Written by Morpheus Kitami
Yuletide greetings readers, it is I, your faithful Christmas reviewer, Morpheus. This is most definitely a review of a Christmas game and you have nothing to be afraid of. Would I lie to you? Have I been known to lie to you? Does this picture of noted Christmas film actor Vincent Price not put you into the Christmas spirit? When have you ever known such a face to be a precursor to violence and lies? You can trust me. I would never lie to you. Let me tell you a story of what happened one Christmas in 1978...and again in 1986...1988...1990...and now 2020.
Behold, ordinary Christmas shoppers. There's nothing suspicious about these shoppers. So they look a little stiff, like you've never looked like that when you were shopping. And groaned. Tried to bite other shoppers. Haven't we all been there? Just wouldn't go down without a bullet to the brain. Wait a minute, those aren't Christmas shoppers, they're zombies. Don't you hate it when you make that mistake? Mind you, its the kind of mistake you only make once. Because you'll be dead. If you're lucky, and death is not something you want to be the lucky part.
|Look, Christmas, Dawn of the Dead is a Christmas film|
In case you don't own a copy of a surprisingly popular out of print film, this is Dawn of the Dead. A film about four people trapped in a mall during a zombie apocalypse. Not to be confused with the remake, in which a group of people decide to flee a zombie apocalypse in Milwaukee...by taking a boat to Chicago or something. So, why is this a Christmas film? Well, the word Christmas appears in the film. Its like Nightmare Before Christmas or Black Christmas. Good, clean family friendly fare. In seriousness, I was going to do this around Halloween. Because I like spooky things. I didn't get spooky things. I don't want to talk about why that didn't happen. Christmas is about getting what you want, when you think about it.
Also having my big think, Night of the Living Dead takes place on the day that daylight savings time ends. That means the zombie apocalypse went over two months before society collapsed. They had Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's going on while the hordes gradually grew larger. You know, assuming Night actually takes place in the same universe as Dawn. I am like Socrates, I know that I know nothing. And like Socrates, I'm not going to find out.
|Dawn of the Dead (1978) poster|
I am not some grand historian of zombie cinema. But I will wager that Dawn of the Dead is the most important zombie film of all time. You know, if the wide acclaim among casual, hardcore and critical audiences wasn't enough to answer that. Before this, even including Romero's own Night of the Living Dead, zombie films were mostly about people dying and nobody caring the next Tuesday. In Dawn, the world ends. I suppose that's a spoiler, but one of the overarching plots of most zombie films is that everyone is dead. That's why there's an apocalypse and random people own a mall. There's more, characters behaving stupidly, child zombies, biker gangs, and of course, malls. It also has some things that don't appear again, intelligent zombies, fear of fire, residual memory. In the film the zombies shuffle in and out of the mall, with one of the characters theorizing that they're here because the mall was important to them. I feel like there's probably a different film with zombies walking in and out of suburbia and an office building...assuming that's true.
|Zombi (1986) title screen, the box art is just this blown up|
Zombi, the game I'm going to be talking about, is an adaption of Dawn of the Dead. Not officially, they never bothered getting the rights. This isn't like a lot of zombie games where there's a mall and you can screw around in it. No, there's more than enough elements here to make me wonder why...ahem...Ubi Soft never got sued. Its one of the first funny things that's going to happen here. What's interesting is that if you look at the credits for this on Mobygames, you have a list of characters who only showed up for maybe one other game, and if you look at the people in charge at Ubi Soft, you have a list of characters who don't show up in the game development side. This might be untrue, but I'll get to that eventually. Zombi is, allegedly, the debut game of Ubi Soft. Before they changed to the more catchy Ubisoft. Now, they have an interesting relationship with adventure games even if they haven't developed most of them. They published, in some region or another, Lucasarts titles, Maupiti Island, the Myst series, The Final Cut (2002), Paradise, and the CSI adaptations.
|A typical shot of Zombi|
Now, Zombi doesn't sound like an adventure game at first. A game where you're in a mall shooting zombies? Surely this is an action game. That's true to a certain extent, however, in order to win you can't just shoot all the zombies. You'll find out why in a second. Its all set up like an adventure game, except you shoot a lot of things. One might call it survival horror...if survival horror didn't require a bit of survival. Its hard to call it that when you can just blast everything the second you get a gun. Its just like the film, the only time you're going to die is if you screw up. As George Romero is not writing my life...yet...It only really depends on how long my accuracy holds up.
|Two of Dawn's leads, for reference, Francine and Stephen|
I am not terribly fond of seeing bites. Rather, bites on humans. Not like vampire bites, that's like seeing Scanners, its unrealistic. I'm not on-board for the kind of gore that a zombie film provides. I prefer more "clean" for a lack of a better term. Like a head explosion, or a machete to the head. I don't need to see some guy eat chicken slathered in red peanut butter. I certainly don't need to see some guy eat cow intestine. That's even what they go straight for, the cow intestine. The chicken is apparently less tasty than heavily washed cow guts, but I'm not an expert in either. Its not bad when someone isn't having questionable dinner choices.
|Another of the leads, Roger|
Its not like I really need to see this, I can piece together most everything from reviews of the movie and the novelization. But reviews are other people's opinions and the novelization is written like some kind of romance novel. With attention paid to Francine's "knockout figure" or Roger's "chiseled face". Its like the author forgot that this is about mastication. Its an interesting choice. I find it funny that Romero chose to release Dawn unrated, due to the X rating's growing association with couples films, yet looked at the writing in this novelization and gave the okay.
|The last of the leads, Peter|
I'll just quickly go over the events that lead up to the mall in the film. People are coming back from the dead. The government has its stuff together for once, but the people don't believe them. So they're spending as much time shooting people as they are zombies. I say stuff together, but cramming a bunch of soldiers in close quarters when you're about to breach a room with an unknown number of zombies isn't very bright. Couple of guys get shot, one goes insane, another kills himself. That's before they hit the zombie-infested basement. This is the room they have to breech. I can't really tell what the hell is happening, but I think the mission can be considered a failure on some level. Because some zombie's just eating a foot, but there's not any soldiers around. Its not even attached to a boot or anything. Two of the leads decide that getting out of the government's anti-zombie taskforce is probably in their best interests, and they meet up with the other two leads, a TV producer and a news chopper pilot. Hilarity ensues on the way to the mall.
|If you ever feel blue, remember, this got published, you can too|
Now, the manual is mostly a comic explaining how the cast got to the...ahem..."Supermarche". I honestly think this whole manual is pretty hilarious. Instead of Philadephia, it takes place in "Berkleys". Now, there are a few places called Berkley, but I'm to take a guess and assume this was supposed to take place in Berkeley, California, as opposed to someplace like Berkley, Iowa. I don't know, I'd wager the place known for having riots and a severe homeless problem is going to be more of a zombie hotspot than a town with 32 people. Don't quote me on that, I'm not a doctor, I'm Socrates.
Oh, right, I was making fun of a bad French-into-English translation. "The very sight of them causes violence and panic", "They are dead bodies who came back to life for some mysterious reasons", "They're powerful because numerous and fearful". I'm making fun, but its not like any of this is untrue in a zombie story. Six people plot how they can escape the city, they decide on stealing a hospital helicopter. They lose two members of the group getting to it, and then they're at the mall. I'm not actually sure if that's stupid or not. My first thought is that a hospital would be a massive zombie hotspot. My second thought is that most of the zombies would escape to where they can find food. Its possibly less dangerous than the streets. The real problem with this is a complete idiot is flying a helicopter.
Now, keep in mind when I'm saying all this, I'm not a pilot, I'm only familiar with aircraft in video games. Some of these simulations are pretty hardcore. Give me a manual that tells me what the buttons on the plane do, and I can probably get a plane off the ground. Maybe not even a manual if the throttle and ignition are clearly marked. I might even be able to land the plane. Helicopter? Anytime a video game is more of a simulation than Simcopter I tend to crash a lot. I'm not so bad as to flip upside down, but I haven't played a hardcore flight sim with a helicopter in a long time. As I understand it, helicopters are finnicky vehicles. Maybe that doesn't matter a lot when lifting off, but you aren't going to be landing safely anytime soon. That much I do know.
|Morpheus Kitami facing down a horde of corona zombies, 2021, B&W|
The remaining important bits before the game itself. In Europe, the film is called Zombie and was massively cut down on its original release. Not really the usual cuts, more to make the film more of an action film, to remove the humor and plot, although quite a few countries still had cuts to the violence. For some mysterious reasons. In France it had the subtitle, ahem, "Le Crépuscule des morts-vivants" which translates roughly to "The Twilight of the Living Dead". (this would be funny if Romero went with his original title for Land of the Dead) That's...a strange choice. Twilight brings to mind an end, like Twilight of the Gods, not a beginning. The remake even has the original title. But I don't speak French, so I don't understand the French opinion on twilight. After all, French is the language of barbarians. Not that I mind morts-vivants, Dead alives. Poetic, but probably too long-winded in a battle. But enough of that, time to see if this game has that je ne sais quoi.
|Cast of the CPC version|
Here, we have Alexandre, Sylvie, Yannick and Patrick. They're all based on members of the team behind it, with Sylvie being a marketing director and not a direct member of the team. Which is ironic, considering that she gets the shaft-in game. Individually, you wouldn't think of them as a rip-off of a Dawn cast member, but together, yeah, this is Dawn. Well, Alex and Pat look like the opposite of the characters they "should" be. Stephen is the pilot and Roger is one of the SWAT dudes. All of the characters are the same, except for Sylvie. She can't use some of the blades or the guns according to the manual. Haven't checked that, it hasn't come up yet. Now, in the film, Fran has a reason for not running around with an ax chopping off heads. I suppose that's a spoiler, so I won't mention it. She uses guns though. She's not the best or anything, but she's not exactly a stormtrooper. A gun is like a plane, 5 minutes to understand the base principle and how not to kill yourself. Although its considerably more obvious where you point a gun as opposed to the nose of a plane. As to blades, well, that's kind of pointless when the comic has Sylvie smash a zombie's head in with a wrench. I'm not really sure how someone could do that, but not cleave a skull in half with a machete. But once again, I am Socrates.
|Bell Long Ranger II, the trusty steed|
I also want to bring up the helicopter the protagonists use for a second. In the film they use a Bell Long Ranger II, which has an operational range of 430 miles...or at least one model of the Long Ranger does. The film starts in Philadephia and ends near Monroesville, which is considerably less than 430 miles. They refuel once. Seems kind of short to me, but Romero is known for his technical knowledge, so I assume I'm wrong somehow. I don't know what the 'copter in the game is, because I can only recognize vehicles with the names on them. I do know that there are very few helicopters that can transport one from California to Quebec on one tank of fuel. Assuming that Quebec calls them Supermarche. If they're in France...hoo-boy...
So, at this point, I was settled in to playing the Amstrad CPC version. From the start it was either that or the Amiga version, DOS and the ZX Spectrum looks like crap and I can't get a ST emulator running. I could only find the French CPC version, but hey, I have a dictionary, I can learn, and a thousand years ago a bunch of English nobles decided they'd rather be French which has resulted in some grief over the years. I should be careful about being sympathetic to the French though, that could end up resulting in a misunderstanding. There's a lot of interesting things that don't appear in other versions, but whenever a mort vivant should appear on-screen, they don't. When they should attack, the game hangs. So, Amiga. Everything I say applies to that version, although I'm going to touch on the CPC's controls at some point. They're...interesting.
|The mall, as seen in-film|
|The mall, in-game|
The mall consists of a basement, four floors, one of which is just a transitional floor and a roof. Curiously, unlike certain other European games, this uses the American numbering system. I can even go to the 4th floor in the elevator, but I can't get out onto the floor. The most important rooms are on the 2nd floor. A gun shop, and a maintenance room. The gun shop for obvious reasons, and the maintenance room has a set of keys. I don't know what the keys do yet, but they must be important.
|The elevator, basically|
There are two ways of getting around the mall. The elevator, which is stuffed with zombies. As long as you go past a room fairly quickly it isn't a problem, but even though I can get in and out in 4 seconds, that seems risky. Then there's the stairs, which are reliable, unzombie infested. They've got graffiti for Bauhaus and Sisters of Mercy for some reason, although on the music front I hear only silence now. Except on the roof, there's wind there. Now I admit, I wasn't completely honest with two ways of getting around. There's a window on the third floor I can open to go downstairs quickly. This kills whoever goes out the window. I admit, that put a smile on my face. It's stupid, but what exactly did I expect? I can do the same on a balcony on the second floor. I would call it a terrance, but that's the roof. I didn't know that. I also didn't know niveau, which is floor. There's not exactly a thriving French community where I live.
|There's a lot of zombies CPC|
|I don't know what their problem is Amiga|
There are a couple of things straight off that seem fairly useless to me. There's a tape in the 3rd floor I can take down to an electronics store in the 1st floor to discover that...I have to shoot the brain to kill a zombie. Probably useful in 1986, and it does tell me that I can attack the zombies before they attack me. There's a computer store with an Atari ST that I can use. I can type in...something...probably. It just throws out syntax error, because I have never used a ST, I don't know what I'm doing wrong. I can't get out of it and I don't understand the purpose of it. Which leads me into another interesting bit. Outside. Those of you who have seen the film are aware that the group uses some trucks with trailers to block off the entrances to the mall. These trailers are a fair distance away from the mall in the film. Here, they're right up against the mall for some reason. If you move away once from the walls or too far north...bam, horde of zombies. I feel like we're straining belief a little bit here, because there are this many zombies hanging just outside of the mall, then why the hell aren't they descending upon it? Bikers are supposed to arrive later and this all feels less zombie film and more Lucio Fulci making a video game. It exists because its spooky.
|An actual dead player|
Now, that adds another way the player can completely screw themselves later. The two falls and the horde of zombies bit completely remove a PC. If what happens is a zombie kills the player or they're otherwise killed, they leave a body. You can search the body for any items they have, like a gun or keys. Alexandre starts off with the copter keys and he decides to take a walk beyond the mall. Pfwip. Game over. This isn't a problem because this is one of those games where the full solution is going to take maybe ten minutes to a rank amateur with a walkthrough. Any failure state basically sets you back 5 minutes. Its hard to feel like something horrible has happened in that case.
|The first bit unlike the film, they're still intact and not...messy|
That's all I'm going to go over for now. Its very arcadey and very quick for an adventure game, even one heavily mixed with action. In order to win I have to get...ahem "petrol" for the copter. I don't think that's how it works, but again, not a pilot. I don't see any fuel sources, but I do have a jerry can and a hose, so clearly I have to siphon the trucks on the outside. I don't see any way to do that yet. Perhaps I have to move them, like the film, in order to reach the fuel tanks. Of course, in the film, they got back in via the chopper. Not really sure how this is going to play out yet, but I've got a good idea of how to get there.
Images have been taken from the original Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Document of the Dead. (1998 version) Please forgive me for mentioning some things but not bringing forth an image. I only had access to the film in October, so if some screenshots are awkward, that's why. Vincent Price is from The Christmas Carol (1949).
This Session: 30 minutes
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