Review: Zombie Tycoon 2: Brainhov’s Revenge

ZombieTycoon2

The world’s a burning shambles, and slack-jawed green undead stalk the suburban survivors as they vainly scramble to find sanctuary. Who wouldn’t see the zombie apocalypse as a ripe opportunity for power consolidation?

Certainly not Dr. Orville Tycoon, the gas-mask-wearing antihero of the real-time strategy game Zombie Tycoon 2: Brainhov’s Revenge. Frima Studio’s sequel to 2009’s overpriced PlayStation Portable mini offers more of what its predecessor did—which is to say, still not quite enough to earn your playing time.

Real-time strategy games and consoles/handhelds have a seriously iffy history, kinda like the Denver Nuggets and the NBA playoffs and M. Night Shyamalan and box office success. Sliding cursors and clicking to direct units with analog sticks never feels as intuitive as a mouse and keyboard, but give Frima credit for making the best of a difficult situation. The number of unit types you can control at once is limited to four, each one mapped to one of the four face buttons. There’s one for your mobile zombie spawner, one for your big zombie-monster-hero unit and two for specific, swappable zombie types.

To get through the game’s 7 brisk chapters, you’ll need to swap frequently. Instead of the typical RTS touchstones like base-building and resource gathering, you’ll use engineer zombies to attack and capture certain types of buildings, then send another set of brain-munchers inside them to convert them to a different type–a group of battle-tough samural zombies, say, or a speedy bunch of scouts. Again, it’s a clever work-around that allows access to a greater variety of zombie types. But because the conversion buildings are often at opposite ends of the sprawling suburban maps and you need certain types to perform certain objectives, it also adds to the game’s frustrating tendency to force you to backtrack over territory you’ve already conquered. Given that your zombie grunts move about as fast as the preview lines at Comic-Con, this isn’t a good thing.

The game’s plot involves an undead fly in Orville’s post-apocalyptic world domination ointment: On the cusp of Pyrrhic success, his zombified but intelligent archnemesis, Dr. Brainhov, shows up with his speedy horde of feral blue-raspberry colored zombies and the battle’s joined. Nothing ever goes quite right in these smoldering suburbs, and that’s part of the game’s charm: Watching the drooling zombie hordes fail to grasp Orville’s pantomime commands is worth more than a few chuckles.

You can (and should) gain bonus zombies by having your hordes pound on the neighborhood houses until they’re “occupied,” and you’ll want to collect as many extra deadheads as possible, since you can click the shoulder button to trigger a Dead Rush, sending them en masse at a single target. Hanging onto your real estate involves even more backtracking, as enemy zombies reclaim buildings if you’re not watching. With limited units to control, it’s impossible to station any to patrol captured territory.

Besides, you’ll need to keep them close to Orville. As long as your mobile spawner is intact, your unit types will respawn automatically if they die in battle in another part of suburbia. But constantly having to babysit the spawner means the game never escapes feeling like an extended escort mission. Ugh.

Pathfinding’s another issue. You’ll have to steer your units around—or in most cases, through– toxic sludge or other environmental traps that damage and slow them down. A one-on-one boss battle with a mutant bear that routinely tosses enough steel traps on the ground to fill several aisles at your local Gander Mountain is particularly frustrating. Not only is his health meter immense, but the imprecise pathfinding means you’ll often find yourself glued to the ground, helplessly taking damage from its airborne attacks. Movement control is a bigger issue on the Vita’s smaller screen than the PlayStation 3, but it feels off on both platforms.

With its goofball presentation and mostly clever controls, Zombie Tycoon 2 has its undead heart (and yes, its brains) in the right place. Too bad the skeleton supporting it needs a substantial overhaul.

SkipIt

Pros:
+ Possibly the best RTS control scheme ever seen on a handheld/console
+ Cutscenes are worth a few laughs

Cons:
– Missions feature way too much backtracking
– Pathfinding’s not nearly precise enough
– Everything’s an escort mission

Game Info:
Platform: PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita (cross-buy/cross-play)
Publisher: Frima Studio
Developer: Frima Studio
Release Date: 4/30/2013
Genre: Real-time Strategy
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-2 (1v1 online multiplayer)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.