A shopping mall full of zombies isn’t a scenario as far fetched as it initially seems. The ones we visit are always packed with pasty-faced youths, hanging around in crowds wearing torn clothes, mumbling to one another and scuffing their feet, and elderly sorts blocking doorways and aimlessly wandering around. As much as we’d like to give them a prod or too, there’s always the old grievous bodily harm thing to worry about. Burly photo journalist Frank West doesn’t have to worry about such matters. He’s got 72 hours to kill inside the expansive Willamete Mall. And we literally mean kill.
It’s not just about mindless violence though. In addition to helping numerous survivors, Frank plans to get the first scoop on the zombie situation. Frank’s camera can be used at any time, and each snapshot is scored and falls into one of several categories: brutal, horror, drama, sensual and erotic. Brutal shots are easy – run a load of zombies over with a lawn mower and just take a photo of the remains; erotic shots are harder to come by. The better the photo, the more points you get, which in turn assist in levelling up.
There are almost countless weapons around to help you get through the hordes, and in every shop you’ll find something new to play with. You can carry more than one weapon at once and they’re all suitably different from one another, ranging from hockey sticks to shopping trolleys. Some of their uses are surprising – when we picked up a skateboard we expected Frank to use it as a makeshift weapon, but instead he got on it and skated off at full speed. Pistols, shotguns and stun guns can be found too. It makes sense to stock up on a couple of pieces of food, a gun and a katanta or similar before embarking on a trek across the mall.
The game design is rather innovative. Pushing left on the d-pad brings up Frank’s watch, which shows how long you’ve got left until his escape chopper arrives and also lets you activate helpful floating arrows to guide you to your next mission. If you just want to run around, testing out weapons – and trust us, that’s something you’ll want to do – or seeing what the shops have for sale then that’s fine. Some survivors will probably die while you fire off a few golf balls into a crowd, or wave a useless plastic imitation lightsaber around, but there’s no serious penalty. It’s doubtful that you’ll save everybody and see everything on your first run anyway. New missions are dished out via walkie talkie by a small team of survivors who’ve welded themselves inside the security office. It’s here that you can save and bring non-zombies to safety.
Less positively, the AI of your cohorts isn’t great – we’ve seen them run into walls and fall over plenty of times. Some of the sub missions just aren’t worth the hassle either. A report came in that two guys had barricaded themselves inside a store, then after fighting through the crowds to save them they repaid us with a beating. It wasn’t until a while later that we discovered we had to negotiate before asking them to follow us. And a clothing store full of zombies isn’t the best place to negotiate. It’s a bit annoying that you can still be attacked when using the walkie talkies or looking at Frank’s watch too, although it does add something to the overall tension.