Developer: Wideload Games
Release Date: October 18, 2005
For years, gamers have been hacking, blasting, and burning their way through hordes of the undead. Arguably, they are the most predominant group of foes in videogame history, right up there with Nazis and aliens. But have we ever taken a minute to think about the zombies' feelings? Maybe they don't enjoy having their heads blown off by shotguns or being cut into tiny pieces by chainsaws, huh? Well, thankfully, developer Wideload has made it so gamers can finally walk a mile in another zombie's undead shoes.
As the game opens, Edward "Stubbs" Stubblefield has been dead for 26 years. The year is 1959 and the futuristic city of Punchbowl, founded by billionaire playboy industrialist Andrew Monday, is having its opening celebration. Coincidentally, that's the same day that Stubbs happens to rise from the dead with a strong desire to eat brains. That's really all Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without a Pulse gives you in regards to story until near the end of the game, but who needs a reason to eat brains?
Brain eating is the central gameplay mechanic in Stubbs. It partially refills your health, refills the meters for your various special abilities (more on this later), and adds to your army of the undead. Yes, every single brain you eat is one more loyal zombie follower to aid you in your quest. They come in handy, as they're quite disposable and seem to love eating brains almost as much as Stubbs does. Stubbs can shove zombies out of the way or to herd them in a certain direction and can also whistle to call over large groups of them. They'll attack anything that isn't a zombie, and this can give Stubbs the chance to sneak behind a person and eat his brains.
The citizens of Punchbowl are quite attached to their brains, though, so they won't go without a fight. Civilians will either run in fear from you or foolishly try and kill you with their bare hands, so their brains are practically free. Rebel Without a Pulse gradually increase enemy difficulty, starting with uniform police officers, then riot policemen, then shot gun-toting hillbillies, then the army, and finally, the pinnacle of Punchbowl's military might, a jetpack-wearing, ray gun-blasting barbershop quartet (you heard me).
Luckily, Stubbs has a few tricks up his sleeve … and pancreas, and a few other places you're best finding out about for yourself. Stubbs begins the game with an atomic fart that stuns all enemies in a certain radius, leaving their brains ripe for the eating. Gut grenades should paint a pretty good picture of their function just by their title, and you can throw your severed hand and control it until you find a suitable human to possess. Through possessing humans, you have access to pistols, shotguns, assault and sniper rifles, and, of course, a rocket launcher to help dispatch the living. A final ability has Stubbs pulling off his own head and bowling it towards enemies, then causing it to explode just like a gut grenade.
If you find Stubbs' zombie shuffle to be too slow, fear not, for many levels have drivable vehicles, such as hover cars, jeeps, and the formidable tank. Stubbs was built using the original Halo engine, so the vehicles control the same here as they did there: left analog accelerates and decelerates, and the right analog steers.
The developers didn't just leave the Halo engine as is, though, as Rebel Without a Pulse looks great. The city of Punchbowl has a retro-futuristic vibe about it, like the Jetsons. Character models animate (and re-animate) well, whether they're rising up against Stubbs, waving their hands in fear as they run away, or hunch over and shuffle as newborn zombies. It would be remiss of me to omit the excellent blood spatter and gibs that are a result of Stubbs' insatiable hunger for brains. The game also has kind of a grainy film filter over it, making it look like you're playing in a 1950s movie, which is a nice touch that adds to the immersion.
Cut scenes that typically play at the beginning and end of levels are never too long and are where a great deal of the game's sense of humor comes out to shine. Unlike many games that try really hard to be funny only to fail miserably (Big Mutha Truckers 2 comes to mind…), Rebel Without a Pulse is actually really funny at times. Any attempt for me to recount the humor wouldn't do it justice, so you just need to play the game to find out.
The sound design in Rebel Without a Pulse is excellent. The citizens of Punchbowl have quite a few things to say, and get very excitable when you head their way. Their final screams as you eat their brains? Priceless. The voice work is well done, needless to say. Even the typically long loading screens are bearable since they're accompanied by the constant groaning of zombies for brains. The game sports a wonderful, yet criminally underused, licensed soundtrack. Bands like Oranger, Death Cab for Cutie, The Flaming Lips, and others all lend their pipes to classic '50s era songs, such as "Mr. Sandman," "Lollipop," "Earth Angel," and other classics. Unfortunately, the only times you'll hear these songs are at the game's title screen, and a dance mini-game. The rest of the time, the game has music, sure, but it seems wrong to go through the trouble of having artists record all of these songs only to use them so sparingly.
If Rebel Without a Pulse has one shortcoming, length would be it. You can easily beat this game in one sitting. Seriously, you'll get five or six hours out of it, which is a shame because what's here is incredibly fun while it lasts.
There's not much replay incentive, really. There are four difficulty levels, so if you have a big enough ego and feel the need to prove how great of a zombie you'd make, then that choice is available. After you beat the game, you can play though it again and activate director's commentary in which developers talk about making the game, which is a cool DVD-like feature, but doesn't add anything to the gameplay. Rebel Without a Pulse has split-screen co-op play, though, which is even more of a blast than single player.
As much as I want to tell you to go out and buy and love this game forever, I can't bring myself to do it. It's the best rental you'll ever make, though, bar none. If Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without a Pulse were just a few hours longer, I'd have no problem telling you to lay down $50 for it. Instead, I recommend waiting for price drop before you buy this brief but brilliant game.
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