If there’s one constant in video games, it’s zombies. Well, zombies and explosive barrels. OK – zombies, explosive barrels, and Quick Time Events. Regardless, a lot of action games these days usually contain one or more of the above. Case in point: Zombie Driver HD, out now on Steam and Xbox Live Arcade. While it may not include QTEs or barrels, Zombie Driver HD does supply you with a never-ending horde of the living dead. Your only weapon against the ghouls? A garage full of badass, weapon-equipped vehicles designed to make the undead… well… dead.
Gentlemen, start your engines.
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360 (Version Played)
Developer: Exor Studios
Genre: Vehicular Zombicide
Release Date: October 17, 2012
ESRB Rating: Mature
Zombie Driver HD is actually a remake of the previously PC-only game Zombie Driver, which was released in 2009. Along with a fresh coat of hi-def paint, Zombie Driver HD also increases the original’s story missions from 17 to 31. The story itself is fairly straightforward: there’s a laboratory accident which turns the denizens of Generic City, USA into walking corpses. Your character manages to survive the outbreak, and ends up in the employ of the Army as their personal gopher. The Army’s General briefs you before and after each mission, and as you rescue citizens, the story naturally unfolds. It’s nothing innovative, but still keeps you relatively engaged.
The game can best be described as a mix of old-school, top-down Grand Theft Auto and Twisted Metal with some Crazy Taxi elements thrown in. The missions aren’t all that varied; they basically boil down to going from home base to a designated area, clearing out the zombies in said area, picking up survivors and bringing them back to base. There is some variety in the missions, such as having to deliver a zombie repellent machine and protect it until it is activated, and some pretty big boss battles, but the real meat of the game is in the chauffeur missions.
As you drive through the zombie-ridden city, you can pick up weapons that are then mounted to your vehicle to help in your mission. There are four different types of weapons: machine gun, flamethrower, missile launcher and rail gun. These weapons are scattered across the map, and you simply need to drive over them to equip them. Be careful, though – you can only use one weapon at a time, so make sure you choose the right one for the task at hand. Oftentimes you will find yourself running out of ammo or low on heath while trying to clear out an area or defeat a boss, and you will have to leave in order to locate more. Your mini-map doesn’t show where the weapons or health are located, so you’ll be doing a lot of searching through alleys. This certainly adds to the urgency of using your weapons efficiently, and makes the game much more intense.
As you progress through the campaign mode, you unlock new vehicles. You can also earn money during each mission by completing side missions, which vary from killing a set amount of zombies, to clearing out a certain area, to completing the main mission in an allotted amount of time. You also earn money by killing zombies and finding piles of cash strewn about the city. You then use this money to purchase upgrades for your vehicle, whether it is increasing the overall heath of the vehicle, the speed, or the ramming ability of the car (plowing through crowds of zombies does slow you down a lot). You can also upgrade your weapons, making them more powerful and capable of holding more ammo, and these weapon upgrades are universal across all vehicles.
The vehicles themselves also feature quite a bit of variety. You start off with a taxi, but as you progress, you unlock other vehicles such as a police car, limousine, and city bus. Each vehicle handles differently, and you’ll quickly find yourself attached to one or two vehicles that you’ll want to use throughout the rest of the game. I suggest getting comfortable with the bus, as there are several missions where you have to pick up a lot of survivors. If you don’t use the bus for these missions, you’ll have to go back to base to drop off the survivors, and then head back out to pick up the rest. There are a few vehicles that are only available for a specific mission, which is unfortunate. The tank levels are an absolute blast, and I would have loved to have seen more of them.
But what would a zombie-killing game be without the zombies? Fortunately, Zombie Driver HD features a lot of the undead. And I do mean a lot. There will be times when you are driving at a snail’s pace due to the immense crowd of zombies that you are trying to plow through, but at least you have a nitro boost to increase your speed, so you can cut through the masses like Bruce Campbell in Army of Darkness. The undead fall into five categories: you have your dog zombies, regular zombies, super strong zombies, zombies that throw garbage at you, and the bane of my existence, the fat zombies. These porkers are combustible, and if you run into them, they explode, taking a good chunk of your health with them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been driving back to base with a busload of survivors when I’d run into a fat zombie, reducing my bus (and my passengers) to a smoldering pile. So make sure you use those weapons, especially on the big boys.
In addition to the campaign, there are also two side modes: Blood Race and Slaughter. Blood Race pits you against three other vehicles in a tournament-style competition. The upside of this is that it’s not just about racing; you are also tasked with destroying the other racers. In fact, some of the races require you to be the last one standing. Think of it as an updated, hyper-violent RC Pro Am and you’re on the right track.
Slaughter is Zombie Driver HD’s survival mode. In this mode, wave after wave of enemies appear, and you are tasked with killing them all. After you take out each wave, you earn upgrades, weapons, and health. Then comes the next wave, stronger and more numerous than the one before it. The game features leaderboards, so there’s good enough reason to replay if you want to obtain that top score.
The graphics are easy on the eyes. Granted, this is a top-down shooter and there’s a lot of flexibility in the graphics department, but it’s pretty nonetheless. You can barely see the details on the zombies, but the huge bosses and the environments look great. And wait until you play the night missions. The lighting from your headlights (and when lightning hits during the stormy nights) are nicely done.
All is not perfect, though. First, you can’t pause the game to view the city map. Many of your missions take you to several different locations around the city, and you have a target marker that shows the general area that you need to go to. However, if you really want to get a good look at where you are and to where you need to be, you can’t pause the game and do so. You just hold the right bumper and the map pops up, and you check for the best route to reach your destination while scores of zombies are destroying your vehicle. I had to resort to driving around and finding a cleared alley so I could quickly get my bearings straight. Sure, some would say that this adds to the realism of the game, as well as the sense of panic, but it would be nice to at least have the option of being able to pause the game while checking the map.
Another issue I had was that you couldn’t skip the dialogue or cut scenes. When you pick up survivors, they will thank you or give a speech that furthers the story. Unfortunately, when you die – and you will die a lot – you pick them up again and are privy to the same speech, with the same cheesy voice acting. It gets quite annoying after the fourth or fifth time hearing it, and a simple button press could have alleviated that issue. Also, the text itself is way too small; I had a very hard time reading almost everything, from the menu options, to the briefings, to the vehicle upgrade screen. Missions don’t include checkpoints, which gets frustrating as some missions take fifteen to twenty minutes depending on if you want to complete the secondary objective. If you want to beat a mission, you have to be perfect.
Finally, the Blood Race and Slaughter modes don’t support multiplayer. The Slaughter mode I can understand being single player (although co-op would make it a lot more fun), but having a four-vehicle racing game that’s only for one player? A missed opportunity if I ever saw one.
Concerns aside, Zombie Driver HD is still an enjoyable game, and is worth the 800 Microsoft Point/ $9.99 price tag. The game does get difficult in the later missions; the final mission in particular is controller-throwingly difficult, but once you beat it, you’ll definitely feel like you accomplished a great feat. The game does draw you into the zombie apocalypse, and gets very intense, especially when racing against the clock. Add in the racing and survival modes and some very engaging Achievements, and you’ve got a downloadable title that has some real longevity to it. And at the very least, it can adequately prepare you for the impending zombie apocalypse – which we all know is coming.
Review Disclosure: A review copy of Zombie Driver HD was provided by Exor Studios for the purposes of this review.