In a way, The Hungry Horde feels like a twisted undead version of Katamari Damacy; with your smelly, rotten ranks swelling into a similarly sprawling, uncontrollable form that swallows up everything in its path. Like Keita Takahashi’s offbeat classic, The Hungry Horde is a game with a simple premise and while technically-speaking, Nosebleed Interactive’s inaugural PlayStation effort might be lacking, it makes up for it with a slew of entertaining mini games and a fiendish, addictive hook.
As a newly risen pair of zombies viewed from a top-down perspective, your job is simple; chew on the faces of all the living folk that you can find to swell your ranks as you push through an increasingly challenging gauntlet of police blockades and military intervention. Oh and also, because the authorities have gotten wise to the likelihood of an all-out zombie apocalypse, they’ve placed a timer on your escapades which when it reaches zero, causes a nuke to be detonated thus ending your murderous rampage in spectacular fashion.
Luckily, additional time can be bought by feasting on the living in 1.5 second increments and also in great big batches of half a minute or more that can be accrued by crossing key checkpoints. In this way, The Hungry Horde feels like an old-school arcade racing game, with ‘time-extensions’ being granted to the player as they reach certain distance milestones in the game.
Complicating matters a bit is the fact that as your horde increases in size, so too do the threats that you’ll face as you get further and further into the game. These can range from barriers which need to be torn down and pressure-plate puzzles that can be solved by splitting your horde into two (with each side being controlled by a separate analogue stick) to an onslaught of armed forces that tear your shambling group to ribbons, losing you precious seconds as you stumble towards the next checkpoint.
To mitigate this, the developer has bestowed a number of zombie powers upon your undead legion and as you might well expect, these powers are earned in a somewhat unsavoury fashion.
Yep that’s right, like any decent zombie worth their rot, your powers come from the brains that you consume and in The Hungry Horde there are different coloured brains to munch on, with each hue of grey matter corresponding to a unique ability to aid you in your zombie apocalypse.
Your repertoire of powers includes dash, grab, shield and stun abilities and if you want to make a decent run of the game, you’ll need to make considered use of them. Dash, for example, makes your horde sprint for a limited period and can be useful to cover ground; though not so useful if you spring headlong into police van that decides to crash into your group. In this instance and assuming you had consumed the requisite brains, you could still use your dash ability to claw back those precious seconds, but you could also combine it with the shield power to prevent your gang of shamblers from being made into roadkill.
In the later stages, The Hungry Horde becomes an intricate balancing act as it forces the player to weigh up wanting to go off piste and scoff precious brains to top up their abilities, versus the need to keep pushing on to the next checkpoint. It introduces a nice element of strategy in what, on initial glance at least, would seem to be a fairly simplistic affair.
Aside from the omnipresent and manic goal of trying to stay alive as long as possible, the game also throws in a number of secondary objectives, such as destroy a set number of vehicles, consume a set number of brains or sprint a specific distance. Completing these objectives not only increases your score at the end of the game but also serves to introduce a nice dose of variety to the proceedings as well.
Speaking of variety, dotted throughout the game are massive gift boxes that when opened, trigger one of a selection of intriguing mini-games that help break up the otherwise unrelenting pace that the game impresses on the player. One such instance of these mini-games is ‘Zombie Conga’ where, starting with a single zombie on a groovy 70’s style dance floor, the objective is to create as many zombies as possible without colliding with any walls or other undead folk. The problem is however, the more folk you munch, the faster your undead conga line gets until it becomes impossible to control them.
Think Snake by way of Saturday Night Fever and Dawn of the Dead and you’re basically there.
The problem though, is that while these mini-games are credible diversions to the main game itself, it really isn’t clear how you unlock them for future play. Taking the aforementioned Zombie Conga as an example, after I had encountered it during regular play, the game didn’t unlock in the separate menu dedicated to these mini-games, whereas another mini-game that I encountered previously did unlock for some reason.
Equally, the game also boasts a novel sticker book gallery where you obtain stickers that you can collect and peel off but yet you’re never told how to collect them. It’s a shame really, as while the sticker book gallery adds yet more interesting content to the game; there just isn’t a way to know how you should go about filling it up.
By far though, The Hungry Horde’s most significant stumbles are consigned to the domain of the technical. With low-detail character models that resemble the iconic blocky limbs and appendages of early Minecraft character models, frequent screen tearing and the sort of frame rate that wouldn’t know the meaning of consistency if a bag of hammers was swung into its face, it’s fair to say that The Hungry Horde really isn’t any sort of looker. At all.
Furthermore, compounding the aesthetic ugliness are the long loading times that are an especially notable problem when you boot the game for the first time; often resulting in loading times of between 15 and 25 seconds at the very least.
In spite of such technical troubles though, The Hungry Horde is a substantial offering. Between the main campaign itself, the secondary objectives, the mini-games, sticker book and the additional unlockable secrets such as being able to customise your own zombie, it’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into making The Hungry Horde a game that will endure many hours of play.
True to its name, The Hungry Horde is an ugly sight, but look beyond its technical failings and you’ll discover an accessible title with more than enough content to keep your gaming appetite at bay.