First Impressions: Time to do the monster mash.
Gamers love killing zombies; heck, just the mere mention of the ?z? word and we're apt to grab the nearest shotgun faster than you can say Dead Rising or Resident Evil. On the surface, the upcoming Monster Madness: Battle for Suburbia may look like just another excuse to blow the crap out of the undead, but a closer examination reveals a far more interesting, unique, funny and surprisingly deep take on the genre.
The story centers around four suburban teenagers: Zach, the nerdy straight-A protagonist; the moody goth Carrie (whom Zach has a crush on); Andy the skater dude; and the snobby blonde preppy Jennifer. Since Zach is the smartest kid in school, they all show up as his house needing help with their homework (except Andy, who needs help fixing his rocket-powered skateboard). Suddenly, a bunch of hungry zombies burst through the front door. Don't you hate it when that happens? After their initial shock, the four teens fight off the zombies only to discover that their entire neighborhood is swarming with the undead, witches, werewolves, vampires and all sorts of creepy scary things. Their goal is not only to find out what the heck is going on, but to survive waves of monsters out for their blood (and brainsss!).
Yes, it sounds silly but that's intentional; developer Artificial Studios wanted to create a game that is not only full of action but also plenty of laughs and light-hearted fun for both the casual and hardcore gamer alike. Although you'll be blowing monsters into bloody bits, even the gore is funny as the entire game is designed in humorous comic book style ? in fact, an actual comic book will be released simultaneously with the game that will explore each character's back story and explain how they all ended up at Zach's house.
Most noticeable is how Monster Madness blends old school gaming with the new. The retro top-down perspective may seem like an unusual choice in this world of 3D first-person graphics, but it somehow seems appropriate. It's also a comfortable and familiar perspective for casual gamers who may not be used to (or don't like) the FPS style of play.
Although it may have a cartoonish old school look, you may be surprised to learn that the game is powered by the very modern Unreal Engine 3. Look closely and you'll see that the characters and environments are rendered in very high detail and move with exceptionally smooth animation. The fire, lighting and shadow effects are beautiful, with every object casting its own dynamic shadow. This is especially impressive considering almost everything in the game is physics-enabled, meaning you can either move it, throw it, destroy it or pick it up and use it as a weapon.
As we saw in Dead Rising, the ability to use anything as a weapon was a ton of fun. Monster Madness takes things a step further by not only letting you use things like furniture, a glue gun, a toilet plunger and even a bee hive as a handy zombie smasher, but lets you upgrade them into more powerful weapons. By collecting the right mix of everyday items, you will be able to take them to Larry the mechanic who will MacGyver them into things like a cell phone taser, a CD-shooting gun and a killer potato gun. Some really cool weapons include a boomerang that can target multiple enemies and a gravity mine that sucks everything ? enemies, furniture and anything else that isn't nailed down ? into one spot like a mini-black hole (this is an especially cool effect that really demonstrates the powerful PhysX technology). All weapons ? including standards like SMGs, shotguns, missile launchers, chainsaws, Molotov cocktails, swords and axes ? are upgradeable to three levels and can have secondary fire modes like incendiary fire, grenade launchers and so on.
Each character will also have a weapon specialization that gives them damage bonuses if they wield the weapon of their choice; for example, Zach likes axes and Carrie loves swords.
But wait, that's not all. You will also be able to drive a wide variety of fun vehicles like a go-kart, hovercraft, mech-like walker and even a UFO to help you blast those ugly monsters to smithereens. You will also be able to pick up special Monster Amulets that will temporarily transform you into a werewolf, Frankenstein monster, vampire and yes, even a beloved zombie, giving you their powers and the ability to give the creepies a taste of their own medicine.
Movement and fighting is intuitive; you move with the left stick and aim independently with the right, similar to Geometry Wars. You can also dodge and roll, which will come in handy as you fight more than 50 different types of enemies on large maps that will include nasty death traps. The single player campaign will span 25 huge levels in five interactive and destructible environments, which include Zach's house, the town's streets and the local ?shopping maul?. In between killing monsters, you will need to solve physics-based puzzles like figuring out how to open a pathway or blocking entrances to keep monsters out. Along the way you will be able to unlock many bonuses like mini-missions, powerups and so on.
As fun as this all sounds, it will no doubt be even better playing co-operatively with three of your buddies on Xbox Live or together in your living room on the same box. Players will be able to hop in and out seamlessly as the AI will take over in the absence of real people. Co-op is becoming increasingly popular and what could be more fun than killing monsters with your friends?
Best of all, the game will support up to 16 players over Xbox Live or System Link in hilarious Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag matches in maps filled with vehicles and plenty of death traps that would impress any Mortal Kombat fan: bubbling pools of acid, guillotines, spikes, trap doors and many other evil things that can kill you. The best (or worst, depending on your point of view) part is that most powerups will be guarded by traps, so you will have to dodge a guillotine or land mine to gain that precious edge over your opponents. The maps will have the requisite explosive barrels you can shoot but will also let you roll them at opponents too. You can even set people on fire with Molotovs and if they run by an explosive barrel ? BOOM! One level has a drawbridge that makes for a great sniping spot but you won't want to stay there too long as the bridge can be withdrawn from a safe distance away, causing you to fall into the acid pool below.
As you can tell, the developers are really throwing in a ton of cool stuff designed solely to increase the fun factor. You don't even have to be online to enjoy the multiplayer action either as the game will support up to four players on the same box in offline Arena Battles on special maps. The game does not support split-screen but will have all four players on the screen simultaneously, with the camera zooming in and out depending on how far away players are from each other. The Arena Battles are your basic free-for-all deathmatch filled with traps and hazards, and it looks like a blast. Many games have abandoned offline multiplayer in favor of online so it's good to see developers supporting those who either have no broadband Internet or who simply enjoy having friends over for a game night.
There will be 10 multiplayer maps split evenly between the online and offline Arena Battles. There is no word yet on downloadable content but new maps and weapons would be a no-brainer for this game.