Everyone remembers the 1950s as an era when everything made sense. Jobs were stable, everyone was polite, it never rained, the world was completely at peace, and everyone was constantly smiling their shiny, white smiles. At least, so say the history books. In the universe of Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without a Pulse, the idyllic town of Punchbowl is stuck in the same type of 1950s overblown optimism. What better setting could there be for a happy-go-lucky zombie to unearth himself and start ripping out the mushy insides of the brainwashed populace's skulls?
When you pick up the controller in Stubbs, you'll be the one initiating the undead infection. You'll eat brains and turn your victims into your followers who you can control to, well, eat more brains. Throughout your shockingly gory adventure you'll find some obvious and some not so obvious references to Nazism and Communism, proving Stubbs is actually trying to make a George A. Romero-esque sociopolitical statement, but it never really nails down anything specific. Just as long as you're comfortable tearing down the image of the American ideal, you'll enjoy playing this game.
Fart, Throw Guts, and Be Merry.
The gameplay in Stubbs is pretty straightforward. Your mission is to kill everyone you see. To do so you have a range of special powers. You can fart and stun the enemy, throw explosive gut bombs, use your hand to control an enemy, and use your head as an explosive bowling ball. In addition, you can perform melee swipes, eat brains, and rip off the arms of your foes which can be subsequently used to beat them in the face. As grotesque and intriguing an arsenal as this sounds, you'll soon find some attacks to be far more effective than others.
The hand, for instance, is the best weapon since it lets you control enemies with guns. This is essentially the only way in the game to access firearms. When you launch your hand, you'll get a fish eye black and white camera view as you move it across the floor, ceiling, or wall. Capable of grabbing onto enemy skulls while in midair, the hand soon becomes the most effective method of taking out airborne or otherwise out of reach enemies. It's also a great tool for flanking enemies provided you can successfully maneuver it behind enemy lines. Of all the selections, this was definitely the most entertaining to use, and an interesting alternative to simply killing your foes. Of all the weapons, the bowling ball head seemed the most useless since gut bombs were usually just as effective. The fart nova was also a great tool for when you're surrounded by multiple humans.
While the special attacks work well by themselves and in combination with each other, the melee attacks are slightly more erratic. This is mainly because each enemy type takes a specific number of swipes before you can eat their brains. For instance, army soldiers generally take four, shotgun wielding militia men take three, musket shooters take two, and the list goes on. While this is fine, the game also presents you with random opportunities to eat brains that do not follow the above patterns, making combat imprecise. Oftentimes you'll find you accidentally killed an enemy or haven't injured him enough when you go to eat their faces, resulting in either a missed opportunity to charge your special moves or unnecessary damage and death. Luckily, Stubbs features an excellent auto-saving system, so you'll never have to retread too much ground.
Another frustrating aspect of the melee combat is the fact that enemies will back away from you faster than you can catch up to them. This may seem logical, given how zombies typically move at a slow pace. However, and this is something many people seem to forget, zombies are not real. Given that excruciatingly true statement, why can't Stubbs walk faster? There is a fast walking ability built in, but it only activates after you've moved forward for a certain time period. When chasing a nearby soldier, there isn't enough time for this fast walking to activate, so you wind up chasing after him while taking tons of fire from their guns. This was especially frustrating with the army men. Adding a function to activate sprint at the press of a button could have alleviated this issue.
At points you'll be able to control vehicles including a sod launcher, hover truck, and military jeep. Since this game was built on the Halo engine you can expect the same sort of loose vehicle controls, specifically with the jeep which feels almost identical to the warthog. Another similarity to Halo is the floaty jumping and menu system.
The intelligence of Stubbs' enemies ramps up as you progress though the game and based on what level of difficulty you've set before you begin. Your zombie horde can be controlled through some rudimentary commands like whistling and shoving, but generally they'll do their own thing, and they prove to be pretty effective. However, as you progress through the game they'll start getting wiped out faster and faster as the enemy weapons improve, putting more of the onus of progress on yourself. Given your speed limitations and dependence on brain eating for special move charges, this can become frustrating. Thankfully, one meal of brain results in a fully charged hand icon.
Slaughtering a City Has Never Been So Hilarious.
Graphically the game isn't all that impressive. The positives include some shiny textures, well animated enemies and zombies, a '50s style grain filter, and excellent environmental details. Also, there can be a large number of enemies on screen and the game's framerate will remain steady. The negatives are that while some background details are interesting, a lot of the game's textures are boring. You'll see the same sorts of rooms and hallways repeated over and over again throughout a level. So while the designs are sufficiently varied to give each area its own unique style, they don't pass into the realm of greatness.
The game's sound is of a much higher quality, especially the futile cries from civilians and armed foes as you dig your teeth into their heads. The songs during the dance-off sequence with the police chief are hilarious given the context, as are the news reports on television sets, as well as the sickening, squishy, scalp-munching sound effects. Though the visuals are not stellar, they still mesh effectively with the audio to create Stubbs' best feature: its sense of humor. At times subtle and at others overt in its humor, Stubbs manages to make the stark juxtaposition of a utopian society and the brutal carnage you rile up from its corrupt underbelly a wonderfully entertaining experience.
The game isn't without its weak points. Most notable is the plot, which you're often not aware of until after it's already happened. Also, even though the game is an eight hour single player experience at most, the gameplay does grow stale by the end. While the action set-pieces the game sets up as you progress are never boring, the degree of enjoyment you'll get out of them scales down as you make you way farther through. It's a mystery why more genuinely fun and unique gameplay styles like the dance-off weren't included later on in the game, where it's mostly combat mixed with a few vehicle sequences. Also, the game is incredibly linear since you'll pretty much be following one path the entire time.
Despite its short length, the game does have some replay value. You can check out the higher difficulty levels for new challenges, and the entire single player campaign can also be played cooperatively with two people. The two player cooperative mode is definitely the best way to enjoy Stubbs if you can manage it. The lack of any real character or plot development helps in this case, making this a title you can leave and come back to months later without having to retrace or recollect any important points.
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