Contrary to what the name implies, Zombie Driver HD is not a racing game starring a daredevil zombie behind the wheel. Instead it's a game about a guy who drives from place to place picking up people during a zombie outbreak. Sure, I guess that make more sense. But seriously, how much cooler would it have been to see a zombie kart racer?
If you have to ask why there are zombies roaming the streets, then it's because you haven't played a video game recently. This is yet another game where the protagonist kills countless rotting dead corpses who, thanks to an explosion at the chemical factory, have started walking around feeding on brains. The good news is that Zombie Driver tackles this all too familiar set-up in a fresh way.
At first glance, Zombie Driver looks a whole lot like Grand Theft Auto 2. It's a top-down open world experience, not unlike Rockstar's controversial action game. That's where the similarities end. In this game, the player always stays in their car and there are never moments of grand theft auto. In fact, this Xbox Live Arcade game is more akin to a game like Carmageddon or Twisted Metal.
Don't worry; your vehicle is heavily armed. Each of the game's numerous vehicles can shoot a variety of explosive weapons. Around the city you'll find weapon drops that include automatic guns, a flame thrower, missile launcher, rail gun and more. But don't get too comfortable, because it's easy to run out of weapons. Even after purchasing weapon upgrades, you'll still have to stay cautious of your ammo.
With few exceptions, your goal in each stage is to drive through the hordes of zombies in order to rescue the few survivors still clinging on to life. Usually you'll need to clear the area of zombies first, which may include destroying a nest. Sometimes there will be more survivors than your little car can hold, so you'll need to make multiple trips through the walking dead.
Not all missions play out like this. Occasionally you'll commandeer a tank and tackle a boss fight. One stage you'll drive around in a fire truck making sure the entire city doesn't burn down. Yet another mission involves you driving a large bulldozer and clearing debris from the main roads. Sadly, this type of variety is rare. Usually you're saving people, which can become a bit tedious as you play through the lengthy story mode.
To the developer's credit, they did find new and unique ways of saving people. Some stages are set at night, limiting your vision to whatever is in the view of your headlights. Not only does this make for some incredible lighting effects, but it also makes battling hordes of zombies insanely tough. This, and other quirks, help make the repetitive missions a little easier to swallow.
Each of the 31 missions has a secondary objective, something that will net the player bonus money or, if you're lucky, new vehicles. An early example has you fighting off a mob zombies attacking the Mayor's estate. If you're victorious you'll earn a brand new ride, a very classy limousine. Other bonus missions are as simple as beating a level in a set amount of time or killing a large amount of zombie dogs. Players should beware, some of these optional objectives are tough, and if you die you'll have to start the whole mission over from the beginning.
Cars play a big role in Zombie Driver HD. Players start with a taxi, a reliable vehicle that can seat up to four civilians. The seating is important, since you'll often be asked to pick up a six to ten people. There's a sports car that is fast, but it only seats three people. The limousine seats six people, but it's difficult to maneuver and is ridiculously slow. Eventually you'll earn better rides, like the ambulance and the 48-seat bus.
With only a few exceptions, most levels give you enough time and incentive to roam the city looking for secrets. Mostly you'll pick up money, which you can use to upgrade your weapons and vehicles. It's also interesting to see how much work went into building this city. You'll stumble upon a surprising amount of hidden alleyways and shortcuts. Although I did get tired of the drab colors and grim tone (perhaps unavoidable in a game about a zombie apocalypse), I found the city to be a lot of fun to explore.
Zombie Driver HD is not a remake of the 2009 PC game. At the same time, it's not exactly a sequel. Think of this as the game EXOR Studios wanted to make all along. The basic story remains the same, though they have spent the last three years fleshing it out. With 31 missions to play through, this Xbox Live Arcade game is significantly longer than the original. The developers have also added secondary objectives, new weapons and a variety of mission types.
As the "HD" suggests, Zombie Driver looks better than the 2009 original. The game is full of impressive weather effects, from torrential thunderstorms to foggy mornings. The city is alive with new animations from the undead horde. Now there are moving tanks and helicopters taking off, you'll see soldiers fighting off zombies and birds feeding on corpses. Other tweaks include adding more zombie voices, enhancing the soundtrack and reworking the sound effects. Needless to say, this is the definitive version of Zombie Driver.
On top of the lengthy story, players will find a completely separate racing mode. Here they'll play various racing events in order to earn money to pick up new cars and purchase upgrades. Although not as fully realized as the main campaign, this racing mode is a lot of fun. The races allow you to use weapons, so destroying the cars ahead of you suddenly becomes an option. Some races are all about shooting down other cars, while others want you to stay alive as long as possible. There are several tournaments to take part in, as well as single races to replay for cash. It's a fun diversion from the single-player story.
Between the various game modes, you'll find a good ten to fifteen hours' worth of gameplay in Zombie Driver HD. That's not bad for a ten dollar game. Unfortunately, too many of the levels play out the same way and I started to fatigue on the premise by the end. This is a fun variation on Choplifter and gamers who spend ten dollars won't feel cheated. There are a lot of great ideas in Zombie Driver that hint at bigger, better games in EXOR Studios' future.