Zombie driver is a vehicular combat game with a top-down 3D viewpoint, akin to the classic GTA titles. The game pits the player and their vehicle against a legion of zombies which are just begging to be squished and blown apart.
Zombie Driver was developed and published by Exor studios, a Polish studio of nine individuals. The game uses the open source OGRE 3D rendering engine as well as Nvidia PhysX to power the zombie crushing goodness. Falling into the category of an ‘indie’ it is no surprise that it is a bit rough around the edges. However, the relatively low price of US$10 (±R75) might help some overlook the annoyances.
The basic paint-by-numbers zombie apocalypse narrative makes a reappearance in Zombie Driver. The city is mysteriously overrun with mindless legions of the undead and the army is too busy trying to contain the infection to be able to lend any immediate assistance to the nameless protagonist. An army general points you in the direction of the nearest base, and asks you to pick up a few survivors along the way.
The basic formula of each of the story missions is to drive to an objective marker whilst mowing down or dodging zombies, kill a horde of zombies at the location, rescue the survivours, and drive back to the army base whilst ploughing through or avoiding zombies – all against the clock. The story itself is moderately interesting, although slightly cliché, but serves perfectly as a mechanism to give the player motivation for rushing around the zombie infested city, and not simply cowering in the military base.
The means to an end
The player starts out with a pretty average yellow taxi, which is adequate for scraping through the first waves of the infected, but clearly won’t last long if the hordes get any tougher. Luckily as a reward for rescuing survivours and arriving alive at the army base, the general hands out some money and access to car upgrades.
The cars can be fitted with three types of upgrade: armour; ramming spikes, and speed. There are five weapon modifications to upgrade as well: machineguns; nitrous oxide; flamethrowers; rockets; and railguns. Every few levels a new car can also be unlocked, along with more advanced levels of the upgrades.
There are 6 cars in total: a taxi, an ambulance, a sports car, a police squad car, a school bus, and a ‘supercar.’ The vehicles each have a different carrying capacity for survivours so a bit of planning will have to go in to the approach for each mission. There may be numerous objectives with differing numbers of survivours at each. One needs to decide if they can risk taking the bus through the city in one sweep, or if they need to use a smaller and speedier vehicle for multiple rescue runs.
The cars each have different starting statistics but once upgraded (and despite the PhysX), they don’t exhibit much difference in handling, or even mass. One would expect a speeding bus to plough through a zombie horde with relative ease compared to a light sports car, but this is not the case. Instead, it all seems dependent on the level of the speed and ramming upgrades.
The living dead
The zombies will attack your car on sight, as is to be expected from the notoriously uncivilised legions of the damned. There are packs of dogs which are menacingly swift and agile, requiring some deft manoeuvring to reduce them to road kill. Human sized zombies swarm the vehicle, and although easy to kill, they do slow down the car upon impact. Ploughing into a giant horde is therefore not the best strategy when low on health. Whilst embroiled in a zombie mob, the vehicle is often pelted by debris hurled by what look like zombified middle-aged housewives with major league pitching arms.
Zombies at an advanced stage of infection grow to a massive size. There are heavily muscled brutes that will seriously slow down a car and dish out heavy melee damage. Bloated zombie giants grotesquely plod along, and while they may look like an inviting target, they explode violently when the car comes into range, dealing extensive damage. There is a slight delay on the explosion so it pays to dodge them but sometimes in the frantic rush to escape a mob an accidental collision occurs. The help survive the missions, there are repair packs and weapons stashed around the map. There are always plenty of undead to mash under your tyres, although one might feel a little unsatisfied by the lack of variety in zombie types.
The gameplay is absorbing, if somewhat repetitive. Squishing, gunning down, blowing up and burning zombies is plain and simple fun. The player is also encouraged to string together attacks into combo-kills, thereby earning more money upon mission completion. Unfortunately one of the biggest problems with the game is the ugly automatic camera panning, which aside from complicating the steering of the vehicle, also causes eyestrain and nausea, according to some reports. Personally, I did not suffer from any nausea, but a session of longer than 30 minutes definitely wears out the eyes. As of the version 1.04 patch there are two new camera modes. One is static and the other is a ‘freecam’ which can be moved using the mouse.
The game world is quite well textured. There is enough variety in buildings, wrecked vehicles, and debris to keep things interesting throughout the various regions of the city (such as a central park, an industrial sector with a train line, a business district, and a residential area). The world is also rather large and some time will need to be invested in exploring every single nook. The models used for the zombies are good, with a variety of clothing colours to keep things from looking repetitive. One doesn’t have much time to stop and appreciate the zombies though, as they are almost instantly gibbed in a gory explosion of limbs and torso’s.
The sound effects aren’t great, but they suffice. Zombies make a satisfyingly wet ‘smack’ as they bounce off the vehicle, and one certainly knows when the car is taking a beating. The engine noise is simply annoying however, made worse by the fact that you can’t adjust volume for individual audio elements. It would be great to reduce the engine noise while keeping the other effects loud, but ‘Master Volume’ and ‘Music’ are the only options. The music isn’t anything special either, consisting of looping synthesised tracks that don’t lend much atmosphere.
One of the most shocking oversights is the lack of a free play mode. Once the player has completed all 17 missions, gone through the process of unlocking all the cars, finally laid hands on the ‘supercar’ and spent their money on all of the upgrades, it’s over. If you want to get a zombie smiting fix, you’ll have to start the story mode again, from scratch, with none of the cars and upgrades you just unlocked.
Despite some rough edges and annoyances, Zombie Driver is a lot of fun to play. Exor is committed to taking community suggestions and fixing issues with the game. The modding community is slowly gaining momentum with a number of gameplay and car mods starting to make the rounds. The gameplay could do with a few more fun and interesting modes. The basic building blocks are there to be expanded upon. It will be interesting to see how this game evolves over time.
With a game length of around 5 hours for the story missions, Zombie Driver is probably not the worst way to spend R75, especially if you are willing to gamble on some future improvements adding longevity to the title. The game is available through the Zombie Driver site and Steam.
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