Review: Bloody Zombies
nDreams’ brawler provides a strong argument for 2D VR.
A side-scrolling beat-‘em-up may not have been high on your list for expected virtual reality (VR) experiences, and yet UK studio nDreams have brought one to high-end head-mounted displays (HMDs) as their second title for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR. In doing so, the publisher has made a landmark statement about 2D visuals and how traditional videogame genres can be adapted to VR.
Taken at face value, Bloody Zombies is a fairly generic scrolling beat-‘em-up with a touch of modern flair. Light and heavy attacks combine to offer a selection of combos, while throws, collectable weaponry, dash and jump attacks offer some tactical variation. So far, so Streets of Rage. However, Bloody Zombies also includes an interesting specials system wherein the player can collect items mid-battle to unlock new abilities commanded by Street Fighter style inputs.
At the start of the videogame these are basic swings and uppercuts, but as the player(s) progress they become significantly more elaborate. Additionally, with repeated play it becomes apparent that these specials are randomly generated: the player will be given a set of moves at the start of the videogame that are needed for progress, but beyond that it’s luck of the draw. This makes for an interesting element when replaying Bloody Zombies on additional difficulty settings.
And replaying Bloody Zombies is something that you’re likely to do, given its assortment of gameplay options. Intended as a multiplayer experience, Bloody Zombies allows up to four players in any one game, either locally or online. Furthermore, it allows for any combination of VR and non-VR players in that group of four, affording a wealth of different players an opportunity to get stuck into the zombie mashing.
When playing in VR your on-screen avatar will be depicted wearing a HMD (a nice visual touch, though purely cosmetic) and while no bonuses are offered for doing so, the VR player does have one distinct advantage: viewpoint. When using a HMD the player has the opportunity to pan the camera in line with their head movement, thus allowing for a significant amount of control over the angle at which they view the action.
Played out from left-to-right in a traditional scrolling beat-‘em-up fashion, the player(s) in VR able to look further ahead or back and can often see things that aren’t noticeable on a traditional 2D monitor, and Bloody Zombies has of course been designed to take this into account. Hidden areas may only be revealed when a player in your team has the command of their camera offered by a HMD, allowing you to grab power-ups or bonuses that may otherwise have eluded you.
The visual design of Bloody Zombies has obviously taken VR into account throughout, with the 2D characters appearing like cardboard cutouts when the VR player moves their view alongside the action opposed to in front of it. This is obviously why nDreams – a publisher that has solely committed to VR content – took an interest in Paw Print Games’ Bloody Zombies to begin with. And they were right to do so, as while Bloody Zombies doesn’t reinvent the scrolling beat-‘em-up wheel, it does offer a convincing argument for 2D videogames making the jump to the more immersive medium.