Guides for the Dead…
It’s odd how the humble zombie has come to be society’s favourite monster these days, having recently and undoubtedly trounced the other nearest competitors, vampires. Some of this may be due to the social commentary you can overlay on any zombie film, pretending they’re actually all about capitalism or medicated drug use and not just gruesome rampaging corpses with their arms hanging off. Still, all vampires seem to do these days is look moody and shag each other, so it’s not like there’s much competition.
Misleadingly monikered Zombie Night Terror has everything to do with these staggering skeletons and, despite the second and third words of the title, nothing to do with screaming in your sleep and scaring the shit out of your cat. We were given a preview build of the game to see how it fares, ahead of a full launch. In the interests of full disclosure, the preview build of the game we received was a shortened Beta version, so I couldn’t tell you whether it becomes repetitive or even whether, after the 9th level, the whole game does an about-turn and becomes a jaunty Tetris rip-off.
The final release will be available on Steam for PC and Mac, from small French independent studio Noclip. In a world not exactly short on opportunities to sink bullets into the unfortunate undead, it presents a different opportunity; rather than quelling the problem, you are an omnipresent mastermind intent on spreading the zombie virus far and wide for reasons that are never really given or needed.
While the plot and objectives may differ from what you’d expect from the horror genre, there’s still more than enough familiarity elsewhere. The references to genre favourites are as subtle as a sawn-off shotgun; for one, the drug that causes the infection is called Romero. Then again, no one plays a game called Zombie Night Terror to appreciate the subtleties.
Obviously, as you’d expect from a game whose main protagonists are incapable of speech or thought, Zombie Night Terror is not big on plot. But neither does it need to be; the action is easy to pick up and uses a simple point and click style. It’s strange to find yourself fall into a bizarre state of caring for your shambling plague, guiding them through the 2D landscape towards the next stage, like a loving parent with innumerable cannibalistic children.
This is very much a zombie puzzle game, or ‘Zuzzle’ game if you’re a fan of neologisms. The obvious reference point is a mixture of Lemmings and The Walking Dead. You’re able to create zombies using the aforementioned drug, albeit with consideration for strategy if you want to get past the first few levels. For example, it’s best to pick the humans that have weapons as victims of the virus for obvious reasons. However, zombies will be zombies, and the hoard, if left undirected, will simply shuffle constantly to the right of the screen into a wall or, worse, a fall.
As disembodied puppet master, it’s your task to direct the walkers by instructing them to bash down doors, set up roadblocks to stop them coming to harm (well, y’know, MORE harm) and generally shepherd them around. You can also trigger off mutations inspired by everyone’s favourite survival horror series; to overcome certain obstacles; crawlers can crawl (unsurprisingly) up walls, Boomers can explode and take out pesky barriers or floors (which is incredibly entertaining, as the poor residents below suddenly find it’s raining undead), and you can mutate some into huge, bullet-stopping titans, reminiscent of enemies from the Resident Evil games (and films, if you haven’t blocked them from your mind). This is all done by utilising your stores of DNA, which are accumulated as you progress through the levels. You need the brains to cast your eye over what potential hazards may befall your fleshy crew before they get there, keeping as many going as possible to tackle humans and obstacles alike. Once you’ve chomped down on a surviving living person, obviously they turn and become part of your Z-Team, reinforcing your all-important numbers. No ones scared of a single zombie, after all.
Graphically, the whole thing has a nicely retro feel, with big blocky sprites rendered mostly in black and white (but with flashes of red, obviously, and occasional green) to keep it feeling grim and atmospheric. And it works, in combination with the minimalist soundtrack; a cycle of ominous swooshing noises and screams. Despite this oppressiveness, the game still has an overall feel of fun, like a B-Movie more than an outright horror flick.
As it stands, Zombie Night Terror is shaping up to be an enjoyable venture into the strategy genre with an added horror-movie twist; an ideal purchase for anyone who’s been hankering for a Lemmings reboot and enjoys a survival horror romp, which is probably a bigger audience than you’d imagine.