Zombie Tycoon II starts off with Orville Tycoon, former disciple of Professor Brainhov, taking the zombie formula invented by Brainhov and using it to try taking over the world via shambling hordes of the undead. I appreciate this because most zombie games or fiction try to keep things mysterious, and if you ever do find the cause, it’s usually dumb and/or convoluted.
You see, Orville only acts upon this after Brainhov tests the zombie formula on himself (after a previously unsuccessful test), which actually works, and turns himself into a zombie. All of the levels take place in ruined suburban areas, the game is quite the parody on suburbs and more southern redneck-styled living.
That’s basically the gist of the story, however there is a bit of a twist early on – Brainhov comes back from the grave (literally) and usurps Orville’s mobile zombie base with his more adept feral zombies, subsequently securing his rise back to power. The game definitely serves you that tried old technique of having to re-acquire your former power.
So let’s talk about the controls, an RTS is definitely heavily dependent on its controls, right? Zombie Tycoon II doesn’t disappoint, the controls are smartly assigned – the left analog stick moves the camera’s z position and the right analog stick rotates the camera. You move units by pressing face buttons, while the d-pad activates your zombie overlord’s powers, sort of like a selection of abilities you’d see in a MOBA game. The controls work really well, and the targeting also seems to work well. I haven’t really had issues with squads of zombies going after the wrong target as you can also zoom in to get pretty close to the action.
The combat definitely isn’t fast and frantic like most popular RTS games these days, even with upgraded ninja zombie classes the squads of friendlies and enemies tend to all clump together and just duke it out. This is generally the extent of my knowledge when it comes to strategy games so I didn’t have much of a problem with it, but I’m sure the more astute RTS players out there will be left wanting more when it comes to combat, it doesn’t go much further than that unfortunately.
Level design and objectives could be a bit better, the levels are generally very large and dynamic but I found myself backtracking a lot. I’m fine with backtracking, but when the level designs are sometimes confusing it started to get a bit old. There are some levels that have very clear objectives while others are a bit too muddled in my opinion.
The story and humor is what it is, which is not much but hey, this is a zombie real-time strategy game right? For what it’s worth, I did enjoy the story for all of its quirks and silly pop-culture zombie jokes. Whether it was Orville maniacally rubbing his palms together at the mayhem and destruction he had caused or Brainhov hugging his soon to be martyr feral zombie bear minion, I found myself grinning at my Vita screen.
Let’s jump back to the controls for a minute. So, Zombie Tycoon II adopts a tech tree system in the vein of older RTS games – meaning you’ll be switching squads of units into other classes as your needs change from environmental hazards to combating newer enemy types, and so on. I don’t really have a problem with this, but I do have a problem with only having essentially three squads of minions, two zombie hordes and a big monster type. Also, in order to even be eligible to convert units into other classes, you have to take full control of the buildings that house those classes.
This isn’t a big problem for most levels but it leaves something to be desired in the online play. The problem with online play in Zombie Tycoon II is that there’s only one map and one game mode. The problem with the transition from the single player’s fun to the multiplayer is that when you’re going against another person, it’s hard to take them down when most players just end up surrounding their mobile zombie spawner with their own units so they’re always replenished if killed.
Think of this in comparison to how most RTS games work, where you have a base that you’ve established where you harvest resources, you spawn units from buildings in your base but with Zombie Tycoon II, you have a mobile base where you constantly replenish your units as long as they’re within its respawn radius. Buildings that open up new zombie classes are only usable if you take complete control of them, so it creates a meta game of sorts to try to keep control of all the class buildings and all of the civilian buildings.
This is where I had most of the fun in Zombie Tycoon II, maliciously taking over every single civilian building, trailer, hut or what have you and turning them all into zombies. This is also one of my favorite things about this game, being the psychopath behind the growing zombie apocalypse. The more idle zombies you create, the bigger the advantage you’ll have because you can summon them as an angry, rabid mob at any time as long as your zombie horde ability is active.
The music and visuals in Zombie Tycoon II do what they’re supposed to do – evoke zombie pop-culture, B level zombie horror style reminiscent of the classics that made the shambling monsters into a genre. The music can get a bit repetitive if you keep having to retry levels, most of it is just looped mellow jazzy music. Overall I was satisfied with the graphics, Orville, Brainhov and all of the other monsters, creatures, enemies and or humans are all very stylized and quite fun to look at.
In terms of difficulty, the game can get quite difficult at times, mostly due to the objectives and level design getting a bit obtuse. I’ve died a lot in this game, but I’ve also enjoyed learning from my mistakes and trying other tactics or paths through the level’s hazards and enemies. The objectives and level progression never got so bad to where I had to actually look up how to progress, the worse case scenario was having Orville or Brainhov running too low on HP between objectives and having to restart the entire mission.
Zombie Tycoon II has moderate replayability considering the game has a platinum trophy, multiple objectives per level, collectibles and is on both PS3 and Vita. I played entirely on the Vita version for this review. Also, the game is in Sony’s cross-buy, cross-save and cross-play program. Yes, if you buy this game once you can download it on both platforms and exchange saves between the two. You can also play with people on the other platform – the only questionable omission is ad-hoc multiplayer on Vita, you can only play with people via online wi-fi.
Honestly, I really enjoyed what Zombie Tycoon II was trying to do. I think the humor, the controls and the overall premise is fun and engaging. I think the main issues the game has are the limited tech trees, the bare bones online multiplayer and my issues with the level design and progression. A bunch of the levels are fun, surprisingly some of them were a bit odd at first (like when you first gain control of Brainhov) but become really fun later.
I think if there were to be a Zombie Tycoon III with a more realized tech tree, a more robust online component and even somewhat better level progression, Frima Studios could be hitting that one out of the park. The limited tech tree is definitely tied to how they mapped out the controls but honestly I think this game could work with a traditional cursor styled control, i.e. selecting units and issuing commands on the fly, thusly opening up the tech tree to be a bit more robust.
Unfortunately, as Zombie Tycoon II stands, it’s a fun and enjoyable experience marred by some smaller issues that keep it from zombie world conquering greatness. If you have a chance to pick this game up I think you’ll be happy with it for awhile, but ultimately you’ll be disappointed at how it stumbles because of smaller issues.