Zombie Master Chief.
For many years, I have campaigned for the creation of games where you get to play as the zombie. Don't get me wrong - I love Resident Evil, but it gets a bit tedious playing as yet another special agent shooting yet another thousand zombies.
Besides, most other games let you play as multiple sides. You got your Terrorists and your Counter-Terrorists, your Aliens and your Predators, your Alliance and your Horde. "So where," I thought, "are my Zombies?" I longed to shamble menacingly, to groan with undead needing, to taste those sweet, sweet brains.
Well, the folks at Wideload Games obviously felt the same, because Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse finally gives me everything I ever wanted out of a zombie game, if in a rather small portion.
The year is 1959 and billionaire industrialist Andrew Monday has turned Punchbowl, Pennsylvania into the city of the future. Hovercars and monorails whisk happy citizens around the city and robots serve every possible need. Everyone is happy...except for one restless man.
One dead, restless man, actually: Edward "Stubbs" Stubblefield. As Stubbs, you'll rise from your grave, eat some brains, and try to turn all the citizens of Punchbowl into fellow zombies.
You do this, of course, by killing them. Most of the time this is accomplished through plain old zombie bashing and biting. You're not a superhero, you're zombie, and in turn do the bulk of your damage by shambling up to the living, swiping at them for a bit, and then feasting on their crunchy cortexes. Those brains also power Stubbs' additional zombie powers. Hurl your exposed guts at people and they explode like grenades; fart and noxious fumes will disorient those nearby; pull your head off and roll it like a bowling ball, if you wish.
As you convert the masses into corpses, you'll gain their allegiance. Every person you kill turns into a zombie, who then shambles off to - what else - eat brains. You become their leader, sort of, and can whistle to get the attention of the newly zombified hordes. They'll even go after the living for you, although mostly they're just fodder.
Most useful of all is that Stubbs can pull his own hand off and throw it, at which point you control the hand (while Stubbs just stands like an idiot, so make sure to do this somewhere safe). Stubbs" hand runs around on its fingers, just like Thing. If you can grab onto any person's head, you effectively possess them. This is especially, uh, handy later in the game, when the military shows up and you'll need to turn their own soldiers (and weapons) against them.
However, it's times like these that you'll notice how much Stubbs plays like the original Halo, which isn't surprising, since it's the very first non-Halo game to use the Halo engine (also unsurprising since the kids at Wideload are ex-Bungie). There are points in the game where it feels like you're just playing a re-skinned total conversion of Halo. You're sure to recognize some textures and design similarities.
As a total conversion, though, Stubbs has great style. The whole alternate-50"s retro-futuristic setting is terrific, and lends itself to the game's tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. A grainy screen effect makes the in-game action play like an old newsreel. The character models are a little simple, but that helps the framerate stay nice and steady, even when you and twenty of your zombie friends are invading a shopping mall and blood and body parts are flying everywhere.
The audio is great as well, really taking advantage of surround sound. If you have the speakers, the shrieks, screams and groans will, in fact, surround you. Some funny voice-acting helps establish the mood and the music is just awesome, with lovingly done covers of classic 50"s tunes. You'll be doing the zombie twist before you know it.
There are some great zombie moments in the game, like when you and your zombie horde storm a barricaded farmhouse or terrorize a shopping mall. Sadly, the game loses that warm, fuzzy zombie feeling from time to time to fall back on weird Halo conventions, like when you're staggering down another set of corridors or driving a tank. Okay, so I know the Halo engine has vehicles, but that doesn't mean you should just give a zombie a driver's license.
Another problem is its length. Clocking in at about eight hours, this is a pretty short infestation. In that sense, Stubbs lives up to his name. There's only the one campaign and it's totally linear, so while you can play it again at a harder difficulty, that's just eating some old reheated brains.
You can also play it with a friend, since it wouldn't be zombie Halo without some co-op. You and a buddy can infect the citizens of Punchbowl side-by side via split screen, which is fun enough, although some online modes would have really helped Stubbs stand out. Zombies VS Humans, anyone?
While Stubbs offers zombie fans a chance to enact revenge on the pesky living, it's not quite the horror-show I was hoping for. Great style and shambling zombie hordes make for some terrific undead moments, but it's a shame there are only a few of them in the game. It's also too short, although that's sort of a compliment since more Stubbs would be better Stubbs. At any rate, this bag of worms is a no-brainer (wait, is that good or bad?) as a rental, although only the truly infected need invest.