Zombie slaying comes in many forms, though largely tied to guns and melee combat. One of the most uniquely gratifying methods didn’t really come into its own until Dead Rising 3: death by automobile. Careening through the streets smashing into the undead was one of the most visceral, enjoyable and novel gifts Dead Rising 3 gave to Xbox One owners. And it was one of the reasons I was most excited to test Zombie Driver Ultimate Edition.
Cruising around town careening into zombies is one of the most enjoyable parts of Dead Rising 3. Seeing that, at least on its surface, Zombie Driver Ultimate Edition took that premise and made an entire game out of it seemed like zombie-killing nirvana.
Having a game with the sole premise of smashing and shooting zombies at high speeds? Sign me up! Vehicular undead homicide sounds just plain awesome, and in Zombie Driver Ultimate Edition it largely is. But before strapping-in for a trip down Slaughtery Lane, there are a few features and backfires worth noting.
One of the things that made driving Dead Rising 3 so gratifying was its up-close-and-personal camera angle. The entire game took place in a traditional third-person-shooter perspective. In Zombie Driver Ultimate Edition, the camera angle is strictly a top-down affair, which sacrifices a lot of detail and visceral joy. It also leads to a few camera-angle hiccups until you tweak with the default settings.
It’s not that the detail isn’t there. Zombie Driver Ultimate Edition frankly has a higher level of detail than I would’ve expected from a top-down game. Ironically, you don’t really appreciate those details because they’re at such a distance that they’re either overlooked entirely or blend-in to the point of looking muddled. If you slow down the action you’ll see it, but you’re not supposed to drive slowly in this game.
The game is broken into three modes, each of which requires fast driving and fast evisceration of the undead. Story Mode tells the tale of a city that’s been overrun by zombies and whose citizens are trying to simultaneously survive and escape. The missions have a primary objective and several optional secondary ones, though they all generally revolve around extraction missions and point-to-point survival elements.
Story Mode does present some pseudo boss battles and miniboss battles, and over time the missions grow rather difficult. The game begins easy enough, but after just a few chapters in the challenge factor increases five-fold and it becomes clear there’s some strategy required.
That strategy involves unlocking new vehicles and upgrading their attributes and weapons, each of which really does affect handling and success rates. Each of the game’s vehicles handles quite differently, and the weapon upgrades make a dramatic difference in even just the fourth mission. The vehicle differences are predictable but appreciated: some are faster but more squirrelly, some are slower but take more damage, and some are more balanced to increase your odds of survival but otherwise hinder you from meeting some secondary objectives.
New cars can be unlocked during the campaign and in the Blood Race mode, the latter of which allows you to really get in the spirit of unlocking things and earning upgrade money. Blood Race mode is comprised of a bunch of tournaments in which you race around the city trying to complete various objectives. In the Eliminator races, you must destroy as many enemies as possible before time runs out. In Endurance races the goal is to race through as many checkpoints as possible before time runs out. There’s also a straight-up Race type of competition where the best driver wins.
For gamers whose primary goal is a bit more on the bloodthirsty side, Zombie Driver Ultimate Edition also offers a Slaughter Mode. In this mode you simply drive around a single level killing as many waves of zombies as possible before they completely destroy your vehicle. It’s mindless fun, really, and hearing the thuds and splats of dozens of zombies making contact with your bumper, hood and projectile weapons is a blast. Here’s a short 15-second clip of Slaughter Mode in action.
All the levels modes in Zombie Driver Ultimate Edition take place in the same basic selection of maps. Over time their familiarity gives way to repetition, so you’ll have to find reward in the variety of killing methods rather than the variety of levels.
The camera angles can also be more of a hindrance than a benefit, particularly in some of the Blood Race competitions. Normally being able to manipulate the camera is a benefit to top-down games, but this is one of the rare cases where going into the settings and changing the default to a fixed angle can reap huge rewards. Cornering at high speeds can be a delicate matter at times, and one camera-induced collision can often mean the difference between first and last place. There’s no reason to battle a camera more than the AI, so do yourself a favor and adjust the default settings.
On the whole I was impressed with my Zombie Driver Ultimate Edition review code for Xbox One. Although it didn’t provide the up-close death-by-bumper experience I was hoping for, the variety of modes, cars and upgrades kept me coming back for more. I would have loved to see online multiplayer in the game, because the whole experience seems ready-made for crashing through the undead with a friend. While the interfering camera and underwhelming map variety are disappointing, the lack of online multiplayer is clearly the game’s biggest omission. Still, what’s there is fun and well presented, even if not to the degree I’d hoped it would be.
Platform reviewed: Xbox One