There is nothing quite like the marriage of your common-or-garden zombie and a sturdy crowbar. Once dead, a body starts decomposing just a few minutes after breathing its last breath – so the zombies of Land of the Dead, who've been reanimated for long enough to take over the world, are understandably pretty ripe. Laying into them with a crowbar is like hitting over-ripe fruit with, well, a crowbar.
Land of the Dead recreates the fully-fledged urban zombie dystopia of George Romero's cult film. A sideways-scrolling platform game with an emphasis on shooting, you have to both survive and collect food parcels for the remaining survivors of the zombie plague to live on. You can only carry a couple of these at a time though, so you need to pass the parcels through gaps in fences to your buddies who drive around, following your progress.
While this decayed urban setting and action might seem like a recipe for a rather repetitive game, the end result is surprisingly attractive. Rather than being presented with a monotonous background of high-rise blocks, the game's levels offer various urban landscapes, ranging from residential neighbourhoods to the grim cityscapes that populate the film upon which Land of the Dead is based. It isn't the sort of thing you'd expect to ever say, but there's nothing like a bit of splattered blood to brighten up a stagnant neighbourhood.
Although there isn't a huge arsenal for you to use in the game, the options you do have are more than adequate. Most of the time you'll find yourself cycling between the crowbar, an AK47 and the occasional Molotov cocktail for good measure.
Occasional divergences from the standard gameplay stop matters from becoming routine. For example, in one level you find yourself in a pitch-black building, with only the light of gunfire to illuminate your path, so you need to be careful with ammo rationing. In another, the action changes entirely as you control a static gun emplacement where you have to take down a marauding pack of zombies.
And while Land of the Dead is certainly not what you would call deep, a certain amount of strategy pays dividends – for instance, when considering your ammo.
Less attractively, although all of these elements are well-executed, the game is painfully short and can be completed in under an hour. And (spoiler alert!) the ending utilises the cheap 'To Be Continued' trick that is especially infuriating when the plot, told through conversation snippets at the start of each level, has been leading up to this moment for several levels. In the end, what actually happens is left as a mystery. As such, the game feels more like an elongated teaser for a longer title than a full game.
Also on the demerit sheet, the sound is pretty spartan and there's no in-game music, although there is a decent gun sound effect and a great snare-like thwack for the sound of crowbar on zombie skull.
What you can look forward to though is a satisfying slice of zombie mayhem. There are enough different zombie models for it not to feel like you are up against identikit copies of the same single enemy – a commendable achievement when you find yourself killing literally hundreds of the hell-spawned blighters throughout the game.
Although the lack of a satisfying climax leaves the plot as little more than a series of relatively unconnected events, the story is enjoyable enough. But make sure you do enjoy Land of the Dead first time around, because while the game boasts 11 levels, this includes several insubstantial tutorials – the game is liable to be over before you know it. With nothing in the way of a high score system, there is little to entice you back for a second play, except any raw desire for a bit more zombie brain-bashing.
A well-made but all too brief nugget of zombie fun