Review: War of the Zombie

I know that joke is old.

I heard you like hulls.

The chimera is completely kickass in concept. Part lion, part dragon, part fire-breathing goat — these are all awesome things, but what if you’re the poor guy that has to take that thing for a walk? Imagine chimera bath time at the palace. Does it shed? And if so, what sorts of matter? It’s pretty when you can look at it from a distance, less so when you’re wrangling it yourself.

War of the Zombie also teaches us the lesson of the chimera. A logline to die for: an apocalyptic strategy game with an X-Com-like turn-based strategy layer and real-time battles where your mortal troops take on the undead hordes. Even in zombie-saturated 2013, we’re not yet ready to say no to zombie X-Com, are we?

Despite that great logline, War of the Zombie doesn’t work. That doesn’t mean I don’t like it — quite the contrary, I love it — but that collection of promising gameplay parts doesn’t quite come together into a harmonious whole. War of the Zombie’s chief sin is one that more games could stand to commit: it’s too rangy, too ambitious. It’s a latter-period Stephen King novel: too full of good ideas and badly in need of an editor who can cut it down to a lean, workable size.

In War of the Zombie, that familiar old zombie apocalypse has arrived. The world’s military forces are apparently shackled by their own incompetence and aren’t equal to the task of fighting back zed — that’s where you come in. As the head of private military force SAFE, it seems that you alone are making a concerted effort against the undead.

No lone wolves on my team.

The real-time combat is tractable, but not brilliant. You’ll never want to split your squad up, for example.

From your Xzibit-inspired double-hulled aircraft carrier base, you launch missions each turn into the world’s cities, salvaging supplies, extracting VIPs, and sterilizing zombie outbreaks. When you put SAFE Marines on the ground to get VIPs out of hotzones, the action switches to an overhead view of the city in real-time. Your jarheads shoot and get civilians to follow them automatically but take their movement order from you, and you can support them with targeted airstrikes. Marines who survive missions get experience points which you can use to level up their skills, and some VIPs you extract can be recruited to join SAFE as trigger-pullers, diplomats, researchers, and military advisers. Cities that are too far gone into the hands of the dead can be nuked to stop the infestation from spreading.

This isn’t just an X-Com clone with real-time combat, either: War of the Zombie has some of its own ideas, and they’re generally great. Each country has its own attitude towards SAFE, and you can send diplomats to smooth things over with those hostile to your mercenary force — the ones who stay hostile will interfere with your operations by trying to sink your carrier. If a mission goes pear-shaped and kills your best squad, you have the option of re-playing the mission from the beginning using an option called “Deja Vu” — which balances the difficulty and feels less cheaty than reloading a save.

Surely at this point, your finger is involuntarily twitching in its desire to push the BUY button for War of the Zombie. But hold on there, Pointy. War of the Zombie isn’t quite done. None of that delicious gameplay I describe above is fully baked yet.

Badass.

Marines who are wounded but not killed come back to active duty with bionic limbs.

The real-time combat is easy enough to control, but massively repetitive due to an acute shortage of maps and very little randomization. Researchers do absolutely nothing because there isn’t a research tree implemented yet, and the military advisers are an extraneous idea that is hovering just over the cutting room floor. The game’s sound design is gratingly repetitive and the best accessory for playing War of the Zombie is a pair of earplugs.

All that said, I love the game. You can lose yourself in it. Despite the fact that it’s patently unfinished, it has a “one more turn” compulsiveness about it. Those with an ample supply of good humour and patience wouldn’t go wrong picking it up as it stands today, but the more finicky should wait. Van der Veer Games’ Facebook page already shows evidence of an overhaul in the works, so maybe this chimera will get a little more manageable after all.

The game was played on an iPad 4th-gen for this review.

Pocket Tactics Rating

2 Star Rating

2/5 Stars