Stubbs the Zombie - XB - Review

I was really hoping Stubbs the Zombie would turn out to be the new hit title for the Xbox. The Xbox has seen its fair share of franchise titles being launched on the Xbox and I thought that Stubbs the Zombie would be the next breakout title. Well reality has sunk in and I must admit that I was a little disappointed with Stubbs. All of the ingredients for an amazing title are present: a new action hero (or antihero) with Stubbs, designed with successful technology (the Halo engine) and a unique story line. The ingredients seemed to have mixed well together but maybe spending a little bit more time in the oven would have helped. A good game that could have been great is sometimes a tragedy and unfortunately Stubbs belongs under this label.

The story behind Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse (Stubbs) involves the exploits of Edward “Stubbs” Stubblefield. Stubbs was a traveling salesman whose has been down on his luck ever since birth. One day Stubbs' unlucky existence came to an end when a prospective client blasted a shotgun into Stubbs’ stomach and buried Stubbs in an unmarked grave in Pennsylvania. Over 20 years has passed since that unfortunate night but somehow Stubbs has returned from the dead. Instead of selling insurance now Stubbs is a brain-eating zombie in the city of Punchbowl, Pennsylvania. But Punchbowl isn’t your typical town set in 1959; instead Punchbowl has been transformed into a “City of the Future” by billionaire Andrew Monday. Hovercraft cars and robots are just a few of the futuristic technologies available within Punchbowl. What mysteries and experiences will Stubbs discover as zombie in this futuristic city?

My first reaction to the premise behind the game really caught my attention; you play the role of a zombie, set in a 50’s style futuristic style world. I’ve killed my fair share of zombies in other games so I figured it was time to play role reversal. The look of the game does capture the settings of a 50’s style futuristic world. There are hover cars flying around the city, robots that you can talk to and citizens still dressed up like it’s the late 50’s. The way the game plays out will probably remind many gamers of old science-fiction movies of the late 50’s and early 60’s.

The tone of the game is light hearted with an emphasis on comedy instead of gore and violence. But this is where Stubbs falls short since most of the comedy in the game isn’t that funny. At first seeing Stubbs incapacitate civilians by farting was funny but after a few times the novelty went away. Hearing the screams of agony and one liners spoken by your victims wears out after the first couple of levels. You start to hear the same lines repeated over and over again. Sure the one liners are supposed to add to the humor of the game but how funny is the same joke when you’ve heard it a hundred times? Probably the best line I heard during the game was “I hate melee combat!” Now I thought that was a great line for someone to say right before Stubbs ate his brain. 

 

Even though I mentioned that the emphasis was on comedy don’t be under the impression that there isn’t violence in the game. The majority of the combat in the game involves Stubbs attacking a victim to eat their brain. Once you’ve destroyed your victim the character will then become a zombie. These zombies will then attack humans on their own going after their brains. You don’t have to eat a victim’s brain in order to make them a zombie. Once someone is killed by a zombie that person then becomes a zombie, regardless of the damage done to him or her by the zombie. This made the game feel like a bloody horror movie with limb-less and head-less zombies still chasing after humans. Probably the eeriest one for me was seeing just an upper torso of a zombie still crawling on the ground chasing after a human. It’s violence for the sake of violence but the game still tries to keep the humor alive by making fun of Stubbs during the cutscenes.

 

The combat in the game is almost all melee combat but with some variety thrown in. Stubbs can attack either by slashing at an enemy or trying to instant kill them by eating their brains. Those two attacks you will use through the majority of the game. You earn additional attacks such as a fart attack, launching gut grenades, or throwing your arm or head towards an enemy. The fart attack will momentarily stun enemies that are close to you. The gut grenades allow you to take a chunk of your guts out and use them as a grenade. You can launch your guts and then activate the explosion by pressing the left shoulder button.

The arm and head attacks are two great attacks that will help you tremendously during some of the later stages. The arm attack allows you to detach one of your arms and then take control of the arm as you move it through a level. You can then have the arm attack an enemy and then have the arm posses the enemy.  So let’s say you’re having a hard time taking out a scientist that has a laser gun. Try throwing your arm towards the scientist and then possess the scientist. Then you can use the laser gun on all of the scientists/enemy soldiers/civilians on the stage. I used this method several times to clear out a level so I could then move Stubbs through the stage without any damage. But once you’ve taken possession of another character Stubbs is still subject to damage. The head attack allows you to detach Stubbs head and use it as a bowling ball grenade. Once you rolled Stubbs’ head where you want it then hit the black button to blow up his head. In order to use all of these special attacks you will need Stubbs to eat brains. Gory, I know but hey, he’s a zombie.  

The gameplay is where Stubbs starts to stumble a little. Sure I’ve covered all of the gruesome details of how Stubbs attacks and the special attacks he can use but none of that changes how the game plays. First thing you will notice is how slow the game plays.  Stubbs moves like a zombie, sluggish and slow. On occasion Stubbs will pick up the pace and move in a slow jog but the majority of the game has him lumbering through a level. You could almost call Stubbs a third-person shooter without the shooting since Stubbs doesn’t have the ability to pick up a gun. There really aren’t any “water cooler” moments in the game that will have you talking about a certain event in the game to your friends.

 

You get the feeling that you’re just running through the levels for no reason since the game will jump to a cutscene sometimes without any boss fights or trigger events. In fact, on a few stages I stood around for a few minutes with nothing to do before the game finally ended the level and the next cutscene loaded up to progress the story. Even some of the levels never seemed to connect to each other since what you did on the last level would have no impact on what was told during a cutscene. During a few of the boss battles I had no idea if I was damaging the boss but I just kept running around and eventually the next cutscene would load indicating I won the battle. I don’t know how I won but I guess I did something right. But once again humor tries to reign supreme during certain parts of the game. One boss battle plays out as a dancing game while another part of the game has you peeing into the city’s water supply. Unfortunately these comic events just don’t push the game far enough ahead.

The next part of the game that needs to be mention is the Halo comparison. Since the game is running on the Halo engine one might expect a few Halo elements but you probably would be surprised just how much Halo is in the game. From the game selection screen I had a sense of deja vu. Was I looking at the Halo startup menu or was this a new game? You want vehicles that control almost exactly the same as the vehicles in Halo? If so then Stubbs has you covered. How about the vehicles looking similar to the vehicles in Halo? What would you say to playing through stages that will remind you of some of the levels from the first Halo game? How about a two player Co-op mode and the lack of any online multiplayer? I’m not sure if even die-hard Halo fans will be able to really get into this game even with a Halo engine controlling the game. The gameplay just doesn’t live up to the Halo legacy.

At the end of the day all that matters is whether you have fun playing a game. I did enjoy playing Stubbs the Zombie but I still felt a cringe of disappointment. I expected more and wanted more out of Stubbs. The game was easy to get into and play while the humor tried to keep the game lighthearted enough to distract from the gore. However, not having a clear climax on some of the levels and the weak story didn’t help to making the game stand out. If you’re looking for a different type of game then by all means give Stubbs a try.  If you’re expecting perfection on a disc then Stubbs doesn’t come close but then again nothing is perfect. Just sit back, enjoy the ride and have some fun.

Review Scoring Details for Stubbs the Zombie

Gameplay: 7.5
This is a third-person action game that is loaded with tons of gore and violence. The slow pace that Stubbs hurts the game from developing a steady pace. The ability to use different special attacks helps in creating some variety in the otherwise repetitious gameplay (i.e. must eat brain!).

Graphics: 8.0
The graphics of the game were well done with a nice steady framerate during all of the levels. The city of Punchbowl at times is huge with massive buildings and landscapes throughout the city. The detail of the buildings and landscapes was bare at times but still did an adequate job of representing a futuristic 50’s setting. The best part of the graphics was the ability of the game to keep the other zombies moving towards a human regardless of the body parts lost. The screen would fill up with a ton of enemies and zombies at one time. Most of the character models on the stages repeated themselves but all of the characters were nicely animated.

Sound: 7.5
The music in the game is cover versions of some classic 50’s songs by modern artists. The sound effect of Stubbs eating a person’s brain was well done and yet disturbing at the same time. If it wasn’t for the repetition of the one liners during the game the voiceover work would have been much better. The voice acting of the different main characters was well done with only a few characters making me looking for the mute button.

Difficulty: Easy/Medium
The game offers several different levels of difficulty to select from at the start of the game. There were a few levels that I had a play a few times in order to complete but nothing that was of legendary difficulty.

Multiplayer: 7.2
It’s the year 2005 not 1959. The game only offers a two-player co-op mode for multiplayer gaming. I’m sure coming up with a deathmatch mode for a game filled with zombies might have been difficult, but no online multiplayer or any Xbox Live options almost seems like a crime.

Concept: 8.0
You don’t see too many games out today that allow you to control the zombie. But then once you’ve “killed” a human he or she turns into a zombie makes it even better. The setting of the game is also rather unique since you’re playing in a futuristic version of the late 50’s. Possessing other characters in the game has been done before but using your guts as a grenade is entertaining.

Overall: 7.6
In the end Stubbs the Zombie makes his way to the finish line a little lethargic and humdrum. That’s not to say that Stubbs didn’t offer an entertaining night out on the town. I never knew eating someone’s brain could be fun. While the fun only lasts for a short while the premise behind Stubbs is unique enough that people should at least give him a try.

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