“Oh, another zombie shooter…yey.” That is probably what most of you thought when XR Games (The Angry Birds Movie 2: VR Under Pressure) announced Zombieland: Headshot Fever. Its tie-in to the Zombieland film franchise naturally helps elevate the virtual reality (VR) videogame above many of the others currently available but it also hangs the heavyweight of expectation. While the original film was a breath of fresh air – the second was ok – thanks to its stellar cast, comedy and over-the-top action sequences, can a VR videogame that solely focuses on one core gameplay mechanic (there’s a clue in the title) really do Zombieland justice?
It exists in that weird world between developers trying to make a fun videogame that emulates what fans love and what can actually be achieved due to publishing rights and all the legal entanglement. Which gives Zombieland: Headshot Fever a very faux Zombieland feel right from the off, because Tallahassee, Wichita, Columbus and Little Rock are all present and correct, likenesses and all…well almost. Little Rock is still voiced by Abigail Breslin from the movie – thus providing most of the narration – but the rest aren’t. Tallahassee is the most unusual – in a strange, alternate reality way – because rather than Woody Harrelson reprising his role, his brother Brett takes over instead.
Putting the necessary franchise connections to one side for a moment, Zombieland: Headshot Fever is first and foremost an arcade-style shooter. The team firmly state that it’s been inspired by light-gun videogames for the 90s such as House of the Dead and there really is no mistaking that. Which can be both good and bad, there was a reason gamers shoved coin after coin into these machines to perfect those runs yet our expectation of what we want from videogames has evolved over the last 20 years or so.
There is still a loose point to it all, you’re not simply running around unleashing all hell with a 9mm for the sake of it. Some rich guy created an event called the ‘Zombie Invitational’, challenging people to run and survive the course for fame and glory, and our four heroes were chosen to run it. In turn, you’ve been selected to take part, but before that, you need to prove your worth.
Inside a decadent man-cave, there are four key areas, Little Rock has all the levels, Tallahassee is on gun and upgrade control while Wichita and Columbus sit up top with all the achievements you can unlock. There’s also a training range with popup targets for additional challenges.
Zombieland: Headshot Fever offers nine levels for you to perfect those head-popping skills from Rookie all the way to the pro invitational. Scores don’t matter here what’s important is time, finishing each course as fast as possible. And to do that effectively you need to be double-tapping heads, a lot of them. One hit to the head and it’ll glow yellow, a second quickly after and you’ll unlock a slow-mo adrenaline system, massively putting the break on the timer whilst giving you vital extra seconds to set the next one up and so on. Really repetitive, and insanely addictive.
The first eight levels are set out in a predefined run, so after a couple you should know where all the zombies appear from helping define your plan of attack for that faultless run. It’s the simplicity of the task yet the complexity of its completion which is the main draw here, the Zombieland franchise just helps to ice the cake. Each level also has four challenges such as completing it in under a minute, not missing a single shot or shooting the bag of weed to unlock new guns, skins, perks and most importantly, toilet paper. Because that’s the currency of Zombieland, used to pay for gun upgrades and buying into the Invitational (more on that later).
Keen to ensure a comfortable experience XR Games has included a pseudo, point-to-point teleportation system so there’s no need to worry about locomotion. Kill all the zombies in an area and you’ll be presented with a blue marker to look at and automatically walk to. It’s a clean and efficient method so you can just worry about the shooting. In keeping with the arcade-style, there are no manual reloads, a quick flick down on the stick ejects a magazine then move the gun to the centre of your body to insert another. Both processes mean that some levels can easily be completed in under 30 seconds once you get into that flow state.
And it’s nice when that happens. Kind of like Pistol Whip evoking that feeling of being the untouchable John Wick, Zombieland: Headshot Fever manages something similar. But you’re not invincible. Should any zombies get too close, and they will, you’re essentially dead in a single swipe. There are several varieties too, from your standard shamblers to ones that’ll scream at you, stay at a distance lobbing items or the really big tanks which need several shotgun shells to the face.
Before any level, you can pick your loadout depending on what you’ve unlocked. Pistols are your main weapon and handily come with unlimited magazines. Secondary guns like the UZI or the shotgun have limited ammo but can instantly activate the adrenaline mode. So for a videogame about running and gunning headshots, there’s enough variety to mix up your strategy a little.
Finally, there’s the Zombieland Invitational which adds a vital component, multiple routes. Each section of the level tends to provide a couple of paths, thus providing plenty of route possibilities and greatly extending the experience.
Without trying to unlock everything an initial run-through will probably take most players a couple of hours or so. As mentioned Zombieland: Headshot Fever relies heavily on that desire for perfect runs and therefore you need to love that repetitive nature otherwise you’re going to get bored fairly quickly. What it offers is a quick arcade FPS fix when you might only want to kill the odd 30 minutes. This is speed runner heaven in VR, it doesn’t take itself too seriously or pretend to be something it’s not.