Reviews

Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse

Is being a zombie all it's cracked up to be? We take a walk on the undead side

A game that makes you the zombie. A game with a wonderful comic spin and a '50s veneer. A game in which pedestrians scream, "He's eating, he's eating my brains!" and, "Now I'll never go to college!" A game in which you can rip off your hand and have it scutter Thing-like through the level. Stubbs looked like a dead-cert, a winner, a supreme reason for living. "Could it be magic?" we asked ourselves, with a collective shimmy of the hips. Could this really be the zombie game?

No, unfortunately not. It's a broken game whose conceit far, far outweighs the consistency of both level design and action. All together: "Oh, tits." Bit louder? "Oh, tits." Thank you. Let's see what went wrong.

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POST-MORTEM
Despite its faults, Stubbs The Zombie (the man and the game) is inherently lovable. In terms of pitch, angle and consistency of ribtickling, the chaps at Wideload, an offshoot of Bungie no less, have got it bang-on. Stubbs sees you jumping up from the dead in the city of Punchbowl, a self-automated 'world of tomorrow' affair with chunky 'Robbie the Robot' robots, hover-cars and other faux-future paraphernalia so beloved by the gullible dolts of the American '50s. The on-screen action is even complemented by a flickery filter that presents the murderous rampage of the titular zombie with dust-specks, dampened colours and the occasional stray pube. Behind this, robots cheerfully fill up cars via their groinal attachments, citizens trot around their promised land of Americana and (if I heard correctly), policemen scream, "My wanking arm!" as Stubbs merrily relieves appendages from their sockets. Its presentation is impeccable, and it even has The Flaming Lips on the soundtrack.

NO ORDINARY ZOMBIE
In the interests of creating a diverting game, Wideload has made sure that Stubbs dispenses of many hallowed zombie rules: he can amble at two speeds (one slightly faster than the other); he can jump; he can use bits of his guts as grenades and he can fart noxious gas. In many eyes, this rejigging of zombie lore would be a crime second to none, but thankfully key Romeroisms remain. Stubbs eats brains, those relieved of brains become his shambling followers, and these followers also gain a penchant for cerebral matter. Your zombie pals then amble around helping you off the innocent, absorbing bullets left, right and centre and generally causing a nuisance in the malls, streets, multi-storey car parks, police stations and bumpkin environs of fair Punchbowl.

LOVELY BRAINS
You generally don't want your followers to be too greedy though, since chowing down on brain matter charges up your gut grenades and associated abilities, which unlock themselves as you stomp through the game. A particular highlight comes when you detach your own arm and control it skittering through the level, up walls and across ceilings, until you come across an armed man ripe for possession. Then, with questioning voices piping up around saying that you're "looking a bit different", or perhaps wearing a new shirt (with a green forearm attached to the rear of your chosen innocent's head), you can unholster his weapon, run into a room packed with his friends and colleagues and bag yourself some headshot decapitations.

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On the surface at least, everything appears well and good: it's gory, it's funny, its undead tongue is lolling out of a hole in its cheek. But the game mechanics simply do not work in any way, shape or sinister form. You can fill a game up with enough great tunes and neat gags to raise an instant smile, but if the rubric of being a zombie isn't fun, then where's the point? Combat is a button-tapping mess followed by rudimentary noggin-gobbling, the guns of the possessed are diabolical and your horde of zombie-followers are useless when the action gets going.

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