Zombies have long been a part of popular entertainment, but video games in particular have found the exploitation of the undead very useful.
As games have come under heavy scrutiny from finger-pointing parents and politicians, the industry has looked for ways to have their cake and eat it, too—keeping the gore factor high while not upsetting those looking for an easy answer to society's problems.
Zombies have proven to be popular subjects of late for this reason. Programmers have a particularly easy time working on the appropriately brain-dead artificial intelligence of enemies, gamers can have their violent fun, and the game industry can wash their hands of it. After all, theyre not capitalizing on loss of human life—zombies are already dead.
No game echoes this sentiment clearer than Sega's Zombie Revenge, a shoot-'em-up, beat-'em-up arcade brawler with zombies and gore to spare. Though the game does have its moments, there's nothing here that hasn't been tried before. Zombie Revenge just changes the scenery a bit, adding a Resident Evil-esque theme to a pretty basic formula.
The premise doesnt mark any new territory, either. A city is overrun with zombies after a top-secret government plan to create undead soldiers goes wrong. A team of heroes is brought in to deal with the threat. Of course one of them, Linda Rotta, is a blond bombshell. Like Jill Valentine in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, she's hardly dressed for the occasion (or hardly dressed at all for that matter). Despite their ridiculous names, the two obligatory macho guys, Stick Breitling and Rikiya Busujima, look ready to kick ass, but Linda looks more ready to start her shift at the local Hooters. Are tight shorts and a tank-top really appropriate attire for killing zombies?
Obviously we don't ask questions like that in a game like this. It's all about the mindless arcade action, but even that loses its appeal quickly. Solid gameplay could have saved this game, but it's as lifeless as your typical zombie. The objective is to progress through each level in standard A to B fashion while fighting through a seemingly endless wave of walking corpses and slime-spitting monsters. All the while the same "Go! Go! Go!" arrows that have been around since the days of Golden Axe prompt you forward. A confrontation with a boss character ends each level. Sometimes there's a hidden item room thrown in here and there to break up the monotony, but that's as exciting as it gets.
At the very least, a Dreamcast game should be visually impressive, and the hi-res graphics in Zombie Revenge don't disappoint. Even though other games have been there, done that, the environments and characters are pretty convincing. I wasn't very impressed with the bosses though, and the game really tries to punch up those encounters. But there are other notable things. The camera behaves well for a 3D game. The perspective changes only from checkpoint to checkpoint, wisely staying static for the action. There are several extra game modes and options, but they all revolve around the lacking arcade mode.
The good-guy special agents have an impressive arsenal of fighting moves and weapons at their disposal, but it's not enough to keep the action from growing tedious, and the bad controls compound the problem. For instance, punch-kick combos cannot be interrupted once activated. So if you miss your target, your character will keep punching even though you took your finger off the attack button long ago. This causes you to get stuck punching at empty space while a zombie quickly creeps up from behind to gnaw on your neck. Then there's the dash button, which can be useful for getting some breathing room when a gang of flesh-eaters are bearing down. But at the same time, this arrangement causes some confusion in the controls. Since the dash button is the same as the guard button, holding it down will make you run, but not before stopping to guard several times in mid-stride.
Simply opening doors can prove frustrating, but the single most annoying control problem is the auto-targeting that goes with firing weapons. Not only is it poorly implemented, it just doesn't work. Trying to aim your gun when surrounded or when fighting a boss is pure aggravation. Sometimes it locks on to a target, sometimes it doesnt. Its range isn't very good, either. This is inexcusable for a game that depends so much on shooting.
Fighting the zombies can be fun at times. There are a lot of cool weapons, especially the giant power-drill for gorging zombies and the dual handguns. But these weapons are all temporary. Just when youre getting into a groove of splattering zombie parts all over the street with a shotgun, you run out of ammo and its back to hand-to-hand combat.
Zombie Revenge teases us with these great ways to dismember a zombie, only to make punching and kicking essential to survive. The game seems to forget that were trying to kill the undead here. What good is a body slam or a shoulder attack going to do when emptying a pistol into one hardly slows it down? We're obviously not supposed to care about the story or the heroes, but at least let us have some fun!
When you do get to use the heavy artillery, the zombies spill green blood, and so do the protagonist humans. Getting the privilege of seeing the red stuff requires beating the arcade mode first. It's a cheap gimmick and another attempt at deflecting criticism from industry attackers. The game can't even play it straight at the most fundamental level. The developers should have gone all-out, or they shouldn't have gone at all.