Doom fans might have already realised this back in 1993, but there a few things more satisfying than strapping on a chainsaw and plunging headlong into a room full of enemies. It's not something you would ever consider doing in real life - unless you too have been stuck in line behind an angry mum in McDonald's while she demands a different Happy Meal toy for each of eight screeching offspring - but nothing soothes a stressed mind better than carving through an army of monsters.
The chainsaw might only appear as a bonus weapon in Infected but, when you finally get hold of one, it's an instant visceral treat for any gamer reared on a strict diet of ultra violent games and zombie movies. In such twisted folk (including myself, obviously), wielding this crude, messy weapon and ripping through an undead horde provokes a kind of sadistic glee that reminds you just how cathartic video games can be when done right.
In a deliciously brutal intro sequence, an army of zombies attacks the Christmas lights ceremony in New York City and then proceeds to overrun the entire Big Apple. Just in case you were in any doubt over whether Infected was deserving of its BBFC 15 rating, this animated scene features a young boy in a wheelchair being torn to shreds and an old lady having her insides removed from where the sun doesn't shine. Wisely though, the carnage is all imbued with a wry sense of dark humour in the vein of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy - so that's alright then. It turns out the zombies are members of the public infected by a mysterious virus that, for some reason, only a lone cop is immune to. In fact, the officer's blood is the only means of killing the monsters. So, armed with a pistol and a Viral Gun that's filled with enough pints of your character's red stuff to finish off any wounded enemies, players are pitched into a solo battle with the undead to reclaim the city.
The, admittedly repetitive, missions generally revolve around either clearing an area as quickly as possible, rescuing hapless citizens or protecting soldiers from downed helicopters (in a zombie-spin on Black Hawk Down) and, as the game progresses, the levels get larger and the challenge definitely tougher. By the final missions you're racing from one zone to another trying desperately to haul enough survivors from the clutches of ravenous zombies, while constantly checking the map to see if an area is going Berserk (when the monsters become faster and more powerful) or a facing a Viral Outbreak (where all humans become instantly infected). There is barely time to breathe, let alone rest your poor aching digits.
'... kudos goes out to the chainsaw-wielding Santas though, which provide a real nightmare before Christmas.'
Depending on your performance you will be awarded a bronze, silver or gold medal along with a cash bonus to spend on new weapons or items. The better you do, the more you can stock up your arsenal. At the beginning, the player only has a weedy pistol to defend themselves with, but soon it's possible to splash out on shotguns, machineguns, grenades and, of course, a rocket launcher. A series of unlockable items, like the chainsaw and a shield, can also be bought and unleashed to cope with particularly frantic situations. While the variety of enemies to be dispatched is limited by modern standards, as with any good zombie adventure it's the sheer volume that matters. While Infected may never quite reach Dead Rising levels, the player always feels like they are being assaulted from all sides. Fortunately, the ability to simultaneously blow-up groups of wounded assailants with your viral gun for combo points and bonuses (health packs, extra weapons) helps take the edge off. Special Pro-G kudos goes out to the chainsaw-wielding Santas though, which provide a real nightmare before Christmas.
Like the plot, which is drip-fed between levels, the visuals are perfunctory at best - with a definite old-school feel - but everything is so insane that there is barely any time to explore the limited New York settings. Infected wears its retro blaster credentials with obvious pride and, once you get over the initial lack of gloss, proves to be a deeper, more rewarding experience than initial impressions suggest. For example, the constant need to upgrade weapons, along with the chance to customise your on-screen avatar with unlockable wardrobes, adds a welcome RPG edge to the game, and the combat throughout is smooth to control. Still, was it really necessary to populate the soundtrack with only Slipknot or Slipknot-wannabes? My delicate ears may never recover.
Your avatar becomes more important if you indulge in the ambitious multiplayer mode. Through tense Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes, both available for Ad Hoc fun or online action, winning players or clans can actually "infect" their opponents' PSPs - forcing their avatar to appear in their rivals' single player games until they complete some extra missions. It's gimmicky at best, especially judging by the lack of people I could find online to play in the last few days, but you have to applaud developer Planet Moon Studios' vision of a virtual virus spreading across the globe. For the record, I'm still getting over the lingering symptoms of my slaughter at the hands of Dan from Luton.
It might not be the most revolutionary title on the market but Infected never fails to push the player to their limits and, by virtue of some puerile but frankly hilarious gags, occasionally raises a real-life chuckle. Witness the Bob Geldof-alike zombie sympathiser who has penned a song about how the undead "don't even know it's Christmas" for further evidence. Infected is the gaming equivalent of a video nasty that devotees of gore-splattered mayhem will lap up like a new Romero movie. Designed exclusively for the PSP, it also shows developers are starting to really think about what handheld gamers want, rather than just porting stripped down versions of established PlayStation franchises. We demand more chainsaws in the sequel though.