Written by: Matt “Oni” Dawson
Note: At the time of this review, this game is in Steam Early Access and is not representative of the finished product. That said, there is also no guarantee this product will be developed up to or past a certain point. Review codes were given to Indie Game Riot by the developer.
A rampaging, shambling horde of the undead typically isn’t something to make light of. Even in comedies like “Shaun of the Dead” and “Army of Darkness”, there remains an element of fear that these corpses command. Across the decades when they’ve been portrayed in slightly more ridiculous manners, there is always a ‘horror factor’ which keeps them creepy. Mixing the zombie grime with a kids school, and their surviving students, has never been an idea that struck very many of us to begin with.
Zombie Playground does exactly that.
It takes the joy and wonder (or misery depending on how you look at it) from a secondary school and throws in some brain munching, googly eyed undead for the player to purge instead. While initially being more fun than any given class of mathematics, the game really struggles past the opening thirty minutes of gameplay… if you can even get it to load.
Trying to figure out which setting is right for your computer in the configuration menu was confusing. Instead of the somewhat standardized ‘low’, ‘medium’ and ‘high’ options that many titles use, Zombie Playground tries to improve upon this by using ‘fast’, ‘faster’, ‘fastest’, ‘fancy’, ‘freakish’ and ‘Alienware’ options. It makes you wish for a ‘low’ button somewhere, because choosing the wrong one can have cataclysmic effects on the game itself.
Solo mode is the equivalent of a single player campaign and the online mode is exactly the same thing, except that it’s online with other, real players. Assuming you chose the right setting on the previous menus and after you select a mission to play in a certain mode, the game will then load… eventually. For some reason, selecting the first ‘Kill 10 Zombies’ mission at the School takes a phenomenal amount of time to load.
If you decide to wait the seemingly mandatory ten minute rendering, generating and creating time, then your diligence will be rewarded with a cartoonish map and a figure holding some sort of botched melee weapon above their head. Thankfully this title has gamepad compatibility, because trying to move your survivor around the map using the mouse is fairly nauseating unless you turn down the sensitivity.
Zombie Playground suffers at this point from a case of poorly mixed genres, which blend together to form a being that, much like a zombie, isn’t fully whole. It primarily uses a ‘hack n’ slash’ approach to its combat as your character wildly swings their bat or over-sized scissors to clear out zombies. This isn’t helped by the fact that the shooter aspect, a far safer way of disposing the fetid horde, is like firing cheese at them. With the fast paced movement and emphasis on not getting overwhelmed, Zombie Playground feels like trying to haul a bull up a back staircase when firing the ranged weapons. The aiming is awful and far too under-powered but it’s usually better than rushing in, exchanging blows then running away again.
It has the levels of character customization you would see in an MMO, with tons of variable items and weapons to unlock, coupled the pace of an arena fighting title, then spliced with the actual combat from ‘gun and run’ game. Classes are even featured, but they make very little noticeable difference to the combat.
In the end, Zombie Playground is a fun distraction. It features an art style and color palette that actually looks like they were drawn by a professional student, coupled with a happy dose of mindless violence. Beyond that, however, it fails to deliver any long term enjoyment aside from the scarcely populated multiplayer feature that is about as reliable as a wet paper towel.
Platform(s): PC, Mac
Genres: Action, Horror
Release date: 07/28/2014
Publisher: Stealth Studios
Developer: Stealth Studios