Evil things shamble down narrow hallways, they get shot in the head, the heroes move on to the next shambling thing. That's an accurate description of 90 percent of every zombie film and First Person Shooter (FPS) ever made. So why has there never been a great zombie-killing FPS? It seems like such a natural combination. Yet, other than the first section of They Hunger (a three-part Half-Life conversion) no one has ever managed to handle zombie shooting well.
The latest disappointment in this shockingly small sub-genre is Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler's Green (LotD:RtFG) , which is the official videogame of the George Romero film that shares half its title. It's a run-of-the-mill FPS where players are asked to fight their way through a zombie-infested landscape until they reach the gated community of the title. There's a whole lot wrong with this video game, but the fact that it's associated with the George Romero zombieverse is right at the top of the list.
The father of the modern zombie (a reanimated, flesh-craving corpse as opposed to someone hypnotized by Hatian zombie dust), George Romero created a world where the dead come back to life for no discernable reason, and exist only to kill the living, thereby making more zombies. It's not unreasonable to assume that an official George Romero zombie game would follow George Romero zombie rules, and it's to this game's severe discredit that it makes no attempt to do so.
Rule 1: Any shot to a zombie's head will kill it instantly. A shot to any other part of a zombie's body will have no effect whatsoever. This seems like a pretty simple rule to get right, after all, FPSs have been implanting instantly fatal headshots ever since Goldeneye, so how hard could it be? Not only are headshots not instantly fatal, insanely, headshots do no extra damage at all Sure, there are a couple of guns that can behead a zombie, but for the most part, if it takes four shots to the chest to kill a zombie, it will take four shots to the head to kill it as well. Meaning? This is a zombie-themed game where there's absolutely no reason to ever shoot a zombie in the head.
Rule 2: Any bite from a zombie is invariably fatal. People infected by a zombie's bite will sicken and die over a very short period of time. There is no cure for a zombie's bite. Not so in LotD:RtFG. No, this game offers completely standard videogame health, where a grievous neck wound can be instantly healed by walking over a vial of painkillers. Would it have been a challenge to make a game where, in order to survive, the player can never be hit? Absolutely, although the people behind the Rainbow Six series managed to pull it off quite nicely before they went console. Giving players that kind of a challenge might well have added some much-needed variety to the game.
Perhaps this tedium could have been mitigated somewhat if the act of shooting zombies was any fun at all. Sadly, players of LotD:RtFG are denied even that small measure of enjoyment. The guns' ugly appearance, unthreatening sound, and their limited effect on the zombies all conspire to make all the killing range from dull to depressing.
The worst offender in the poor gun design category is the shotgun—historically and theoretically the most useful zombie-combating tool, a poor coding choice has rendered it utterly useless. Ever since it became possible to track the course of individual pellets from a shotgun, game designers have taken liberties with just how wide that spread should be. Here they've gone a little overboard—the spread is so wide that standing two feet away from a shotgun the pellets will tear a zombie's arms off, doing no damage to the torso. If the shotgun is aimed directly at the zombie's head at point blank range, the pellets will all fly around the head. Thus, it's effectively impossible to blow a zombie's head off with a shotgun, the single act that defines zombie-themed gaming.
The level design isn't anything special, and the weapons aren't much fun to shoot, so this game needed something to make it stand out from the crowd. Being an official George Romero zombie game would have been a great way to do that. Unfortunately the game's failure to be anything resembling a George Romero zombie game means that this mediocre title can't even hope to find an audience even among the most hardcore Romero and zombie fans.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.