Publisher: D3 Publisher
Release Date: 30/01/08
The Simple DS Series Vol 32: The Zombie Crisis has an excellent title, and fairly nice cover artwork; sort of like some Resident Evil spin-off. "Don't judge a book by its cover" they say, and rarely has it been more apt than here. At around 30 games in, D3 Publisher's budget Simple DS Series title has you trawling through woods and abandoned hospitals in feint Resident Evil 3 fashion, with a basic character-story between each of the levels. Did I mention that screen-shots on the back of the box look quite good, too? Look, this introduction is merely stalling the disappointing truth that The Zombie Crisis just isn't much fun.
A stripped-down version of Eidos's Touch The Dead would be a suitable comparison, and like that title the game takes place in full 3D, but with a rather basic House of the Dead-type on-rails engine. By tapping the touch screen, you can fire off round after round of bullets at an almost never-ending line of zombie flesh-eaters. A promising premise, but the game is mostly a disappointing and frustrating experience, which leaves the player thinking there could have been so much more to it. So, where to start the painful breakdown?
The basic problem is in the general difficultly, pacing, and overall balance of the game: it's all over the bloody place. At the start, you are given a katana and a pistol. The katana is risky to use in that, rather obviously, you can only use it on zombies that are right in front you, so you have to wait until the enemy is pressed against your face before slashing away at their flesh. This is achieved by tapping on the red circles that quickly appear on the screen. It’s an unsatisfying weapon, to say the least. Your other choice, the pistol, is the most useful of all the firearms you'll get hold of through the game's six episodes. The catch comes in that it can only fire six bullets before requiring a reload, which is done by tapping the 'reload' bar at the bottom of the screen. Dispatching zombies six bullets at a time is frustrating when there are three, four or five undead stumbling toward you, you see.
If that wasn't tricky enough, the collision detection is distressingly inconsistent, and other times it's just awful: some enemies will drop after just two hits, whereas an identical zombie ten seconds later will require five or six. You'll unleash a whole round into a zombie's head and not one bullet will register. To give it the benefit of the doubt, perhaps that's an attempt to emulate the equally-annoying horror movies which the game is imitating; but either way, it’s annoying.
If the game managed to hold some sort of blood-lust appeal, then perhaps there might be reason to feel more positive, but unfortunately there's no gore to speak of. Most of the enemies, although fully polygonal, react to being shot like particularly determined paper cut-outs having stones thrown at them; so there's very little pleasure to be gained from downing the zombie horde. Other weapons are earned further into the game, but unlike the pistol, which is infinite, these ones (shotguns, machine guns) require bullets that are inexplicably hard to come by more than once per level - if at all. As such, you remain stuck with your pistol for the majority of the game. The shotgun is also very ineffective and weak (come on, we want a shotgun to reduce any zombie to an exploding fireworks display of blood and guts in an instant, don't we?), and whilst the machine gun is a nice inclusion, the fact it runs out of bullets with no way to reload it once it's empty is very disappointing.
You're thrown against various clichéd zombies (big fat zombies with axes, zombie policemen, zombie girls in shorts, zombie dogs, and erm, zombie hawks), and they all resort to various ways of frightening you; whether that's by suddenly appearing from your crotch and slashing your face off, or just refusing to die from several shotgun blasts. However, the only thing that is even remotely terrifying is the fog. Yep, fog's everywhere in The Zombie Crisis; obviously a divisive tool to create a spooky atmosphere, that is until it starts appearing inside darkened corridors, where you begin to suspect it's just there to hide graphical glitches and pop-up.
The pacing of each level is tedious, with the game asking no more of you than to choose a direction when reaching a cross-road - that's it. Level 2 of the first episode is five times longer than level 1; not necessarily more challenging or varied, it just literally takes five-times longer to get to the level exit than the first. Later stages are far too difficult to complete with the given amount of lives, so DreamFactory has implemented a system whereby each death increases your life-count. But many of the episodes require at least three or four restarts simply to attain enough extra lives to stand any change of progression.
In general, Simple DS Series Vol 32: The Zombie Crisis is an exercise in repetition. Although bosses that appear at the culmination of each episode do offer a slight variation, the lamentable pacing and difficulty is more than enough to put off all but the most determined players. Even for a budget title, you're left expecting something just a little bit more than this. And it all looked so promising.