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Review: Burn Zombie Burn!

Jordan Deam | 31 Mar 2009 13:00
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When it comes to endurance games, there's something to be said for simplicity. Others may enjoy the spectacle of Gears of War 2's Horde mode or Call of Duty: World at War's Nazi zombies, but I'll always prefer the classic lines and subtle curves of Geometry Wars. Beneath its undulating cosmic fabric was a game of unexpected depth, a game that required you to absorb its rule set into your being at such a subatomic level that your hands were able to calculate the ideal trajectory of your ship before you mind could.

Burn Zombie Burn!, a PlayStation Network title by Geometry Wars: Galaxies developer doublesix, actually has a lot in common with its grid-bound cousin. But while Geometry Wars benefited from its easily grasped game mechanics and spartan visuals, Burn Zombie Burn! is plagued by feature bloat. Instead of bolstering the core gameplay, the developers tossed in a bunch of weapons, power-ups and enemy types in the hopes that they would add some variety to the experience. Unsurprisingly, it fails.

You'd think that killing zombies would be an end in itself, but that's not the case in Burn Zombie Burn! As the title suggests, a solid performance is as much about lighting zombies on fire as it is dispatching them with your arsenal of sawing instruments and projectile weapons. From a purely practical standpoint, setting zombies alight is counterproductive - instead of causing harm, it merely serves to enrage them, increasing their speed and the frequency of their attacks. The fire from one zombie quickly spreads to others in the horde, causing a huge swarm of burning undead to set off in your direction.

Yet this lunacy is exactly the objective. In Burn Zombie Burn!, flaming zombies act as your multiplier - the bigger the smoldering pack of flesheaters trailing behind you, the more points you earn for each kill. The game never attempts to offer an explanation for this fundamental inconsistency - it expects you to be too busy running from the zombie you just lit on fire to notice that it might not have been the best idea in a survival situation.

It's not just Burn Zombie Burn!'s overall premise that's flawed - its execution falters on a couple fronts as well. Maybe you'll be put off by the controls, which insist you choose between firing in whichever direction you're running or locking on to the nearest zombie. (I suspect the game didn't co-opt Geometry Wars' dual-thumbstick control scheme out of copyright issues.) Perhaps you'll be nauseated listening to the game's pop-punk soundtrack, which grows repetitive within seconds of hearing it. Or maybe you'll be appalled by the game's main character, Bruce, who "came to kill zombies and chew bubblegum," and - you guessed it - is all out of gum.

Perhaps most regrettably, Burn Zombie Burn!'s world design actually detracts from the gameplay. The developers have sketched out characters that are dull and expressionless enough to preempt any sympathy you might feel for them, and provided just enough of a setting for you to realize how pointless your main activity is. There might be a better game when you strip away the subpar presentation - or there might be nothing left.

Bottom Line: Burn Zombie Burn! works well as a bullet-pointed list on the back of a box. (Four game modes! Six levels! Twelve weapons! Eight types of zombies!) Unfortunately, there's no box.

Recommendation: Stick with either Geometry Wars or Left 4 Dead. Trust me, there's no middle ground on this one.

Jordan Deam gets his zombie-burning fix from Molotov cocktails, thanks.

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