Zombie Tycoon II: Brainhov's Revenge Review
We so often take up arms against our zombie brothers that we never stop to wonder about the struggles they go through while trying to exterminate humanity. Enter mad scientist Orville Tycoon and his band of zombie underlings. Tycoon is on a rampage to take down his illustrious former mentor Dr. Brainhov and his band of feral zombies to reign as supreme overlord of the zombie race and put an end to pesky humanity in the process. Thus begins Zombie Tycoon II: Brainhov's Revenge and the fight to overcome quick, twitchy zombies with slow, shambling ones.
The overall picture of the game is a real time strategy effort that unfolds with a goofy, kooky vibe and art style not dissimilar from popular animated features. The gameplay is formulaic but usually well-balanced. As you delve into the objectives the game provides you with everything you need provided you can think on your feet. You begin with two packs of zombies that can be converted into required jobs by taking over (beating the crap out of) specific buildings. So if you need to operate machinery to clear a path you'll want to take a team into a hardware store, they will then emerge as engineers capable of doing their job. Same goes for other obstacles, and the game makes it obvious what you need to do so there is no fear of being unsure of what to do next. You just need to figure out how to do it.
The different classes are brawler, cleaner, engineer, samurai, and scavenger. Each class has his specialties. I enjoyed the relative simplicity of the controls. Along with your two zombie teams you also have a mobile base and a slot for machines or monsters that you gain control of as you advance. These are mapped to the four face buttons and controlling them is a simple matter of directing them to their destination. RTS may work best with a mouse but ZTII does a good job of keeping things simple, the left stick moves the pointer and the right stick either zooms in or out and rotates the battlefield. The drawback is that you'll be sending different teams to positions which can make moving the pointer back to them a time to lose valuable seconds.
It doesn't get much deeper than that though, and there are just four monsters to use with their own strengths and weaknesses. There's a semblance of depth where many things can be going on at once to obstruct your goal. Your teams will encounter resistance while you aren't looking at them, time counters will tell you to get to a safe location before a disaster, and your base will come under attack by mettlesome blue ferals that spawn from nowhere, and you'll have various things to collect and bring back. There's a kind of blue fog that envelopes unexplored areas of the map, which seems fine at first (I'll just open up this map right?” but then it closes back in around your teams after they've left. It can be a problem for your strategizing. As you'd expect you make extra points for all the people and feral zombies you kill as well as the buildings you take over. Taking over buildings gives you advantages and leads to a very fun little ability called “Dead Rush” where you can call in the cavalry and zombies come in from all over to swarm your enemies. Taking over buildings will also net you new monster powers that you are going to need when things go south, and they will go south.
Your goals usually are just to take over an area by whatever means necessary. It gets repetitive, quickly, but if you are into relatively casual RTS I can't say that it ever gets boring. An expert RTS gamer can probably plow right through this puppy happily so keep your skill level in mind when considering your experience upon purchase.
The visual presentation is charming and serviceable. It definitely fits the vibe of the gameplay and story. There is a great deal more care given to the character models (the zombie eyes are priceless) than to the environments. It functions on the Unreal 3 engine and so has a couple problems associated with it. The frame rate slows here and there on the cut scenes along with spotty screen tearing. The animations are usually pretty solid though, which fits the comedic nature of events because you need a lot of over the top reactions to bring these voiceless characters to life. I think I can sum up what you can expect with this observation: Tycoon's mad scientist goggles do the squinting that one's eyes normally would.
The sound fell a bit short for me. The music does only what it needs to do: plinky-plunky caper stock stuff. Don't get me wrong, it fits well and is clear but needed more variance. As I said the characters have no voices so we need to rely a lot on sound effects. I found them just a notch or two above the bare minimum. Again they are clear and lively but the zombie moans don't vary much at all. When I'm watching Tycoon deploy his crazy weaponry I notice the animation is doing more than the sound effects would indicate.
Multiplayer was on the minds of the folks at Frima Studio. As some of you know well I'm not multiplayer oriented but that doesn't matter, you can't miss the appeal of playing ZTII against another human being, especially a friend. You and your foe are put on opposite ends of the map and given the task of taking down each other's mobile base. The matches are cerebral and tense but the nature of the game keeps it more fun than struggle. You'll need wits, brains, and a superior strategy to overtake your enemy. Though the goal makes it sound simple you can actually wind up in some exciting spots while you struggle to defend the territories and buildings you gained that give you the extra strength needed to punch through enemy lines. This review is for the PS3 iteration, but even so it was obvious to me that these matches are going to be best experienced with two friends on two Vita systems duking it out and hurling verbal missiles at each other as well as zombie packs.
The Good: Multiplayer is where it's at. Boss fights are top notch. Love the vibe.
The Bad: Single player becomes tedious for those without lots of patience.
The Ugly: Opened up map areas close behind you.
5/10/2013 David Nelson