Zombie Tycoon 2: Brainhov's Revenge Review - a strategy hybrid with multiplayer thrills and single-player chills
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A refreshingly simple hybrid of RTS depth and MOBA thrills, Zombie Tycoon 2 shines in multiplayer despite limited options. Just don't bother with its tedious, punishing single-player campaign.
- RTS meets MOBA with console simplicity
- Charmingly zany art direction
- Friends can learn and be competitive quickly
- Obnoxious late-game difficulty
- Repetitive music, framerate trouble on PS Vita
- Very few multiplayer options
You won't find a wealth of RTS or MOBA games on PlayStation Network, which leaves Zombie Tycoon 2: Brainhov's Revenge ready to scratch an itch left dormant since December's Guardians of Middle-earth. Except Zombie Tycoon 2 is nothing like Guardians, nor is it overtly reminiscent of more exaggerated fare like Command & Conquer. By distilling trademark elements of both genres into console-ready mechanics, Frima Studio brings something new to the strategy space that, while dubiously simple, is somewhat refreshing. The mainstream appeal of Zombie Tycoon 2 goes beyond its gameplay hybridization, though. Colorful cartoon lunacy illustrates the conflict of two mad geniuses in a lighthearted way that riffs on recent, gloomy zombie fiction. In fact, direct conflict between the titular Tycoon and Brainhov—via competitive multiplayer—is their game's strongest asset. Of course, the same can be said for just about every strategy game, and this one doesn't succeed (or fail) by way of aping the competition. For better or worse, what makes Zombie Tycoon 2 unique runs the gamut from pleasant highs to frustrating lows. The result is a fun multiplayer romp for strategy-starved friends that quickly wears out its single-player welcome.
Of course, you can't blame the characters for that one. Orville Tycoon and his mentor-turned-nemesis Archibald Brainhov exude villainous charm that more than makes up for the game's lack of an interesting plot. One mad genius gets miffed at the other. Each commands a horde of zombies. In and around the unlucky town of Finkleville, they wage war. But there's this strange disconnect where the two rarely actually meet. Instead, the bulk of eight campaign chapters is spent as one evil scientist playing catch-up to the other, either dealing with the aftermath of his dominance or setting up positions of your own. You are fighting the appropriate opposing force, alongside a few scattered boss monsters, but it all feels rather peripheral. The best moments are reserved for cutscenes, and a bombastic showdown between the armies of two great minds never really comes together. At least, not in six of eight chapters (more on that in a bit).
At the very least, dancing around what should be the narrative effigy gives Frima room to inject gameplay variety. Half-hour missions with multiple objectives on large battlefields are the core experiences here, but the odd stealth or resource-gathering mission gives you direct control of Tycoon and Brainhov for more intimate action. The variety, while perfectly functional, feels somewhat arbitrary—why am I so eager to ditch core gameplay for side attractions? In the single-player campaign, the former starts to feel “samey” rather quickly. Most of the game's tricks are played out in the first couple hours, leaving little to introduce besides “go here, destroy that” objectives ad nauseum and increasingly longer, harder missions.
And boy, do they get harder. I mentioned that the conflict between Tycoon and Brainhov doesn't come to a head in the first six chapters. I couldn't tell you about the last two—a preposterously steep mid-game difficulty curve leaves me, as of this writing, unable to progress past Chapter 6. And it's not for lack of trying—four hours of failed strategies, checkpoint reloads, and controller tossing left me fuming at the futility of my efforts. With absolutely no way of healing your Mobile Spawner—for which death spells game over—the tiniest imperfection in your advancement route can throw off the entire mission. Move too quickly, and you risk drawing the ire of zombies you won't see until you're within inches. Hang back to let your squads scope out the situation, and you'll more than likely be ambushed by wandering hordes. That's if the enemy's cross-level laser beam, which targets your Mobile Spawner every couple minutes, doesn't knock off a good chunk of your health first. The number of things that can almost instantly spell doom is maddening, and each reared its ugly head in spite of my very best micromanaging.
To make matters worse, you don't gain health back when you reload checkpoints. If you hit a checkpoint with only a sliver of health, you'll have a better chance of victory by reloading the entire mission. If your Mobile Spawner falls to half health in a mission's first 10 minutes, you might as well do that anyway. This isn't difficulty for fun's sake—it's bad design that soured me on the campaign ... (continued on next page) ----