Review: Age of Zombies (Sony PSP/PS3)

Age of Zombies
Developer: Halfbrick Studios
Publisher: Halfbrick Studios
Genre: Shooter
Release Date: 2/25/2010

When we first got a chance to review this one, I kind of shrugged my shoulders and poked around and wasn’t all that impressed with the screens. It falls under the Minis category for PSP and PS3 games, which means it can’t be all that involved – or can it? Let’s see how a somewhat mindless shooter can suck someone into it with a simple premise and an undead dinosaur.

Story/Modes

You’ve got two modes with this little game, what passes for a Story mode and Survival mode. Survival mode is what it sounds like: blast away at things using your standard weapons and any of the upgrade drops you get and try to survive as long as you can to get the high score on that particular map without dying. Survival mode gives you five different maps to choose from, one for each of the time periods you visit in the game. It’s basically wave after wave of the zombies from that era while you maneuver around the map trying to keep out of the way of the incoming zombies who try and swarm you.

Now, what passes for the story mode takes the eras from the Survival mode and expands on them and gives a semblance of story. You’re playing the game’s hero, Barry Steakfries. In the first scene you stumble upon the game’s villain, Professor Brains, whom Barry affectionately refers to as Professor Shit-For-Brains. Brains unveils his evil plot to destroy humanity to Barry: using his Hypertimealogical Transfer Machine (HTM), he’s sending zombies across time in the hopes of destroying humanity for eternity. Barry takes this information in, and then promptly shoots Brains in the face, killing him, and jumps into the HTM portal that’s open to go after the Zombies.

Barry first finds himself in the Prehistoric era. You play through three levels in each period, each one a different layout and in increasing difficulty with an end boss. Before and after each level Barry imparts some of his one-liners and wisdom he’s attained on the era he’s in (which usually isn’t much) and then proceeds to kick Zombie ass. Barry does meet a few friends along the way, a Zombie T-Rex, one of the end bosses he wants to make a pet, an Egyptian Prince gifted with Immortality whom Barry shoots in the face the first time he meets him, and a boy in Japan who has a tendency to run away at the first sign of trouble.

This isn’t great storytelling – in fact, it’s downright terrible – but in a Duke Nukem 3D sort of way. It’s terrible, but at the same time it’s fun and a blast to watch and play through. This is more one of those guilty pleasure type of games, not one you play to get enriched, but one to give you that B-movie action kind of feel and scoff at the stupidity and kick-assness of the hero. Considering that’s what they were going for, they hit the mark entirely.

Story/Modes Rating: Decent

Graphics

As much as I love this game, it’s not going to win any awards for graphics, ever. The game is rendered using 2D sprites and a background. The art itself is decent when you’re running around killing the zombies, and there are some nicely done effects for explosions and so on, but all those are hand-drawn as well. This game really harkens back to the SNES days, only it looks quite a bit smoother than those, benefiting from the system’s hardware.

Where it lost me a number of times is the jarring artwork that pops up during dialogue sequences. While you’re fighting the zombies, the art is smooth and looks decent, but when there are cut-scenes, the character portraits show up much like you’d see in an old school RPG like Lunar. Only, the art doesn’t get better, it gets worse. The portraits all look like something someone whipped up in Windows Paint using a mouse to draw them as rough outlines and filled them in. It doesn’t blend well with the rest of the game’s look and it really disappointed me. You have this really decent old school look and feel and then putz it up with badly drawn character portraits.

This is especially apparent when you’re playing it on the PS3 over the PSP. You do notice it on the PSP, but it’s glaring on the bigger screen attached to my PS3. A bit more work here would have been nice, even for a satirical title like this one.

Graphics Rating: Below Average

Sound

There aren’t any voice overs in this one. Well, not for the dialogue anyway. You do get a little bit when you pick up items in the levels. Barry usually voices out what he’s picking up, be it a shotgun, grenade, or SMG. One of the neat things they did with this though, and I applaud this, is to make the voice-over for the pickups themed to whatever area you’re in. For example, he sounds very guttural in the Prehistoric era, in the 30’s era he has a twinge of Italian accent, in the future he sounds vaguely robotic. You get the idea. It’s a little touch, but it keeps from getting boring when you’re running around getting the pick-ups and hear the voice repeated over and over. It changes it up a bit. Very cool.

Musically there’s a hard-pumping electronic and Industrial beat to this game. The themes don’t feel repeated but ultimately are completely forgettable. They fit the game and help drive the action, but nothing to write home about. This is a $5 game we’re talking about here.

Sound Rating: Enjoyable

Control and Gameplay

This game works really well with the PSP layout, giving you a built in set of controls without having to go into options to swap out. The left button (L1 on the PS3 controller) launches your secondary weapons, like your grenades, mines, and bazooka. That never changes. You move around using the directional buttons, or the analog stick on the PSP (on the PS3 it the directional buttons or the left analog stick). The game is very responsive here on both the PSP and the PS3, and I never really had any problems with moving around at all on either system. The right shoulder button (R1 on the PS3) fires your weapon in whatever direction you’re facing, but you can also fire using the face buttons, the square, triangle, circle, or X.

One of the nice options of using the face buttons is you fire in whatever direction of the button you’re hitting, even if you’re moving in the opposite direction on the control stick. You can also double up on face buttons to fire in an angle, which also helps. Personally I felt too limited with the right button as I only fired in the direction I was moving. It was much nicer to be able to strafe using the face buttons, and I got a nice rhythm down with that.

The levels are designed to be unique. There are choke points and other areas you don’t want to get stuck in, but sometimes the encroaching hoard doesn’t give you must choice. Even the boss battles offer something unique each time. Hell, one of the bosses is a car that tries to run you down as you fight off the Zombies. Each level adds a different Zombie type as well. Sometimes they have weapons to use back at you, sometimes they run super fast, like in the Dawn of the Dead remake, others explode when you shoot them. Usually you can spot these in the crowd and nail them first but it isn’t always easy.

One of the nice things about this game is it treats your health like the new first person shooters do. If a Zombie or two get a hold of you, it’s not over if you can get away and heal up a bit. If your screen is flashing you’re in trouble, and if you get swarmed and killed it’ll pop up with that classic red text, EPIC FAIL. You also get graded a bit while using your special weapons like the shotgun and SMG. You have a limited amount of ammo with these before it drops back over to standard pistol fire. But it keeps track of how many Zombies you waste while you’re firing these weapons. Use a lot of ammo and don’t hit much and you’ll get a poor or Epic Fail message, but if you nail a ton of them you’ll get a great or awesome message.

On the HUD, it tells you how many Zombies you have left to kill, or if you’re in a boss fight how much health he has left. It also tells you which special and secondary weapons you’ve got and how much ammo is left for each. It’s nice to have, but most of the time you’re running around blasting everything on the screen that twitches at you so you don’t look at it too often. There are extra lives that drop and as long as you have those when you wipe out you can keep going without having to start that level over, unless you’re playing in Survival mode. No extra lives drop there. It’s kill or be killed. So get killing!

Control and Gameplay Rating: Great

Replayability

There is no change in the story when you play it. At all. You also don’t keep your score for the story mode anywhere, and if you want to play through, you have to start over and erase all your scores and times on story mode and do it over again. The story elements are fun even a second or third time through. I beat it on the PSP and the PS3 in about an hour. The real replayability in this game comes in the form of survival mode.

Survival mode keeps a high score for each of the maps. Unfortunately there is no online high score board on either system for it, just on that individual system, but you can still compete with your friends offline at least. When you’re bored, the Survival modes are quick clean and easy to just pop in and play. There isn’t much loading at all and in under 15 seconds or so you can be killing Zombies like a pro. Really though, beating your own high score can be a bit dull, but I don’t see them adding an online component to this one anytime soon.

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

Balance

The game, being a mini, is going to be short. It literally took me 67 minutes my first playthrough. I didn’t have to time it, the game told me in the credits after I’d beaten it. I’ve gotten more out of it playing it through again and playing survival mode trying to beat my own high scores as well as the games standard ones. For $5 though, the length isn’t bad, nor is the variety of levels and bosses. Sure it’s only 5 areas and bosses, but add in the survival mode and you’ve got a decent shooter title for $5 that’s actually a lot of fun.

Difficulty wise, things get harder and harder as you go. The first level in each area is usually the easiest, but the second area is generally harder than the first and so on. The zombies get special abilities of their own, and you have to fight tougher ones and ones with weapons and ones that explode. Plus the bosses have an advancing degree of difficulty as well, each one adding onto the abilities of the last ones. So there is a nice uphill battle as you play through it and the end boss doesn’t feel cheap or rushed.

Balance Rating: Great

Originality

There’s not a lot of originality here. The names of some of the characters are, but there are references all over the place to other Zombie films, StarGate, the Sopranos, Samurai Champloo, and so on. Which is fine, it is a bit of a satire game that doesn’t take itself seriously. Hell, it feels like a Duke Nukem shooter, really. The dialogue and characters have that same over the top and utterly ridiculous feel that makes it fun. They did incorporate that nice health system I’d talked about earlier, where one chomp from a Zombie won’t kill you, but a hoard will. Those looking for something fun will find it here but not necessarily anything new or innovative.

Originality Rating: Poor

Addictiveness

This is one of those games that if you love it you’re going to find yourself playing it a lot. Due to the fast loading up from the crossbar menu and just being able to hop in and shoot, this has been the first choice on my list of things to play while I’m waiting for my wife to get out of work, or waiting for the dinner conversation to die down, or passing some time in the bathroom, etc. I love that it’s short and sweet and something I can beat in under an hour and feel like I’ve accomplished something. I loved DOA2: Hardcore on the PS2 for the same reason. I could play through the story campaign in a short amount of time and it didn’t feel like time wasted, even though that’s what I was doing.

Age of Zombies is definitely a guilty-pleasure game, and one that I’ve enjoyed the hell out of and will continue to do so, because I love me some SMG and dead Zombies.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

Appeal Factor

It’s cheap and fun and vulgar and speaks to the inner-teenage boy in me that just likes laying waste to everything on my screen. I think that there’s a number of gamers out there with that boy in them. Here’s another chance to get that out. I haven’t seen much advertising for the game though. Hell, I couldn’t even find it at the developer’s website. I think it’s going to be another forgotten mini game out there that you can grab for cheap off the PlayStation Store, which is a shame. It’s a lot of dirty and messy fun and should have more people playing it.

Appeal Factor Rating: Pretty Poor

Miscellaneous

As short and simple a game as this is, I’m happy to report that I didn’t have any bugs while I was playing it on either the PS3 or the PSP. Bravo on that one. I’ve kind of laid into the game on scores here, but I haven’t had this much fun playing a satirical game in a long time. Usually the jokes are a bit too on the lame side of things in other satire games, and even when it’s apparent they’re running out of ideas towards the end (Barry even makes fun of that fact himself) the game is still a ton of fun. I would love to see a sequel or just more Barry Steakfries shooter action in the future. It’s a fun guilty pleasure setting I’ll be enjoying as long as my PSP and PS3 hold out.

Miscellaneous Rating: Great

The Scores
Story/Modes Rating: Decent
Graphics Rating: Below Average
Sound Rating: Enjoyable
Control and Gameplay Rating: Great
Replayability Rating: Mediocre
Balance Rating: Great
Originality Rating: Poor
Addictiveness Rating: Great
Appeal Factor Rating: Pretty Poor
Miscellaneous Rating: Great
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
asheresize While Age of Zombies isn’t by any means the best shooter game out there, it is a ton of fun. Its fast pace and short completion time, as well as some decent replayability with the survival mode and some great dialogue (great in a Duke Nukem 3D or B-Movie kind of way), give this more shelf life than I’d give most minis. It’s got smooth gameplay on both the PSP and the PS3 and more importantly it’s fun and tries not to take itself to seriously. It’s a decent price for what you get, and personally I hope to see more adventures featuring Barry Steakfries.

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