There are a great many zombie apocalypses in our popular media, especially when it comes to videogames. We've seen so many variations of undead shamblers, fast-moving runners, and otherwise mutated specimens that they've all become conventions and tropes in their own right. The genre still has life in it (so to speak), but being constantly inundated makes unique perspectives all the more refreshing. Zombie Tycoon 2: Brainhov's Revenge is one such attempt, revisiting the RTS gameplay of its PSP original on the PS3 and Vita. Frima Studio's charming and engaging take on zombies is fun to play, but does suffer drawbacks in translating RTS gameplay to the living room console.
Zombie Tycoon 2 is set in a universe where mad science created Formula Z, a substance that turns living creatures into undead slaves. Following the events of the first game, former scientific assistant Orville Tycoon has successfully unleashed his zombie army on the town of Finkleville as part of a larger goal of global domination. At the cusp of victory, Tycoon's forces are suddenly obliterated by the equally ravenous hordes of Brainhov, his now-rotting-but-still-intelligent former employer. Reduced to nothing more than a laser pistol and his world-conquering ambitions, Tycoon immediately sets about rebuilding a zombie empire, slowly taking back the ruins that should be his.
Right off the bat, the first thing one notices about Zombie Tycoon 2 is how it blends humor with the unsettling conventions of the zombie apocalypse. The world is in chaos, swarms of zombies chase lone survivors, and Finkleville's roads and infrastructure are in dire need of repair. Frima Studio could have played this apocalypse straight, but instead it lightened the mood with exaggerated caricatures of traditional zombie tropes. Civilians are gaunt, wide-eyed, perpetually shaking, and often screaming in panic. Zombies move in ravenous packs, but are literally and metaphorically brainless, frequently missing the intellectual subtleties of Tycoon's orders. Tycoon, meanwhile, looks like he just walked out of a 1950s science fiction movie, with a lab coat, ray gun, and no greater motivation to conquer the world other than that it exists. It all comes together to provide a charming aesthetic in the tradition of Plants Vs Zombies, even though the apocalyptic setting is prominently displayed at all times.
Tycoon (and Brainhov in later chapters and multiplayer) can control up to two squads of ten zombies, a heavy monster unit, and a mobile base that spawns replacement units. While four groups sounds like a pretty small zombie apocalypse, rest assured, you have a much larger horde to draw from. Scattered across the level are houses belonging to an enemy faction, either human or zombie. Each captured house spawns additional NPC zombies that stand guard, attack enemies, or wander next door to claim additional buildings (and the neighbors). Most of the time, these zombies tend to their own affairs, but activating the Dead Rush command summons all of them to your latest target as a single enormous mob. After painstakingly navigating a map to expand your influence, it is immensely satisfying to watch your undead hurl themselves en masse against unsuspecting enemies and obstacles. Even if you aren't especially interested in developing a horde, it's a good idea to capture buildings anyway. After all, enemy units also spawn from those houses, and swarms can just as easily be used against you.