It's an interesting choice of location for Wideload's presentation of Stubbs the Zombie: a quirky hotel that when compared with the Hyatts and the Holiday Inns surrounding it, looks distinctly off-beat and really quite interesting. Luckily these analogies fit happily with the game in question too; a third person title which sees you in the shoes of age old baddie, the zombie. So it's apt, and leaves a smile on our face before we've even seen the game. One really has to wander whether this was the plan all along...
As is expected from a team founded by an ex-Bungie member, Stubbs is immediately impressive. Placing you in role of the titular hero (or should that be anti-hero?), Stubbs the Zombie sees you walking the earth again after a futuristic city has been built on top of your grave. You can see why he'd be annoyed. Although Stubbs motives for lashing out at the town (apart from the whole 'city on my burial ground' thing) still remain shrouded in mystery, Wideload let slip that the game will be structured around a 24-hour period and that there may be some romance. Though, on the whole, they just let the game itself do the talking. This worked just fine for us.
This game is chock full of good ideas, which shone through even within the short space of time we spent with it. You see, Stubbs is far from alone in this fight and has the handy ability to turn his enemies over to his side - by eating their brains, of course. This opens up a world of possibilities and encourages tactics different from any other game we've seen. It also brings new meaning to the word 'cannon fodder'. Rather than commanding human soldiers, you're leading a group of mindless zombies, so using them as a human shield is now guilt free and perfectly viable. Not that this hasn't been the case in other games, but here Wideload positively encourages it.
Other features include the ability to use your guts as a hand grenade and flatulence as stun effect weapon, which are very handy when you consider that Stubbs never uses weapons. But don't panic yet; just because Stubbs doesn't use weapons doesn't mean you won't get to. In an Evil Dead inspired manoeuvre, Stubbs can rip his hand off at any point and use it to temporarily possess one of the many enemies in the game. Elegant solutions in a game were the lead character doesn't use a weapon, I think you'll agree.
The fresh ideas don't stop there however. The games music doesn't stick with the traditional score you'd expect from this type of game, instead featuring cover versions of classic songs done by more recent alternative bands. Oranger's version of 'Mr Sandman' being a particular favourite, but we've been promised a whole album worth of brand new covers.
The much vaunted use of the Halo engine was one of the most interesting aspects of the presentation though, but not for the reasons you'd expect. Wideload have done such a good job tweaking and changing the engine that it looks brand new. Indeed, thanks to some superb graphics filters and a unique style, the game has very little similarity to Halo. Thankfully, one familiar feature that has filtered down is the wide open spaces that made Halo stand out, and Wideload has promised that they will make good use of this aspect.
Even at this stage, Stubbs the Zombie looks truly refreshing and the promised secrets can only add to what we've seen today. Indeed, the hinted at co-operative mode could make the game even more appealing if Wideload decide to implement it. Either way, Stubbs the Zombie is a breath of fresh air and will definitely be worth a look come October.