A little over a year ago, a zombie-filled hack and slash title hit the 360 under the name Monster Madness: Battle for Suburbia. Monster Madness gave gamers a chance to guide a group of four weapon-totting teens through an infested suburban locale. Unfortunately, the game was given a less-than-enthusiastic
greeting and didn't make much of an impact on Microsoft's console. Now, Monster Madness is stumbling back to consoles again in the form of Monster Madness: Grave Danger, a port of the 360 version with several new modes and mini-games to give it an edge over its predecessor. And while Grave Danger is certainly an improvement over Battle for Suburbia, I think it's safe to say that this is still a severely lacking zombie experience.
Grave Danger offers a familiar top-down, hack and slash mechanic where you choose one character out of the four and fight your way through hordes of the undead (and other assorted baddies). Up to three other friends can hop in at any time to join in on the action, which definitely adds to the arcade-like feeling. Grave Danger is a silly game that references a lot of other popular games and films throughout its paper-thin story, but its overall sense of humor is commendable.
The premise of Grave Danger is very straight-forward: four high school teenagers end up at uber-geek Zack's house one night for differing reasons, but they soon find that their neighborhood has been completly overrun by the shambling hordes of the undead. What starts as a desperate trek to the police station turns into a frenzied investigation as to why Suburbia has become a breeding ground for zombies and the like. That's really all there is to it and you're promptly thrust into the action to repel the moaning masses.
The most notable difference between Grave Danger and Battle for Suburbia is the control scheme. Originally, you moved your character with the left stick and rotated around with the right stick, pulling the right trigger to execute attacks. In Grave Danger, you still use the left stick to move, but the right stick can now be used to fire your long-range weapon immediatly, similar to the popular dual thumbstick shooters that have swept across the downloadable scene. And instead of having to equip your melee weapon and then pull the right trigger to use it, Grave Danger maps both actions to the Circle button, meaning you can easily alternate between long-range and short-range strategies without much of a hassle.
This is a definite improvement and Grave Danger does a number of other things well, also. Although the character designs aren't entirely original, the comic-book artistic design scheme is great and keeps in line with the light-hearted nature of the game. Certain story segments of Grave Danger are told with actual comic-book scenes and -- despite the poor voice acting -- I enjoyed these very much. In fact, it would have been much better for the overall package had more of these scenes been included to provide context for the extremely random things you end up doing.
More nice additions to Grave Danger are the many Challenges that you can undertake. These mini-games let you unlock new costumes for the four characters and offer an ample diversion from the main Adventure mode. Although a good number of them just entail "killing these enemies as fast as you can," there's at least something to do besides partake in Grave Danger's story.
And now with the PS3 version of Grave Danger, four players can work through the story online, which was previously unavailable in Battle for Suburbia. Of course, all the competitive Deathmatch and Capture the Flag modes return as well, but I imagine the real meat of the experience will come from the Adventure, as the other modes feel like they aren't suited to the game's mechanical structure. There was plenty of lag to be found in our online cooperative sessions, but we didn't have any problems maintaining the connection which is definitely appreciated.
The last major improvement made in Grave Danger comes in the form of character upgrades, which join the Weapon and Item shops at Larry's trailer. You can now spend Monster Tokens to upgrade your characters statistics so you can be stronger, faster and reload more efficiently. Having the ability to upgrade each character certainly encourages the player to collect more Monster Tokens, which are also gathered more readily in the PS3 version.
Having said all this, it may sound like Grave Danger is the clear victor over Battle for Suburbia and a greatly improved game. While it is improved and should obviously be considered over the 360 version, Grave Danger is lacking. Despite the improvements, the game itself is still riddled with problems and feels cheap.
First, Grave Danger looks like a PS2 game on steroids and runs poorly, with noticeably screen-tearing, framerate jitters and an overall spastic quality that can make playing it a pain on the eyes. The pacing is also questionable, with oddly-directed cutscenes (in-game affairs, not the aforementioned comic-book style numbers) breaking up the action in an uncomfortable way. Perhaps most regretful are the driving segments which control horrendously. Your vehicles will get caught on everything and feel overly sluggish -- especially for small buggies.
And, Monster Madness: Grave Danger just isn't satisfying.
No matter how many improvements I can list off, I still didn't have a particularly good time playing. Combat felt bland and the whole Adventure mode was just pointless to me. And I really must stress that this game doesn't look good, which sometimes took away the satisfaction that I should be getting from bashing a zombie's head in with a plunger.
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