Weapons degrade rapidly with use, and it's only once you gain access to the obligatory workbenches and can start making your makeshift arsenal more robust that things settle into a more agreeable rhythm. Once you're able to tape some batteries to a machete to create a weapon that slices and fries, or a vicious cudgel that delivers flame damage, or a cruel sickle dripping with poison, everything becomes more fun. Maintenance is still an issue, but options on your three-pronged skill tree can make weapons more durable or reduce the cost of repair.
There are guns in the game, of course, but ammo is scarce and it's not until the last of the story's four acts that you'll be able to start blasting away with any consistency. This isn't a bad idea, since the shooting mechanism is basic at best and wouldn't look out of place in a 1998 title. For the most part it's melee all the way, and despite the struggles with collision detection, when enemies are really close it's a decent enough system. Frantic arm-waving is made impossible thanks to a stamina gauge, depleted by each swing as well as sprinting, while distance and angle are both taken into account for each attack.
Bladed weapons show things off to their best advantage. Zombies lose flesh with each slash while arms can be lopped off with a well-aimed (or lucky) hit. Reducing one of the tougher "thug" zombies to a bloody skeleton, with stumps at the shoulder, still desperately trying to bite you, is undeniably fun.
You can also throw any weapon, at which point it sticks out of your target's corpse as it roams around. You can lob a machete at a zombie, then yank it out as it approaches and use it to slice their head off. Alternatives include turning them into a pincushion with multiple throws, or attaching explosives to a knife for a savage spin on the sticky bomb.
Even more vital is the kick move. Easily forgotten in the early going, it proves essential later on, useful for pushing zombies back but more importantly able to knock them over. Once a zombie is on the floor, you can unleash particularly brutal hacking and battering moves, or unlock a foot stomp that crushes their skull instantly. Saving wear and tear on your best weapons, it's a skill worth mastering as soon as possible.
More bizarre is an alternative control system that lets you direct your arms with the analogue sticks in combat. Credit for trying something different, but after just a few minutes its clear why this facility was buried in the options menu. Suffice to say, it gave me nightmarish flashbacks to Jurassic Park: Trespasser.
You can also use vehicles to get from place to place in relative safety, though limited visibility, rudimentary physics and Tonka truck handling means that it's easy to get lodged between scenery items. Speeding into a group of the undead and sending them hurtling to their doom is worth the aggravation, for a while at least.
The vehicles all have four seats, a reminder that this is very much a co-op game. Those playing solo are in for a tricky ride as certain encounters and "special infected" zombie types are clearly designed to be tackled as a team. There's no game over screen, but each death is punished by the deduction of a large chunk of your cash reserves. Not too troubling at the start, but once modified weapons become indispensable and the price of repair and upgrading runs to thousands rather than hundreds of dollars, you see why they made your penalty a financial one. It's the tools that matter here, not the quaint notion of "lives".
Respawning after each death puts you randomly in the same area where you died. Sometimes this will be right back in the middle of the fray. Sometimes it will be somewhere else entirely, often facing the wrong direction. At one point I died in the shallow water on a beach, and reappeared on a rooftop 50 metres away.
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