Giving a Zombie the lead role in a video game must have seemed like a brilliant idea. In truth, it probably is a good idea, but Stubbs the Zombie isn’t the game to use it properly. For all the brain eating, limb ripping-off and general zombie hi-jinks that go on, Stubbs is a game lacking in the very thing that it tries so hard to deliver: fun. Mentioning Halo numerous times on the cover art won’t save Stubbs from being a good idea gone wrong.
Set in an alternative 1959 city of the future (with hover cars, laser guns and all the usual things everyone thought would be around in the future) Stubbs emerges from the soil and starts eating things – human brains to be more precise. There’s a story in there somewhere, but it’s rather ignored and almost impossible to follow. It’s not a complicated plot and comes together in the end, but it’s just so loosely told that it might as well not be there. So, Stubbs sets off to find out exactly what has happened to bring him back from the dead.
Being a zombie, everyone who Stubbs feasts on will come back to life as a zombie. While it’s possible to start a mini army of zombies, your followers are pretty useless and are easily mowed down by almost all the enemies in the game. Aside from eating, Stubbs can rip off a human’s arm and use it as club, use his own internal organs as sticky grenades, fart to temporally immobilise enemies, use his head as an explosive bowling ball and even possess humans using a severed hand. It all sounds wonderfully inventive, but in practice it’s incredibly dull and tedious.
Each of these abilities (bar the brain eating and arm ripping-off) requires Stubbs to eat brains. Doing so replenishes these ‘special’ moves. The problem arises when you’re faced with numerous hostiles and no special attacks. The only half-decent ranged attack is the sticky grenade (the rolling head leaves the body rather vulnerable and it’s tricky to control), but that is usually dodged by enemies. Possessing a guard or other gun-carrying enemy will give you a gun to use, but the hand used to possess is often shot before it makes it to its target. Even when you manage to take control of a human, multiple enemies will make light work of your health – unlike Stubbs, possessed humans don’t have a recharging health bar.
The game quickly descends into an utterly tedious cycle of running up to an enemy, hitting him (and perhaps eating his brain), and then retreating to safety before you are killed. Stubbs moves very slowly (only starting to run after walking for a short amount of time) so evading attack is in itself far trickier than it need be. The whole game is full of wide open areas that simply don’t gel with the general slow pace of Stubbs and his possessed humans. A few sections of the game allow a modicum of stealth (such as the farm level), but on the whole it’s a constant struggle to remain alive (or remain dead, depending on how you see it), and not in a good way.
Numerous vehicles can be used throughout the game and as this was built using the Halo engine, it’s no surprise to find that the game uses the exact same driving mechanic. The vehicles move in the direction the camera is pointing, and while this works well it’s far too easy to become temporarily stuck on a piece of the environment. After a few minutes of tedious shuffling about you’ll probably be able to wriggle free, but it’s another area that feels rather poorly play tested. The driving sections themselves are also pretty mundane, offering little more than humans to run over and the odd weapon to shoot.
As mentioned, Stubbs is built using the Halo engine, and even though that is getting on a bit in video game years, the visuals are still impressive. The environments are large and the entire game is played with a rather effective aging grain filter. Stubbs is well modelled, sporting some lovely visible internal organs and the frame rate holds up well (although the PC version is a little resource hungry). It’s strange to say, given the subject matter, but Stubbs is a rather charming looking game. The whole world is full of character and while heads can be blown off and brains can be eaten, it doesn’t really feel all that gory.
It’s clear that the developers have tried to create a funny game, and I’m sure some people will find it amusing, but it simply didn’t work for me. Apart from a pretty amusing mini-game early on, I found little to laugh at. The odd shop sign raised a smirk, but that was about it. Audio work is top notch, however, and the soundtrack that features re-recorded 1950’s era classics is wonderful. The Zombies and victims also sound great, groaning, screaming and begging for mercy.
The Xbox version of the game includes co-op play for two players using split-screen, but it isn’t really anything that raises the quality of the game. This is missing from the PC game, but it’s no big loss. Even though Stubbs could be the slowest moving video game character of all time, the game still lasts less than six hours. If you’re enjoying it, this might be rather disappointing, especially considering that you won’t have seen many different environments in that time. Had a more reasonable walk speed been used, the whole game would have taken less than four hours to complete.
I so wanted to like Stubbs, but the game goes out of its way to be annoying. Everything from the slow walk speed to the lack of combat options in a large scale fight simply reeks of sloppy play testing. There’s a good idea here and a good game hidden beneath the shoddy design, which makes the final product all the more disappointing. For now you’re better off sticking to games that let you blast zombies rather than playing as one.