One of the video game genres that have exploded with the current console generation is that of the twin-stick shooter. The first big one from this generation was, arguably, Geometry Wars from Bizarre Creations, but following its success an endless stream of clones began flowing into the market. Every platform has been getting its share of the genre and some are faring better than others. Back in the beginning of 2009, Double Six decided to jump on the dual-stick bandwagon, as well as inject a little bit of the zombie craze, and release Burn Zombie Burn onto the PlayStation Network. The original release was greeted with average reviews by most of the gaming press and quickly became a semi-popular title on the platform. Now, a year and a half later, Double Six has brought the title to a new audience on the PC, via the Steam network.
The premise of Burn Zombie Burn is pretty simple; as the protagonist Bruce, players will face wave after wave of varying zombies and are challenged with eliminating as many of them as possible. With each passing wave, the hoard becomes stronger and larger, slowly increasing the difficulty over time. Bruce has access the a rather large arsenal of weapons including items such as baseball bats, handguns, shotguns, Gatling guns and even flamethrowers. There are some varying strategies involved in the non-stop, bullet barrage gameplay, and most of it is based on both acquiring kill streaks with a single weapon and utilizing fire against your enemies. When you accumulate three consecutive streaks with the same weapon, you gain access to a “Big Red Button” which will trigger a level specific event which affects your enemies, but can also affect you later in the game. The quickest way to increase your score though is to use fire, as alluded to in the title of the game. Setting zombies ablaze increases your score multiplayer at a faster pace; the problem is, the once they are set on fire they become stronger and faster, making them more formidable foes. It is up to the player to find a good balance in their strategy in order to increase their score as high as possible while still maintaining “control” over the situation.
All of this shooting is done across a variety of gameplay modes, including freeplay, timed, and Defend Daisy. Throughout each of the modes, the main objective remains the same: eliminate as many zombies as possible but there is a little variation in each mode. Freeplay is exactly as it sounds; you have to survive as long as you can against a never ending stream (Waves) of enemies. Timed mode sets you up against a clock that is always counting down to zero. As you kill flaming zombies and hit scoring benchmarks, you will be rewarded with time bonuses that will allow you to continue playing; once your clock hits zero, your game is over. Defend Daisy is very similar to freeplay, except that the love of your life Daisy accompanies you on the screen and you have to keep her from dying and protect her, as well as yourself, from the zombie horde(s). Each level in a mode can be cleared and opens up a new “level” when players hit one of the scoring bench marks, earning at least a Bronze ranking (as well as Silver and Gold). The gameplay style works well for players who enjoy working and unlocking things in their games; you will have to unlock all of the levels and newer weapons as you progress. That is one good thing I will say about the game, it has that old school “progression” gameplay where you are rewarded for your gameplay constantly over time. This is the one thing that may keep gamers coming back if they have that urge to complete everything fully.
The premise of Burn Zombie Burn is simple and the gameplay is enjoyable for a little while, but ultimately I think that most gamers will grow tired of the game quickly. First off, the gameplay variations are extremely lacking. You end up doing the same thing over, and over, and over without hardly any variation. Sure, the backgrounds and weapons change, but they all do the same thing and don’t really change “how” you play the game. It would have been nice to see differing strategies involved with each, both the weapons and the stages, but they all feel relatively similar. These sorts of concerns are only made worse by the game’s horrible control scheme.
The controls are my main concern with Burn Zombie Burn, or at least the default controls using the mouse and keyboard. The charm of this genre has to do with the dual control stick setup which many console controllers utilize now days and it just doesn’t translate well to the mouse and keyboard. I would go as far as saying that the mouse and keyboard control scheme completely ruin this game. The game requires you to move Bruce around using the WASD keys on the keyboard while aiming is done with the mouse. It works but not that well. The game lacks any sort of cross hair or cursor which would indicate exactly where your character is pointing his weapon therefore you are required to base your aim solely on the position of your character. This is a little easier to do with an analog stick since you know what direction you are moving the stick and it re-centers itself to a “home” position when you let it go; with a mouse however, a “home” position simply doesn’t exist and you have to be aware of your last position at all times. The centered point of your mouse is ever changing and I often found myself running off of the side of my desk when things got to be their most frantic because it wasn’t tied to a center position. It also gets extremely hard to pinpoint your aim on the smaller targets, like perhaps a specific enemy like one that may trigger an explosion using simply the game’s graphics. The addition of even a small crosshair would have helped this problem immensely but it doesn’t exist. The game just seems to lose that “dual stick charm” when it’s shifted to a mouse and keyboard and ultimately defeats the entire purpose of the game in terms of its genre.
Aside from the bad controls, the game looks and sounds as good as you would expect. The graphics are colorful and well animated although dark which is to be expected considering the setting of the game. The explosions and zombie sounds compliment the graphics well, but all of that doesn’t help a game that is fundamentally not great. Burn Zombie Burn’s problem isn’t in its presentation or look, it lies in the core fundamentals of the genre which it serves. The mouse and keyboard simply deny this game the ability to present itself as a quality dual stick shooter.