Weíve spent years killing zombies, wanting to kill zombies, and imaging a bleak future of zombies overrunning mankind and what our master plan would be to hold out until the bitter end. With all of this violence towards the undead, have any of us ever stopped to wonder just how tough of an existence they really have? Always hungry, always stalked, hated, and just generally misunderstood. Wideload took the plight of the undead to the people, and with the help of the Halo engine they have helped to bring a little humor and carnage to the world, as well as a little understanding.
Stubbs finds himself resurrected in an alternative futuristic 1950s in Punchbowl, USA, complete with hover cars, randy robot service attendants, and all the axe-wielding businessmen that a town could ever want. With a well-implemented gradual difficulty system, Stubbs will learn how to do all sorts of fun acts while he tromps about: lob his head like a bowling ball, guiding it to and detonate it at the appropriate destination; throw his arm- and ceiling-crawling arm to seek out and possess victims; toss internal organs like grenades; harness his devastating flatulence; corral and influence other zombies by whistling and pushing; and the always fun and very zombie basic brain-eating technique, which is really just him biting into someoneís head while they scream for help. He isnít afraid of a little fisticuffs, either; he can throw down with his three-hit combo and rip off arms, which he uses to chase and beat down the appropriately freaked-out victim. For a walking corpse, heís pretty versatile.
As he travels throughout Punchbowl, heíll get to go to all sorts of classic locals, from the picturesque farm to the secluded laboratory. While the enemies come in thick cloned hordes, the situations presented often offer subtle strategic opportunities and are gleefully violent. Whenever Stubbs bites someone, beats them or smacks them with a severed limp, or kills them with a smell, they resurrect as zombies. Watching a horde of new zombies rush a group of soldiers or one of the esteemed members of the Quaker State Militia is always fun, but thereís another option: possession. By launching his arm onto the head of a living being, complete with a middle-finger homage to Return of the Living Dead, Stubbs can possess any one of the weapon-toting civilians or soldiers.
With Stubbs safely tucked away, he can gain access to the possessed police officerís revolver, a militia memberís shotgun or long-range Civil War-style rifle (complete with the puff and appearance of a muzzle-loaded weapon), a scientistís lasers, or one of the more heavier weapons carried by a soldier (machine gun, rocket launcher, etc.); there are also controllable vehicles that Stubbs can man himself, like tractors, jeeps, and tanks. The decision to pick which approach is often difficult, but also made a little easier thanks to some sound decisions on the part of the developers. Since the game uses the Halo engine, the feel of the game is very similar, so that makes firing weapons just as fun (with range and accuracy actually mattering), but you might end up needing some zombies to get past a part; fortunately, that was taken into account and there will often be a few extra zombies that come from buildings or inaccessible areas to serve your needs. With both approaches working well, it then becomes a matter of taste Ė or style.
Aside from looking the part, the levels are really just great set pieces for Stubbs to do what he needs to do. In parts of the town there will be guys with boards and axes that serve as easy prey, while heíll also have to possess either a criminal or a police officer and break out of jail. All along the way the game is rife with colorful humor and random situations of strangeness. The humor will often miss, but thereís so much in the game that youíre bound to find something funny. While Iím not really big on flatulence jokes, I loved the Quaker State Militia (little known fact: they killed Hitler); the random ads with 50s-styled jingles, ďEverything tastes better with bacon;Ē and every now and then just the absurd, ďAhhh! My Peni..er..My arm,Ē but to be honest, if I was to be attacked by a zombie Iíd probably blurt that out too in the moment of sudden shock coupled with the normal male assumption that fate wants nothing less than for instant and severe groin pain on any occasion. If you donít go for the body fluid jokes or the gore jokes, thereís always something to quote.
I often found that the game never hit a solid middle ground; it was either too much or too little. Some areas, like a Simon Says-style dance sequence (which in itself is funny, and more so because of the You Got Served-esque of it all), a part where you urinate to contaminate a pool, or just general areas that need to be cleared all went on for too long. Other times, there wasnít enough, like the type of civilians and enemies, the sayings, or ingenuity on the enemiesí part. Due to the plastic look of many of the character models and lack of detail, it comes off as a budget title; the grainy faux Ď50s horror movie look and the general style is very well done, itís just too bland at times.
Itís hard to deny the sheer merriment of Stubbs the Zombie, though itís easy to understand how it can go unappreciated by some. Despite its cheesy humor, itís extremely gory and has some truly great moments (a bit involving a zombie suddenly bursting through a murky farmhouse window was fantastic), and it manages to elicit a real feeling of power. It wasnít uncommon for me to see a zombie and look for a weapon, only to realize that I was the zombie and I was doing the invading, and then go push the one that startled me. It also supports co-op multiplay, and stalking people through stalks of corn or doing a little Splinter Cell decoy maneuver as zombies is just a good time no matter how you look at it.
As one of the more unique and enjoyable Xbox offerings this year, and one of the titles the Xbox 360 supports at launch, there is no excuse to not at least try Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse. While the game isnít very long, around 8 hours, itís enjoyable enough to play through at least two times, if only to find the icons that unlock the developer commentary and to play with a friend. It rarely hits its mark dead-on, but itís always so close that youíll have a good time regardless. Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse is, without a doubt, one of the more surprising and outright fun titles this year.