apocalyptic world. I often tried driving donuts to splatter the zombies out of areas I needed to clear, but the screen would sometimes start spinning out of control, leaving me disoriented and often under attack.
The game features five main “flavors” of zombie: the normal ones, zombie-dogs, the beefy ones, the debris throwing ones and the giant exploding ones. It isn’t much variety, but keeps you on your toes to keep yourself alive. My main strategy was to avoid the giant exploding zombies, as those could kill you quicker than any of their brethren. The more levels you beat, the more beefy and exploding zombies stand in your way. But to help you along, you’ll discover repair power-ups and weapon refills. As you upgrade your vehicles, you’ll find turbo boosts, machine guns, missiles, flamethrowers and even a rail-gun which can devastate mobs of zombies. These power-ups are littered throughout the city, so after battling a large mob, you often have to race around trying to find repairs or die trying.
One element that would have been helpful would be a map. Between levels, you’re shown a map of the city and approximate locations of different elements, but once in game you have no indicator as to where things are outside of a directional icon with a distance meter. But that doesn’t account for waterways, indestructible fences, or other obstacles that stand between you and your objective. I never had too much trouble finding the locations, but it was just a guessing game as I tried to find gaps to get me closer to where I was supposed to go. Without an in-game map, I also felt like I never truly learned the layout of the city.
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as driving through a crowd of zombies, braking, and watching severed limbs tumble off the hood of your car splattering a bloody trail. The details in the game are enjoyable and add a nice touch to this driving title. The artistic styling of the city is a consistent wasteland, which looks great from its 3/4 angle, but unfortunately makes the different parts of the city look extremely similar.
Consistency also held up throughout, as I wandered my way through the city, I’d often discover puddles of blood from zombies I’d massacred in the past. This was a nice touch in a place where you can so easily get lost.
The story is pretty straightforward in Zombie Driver, and I didn’t find it all that key in playing the game. A faceless corporation accidentally unleashes a deadly virus on the populace, you’re sent in to rescue survivors including medical staff to research scientists, then the government comes in to clean up the mess.
Each batch of survivors you pick up give another hint or clue to the greater plot, but I found it extremely difficult to read the text, as it pops up mid-game without pausing as you must continue your zombie-roadkill journey. Especially on the missions with time requirements, I didn’t pause to read what the characters had to say, as I needed to be off to my next target with time ticking down.
I enjoyed Zombie Driver. But for all its merits, it does become repetitious and overall is quite an easy title. You can select four different difficulties, and I played through the medium setting with only losing two or three missions throughout. After beating the game, I couldn’t find where you could change the difficulty on the second playthrough, and I would have liked to be able to reselect certain missions to play again. The only option it gives you is to restart from the beginning.
The most exciting level in the whole experience is the final level in which you’re racing the clock and more zombies than had yet been found in the game. With more levels featuring such frantic gameplay, I think the whole experience could have been taken up a notch.
The game retails through Steam for $9.99, which isn’t a bad price at all for a fun title that takes a lot of elements that work from other 3/4 driving games and executes them well with modern physics. It’s reminiscent of Carmageddon from a different view point, which is an extremely positive note.
If you’re a fan of zombie-related entertainment and want an enjoyable game, Zombie Driver might just be able to fill that gap for you.
[EXOR Studios provided DIYgamer a copy of the game for review purposes. This in no way affected the outcome of the review]