Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Missed Classic: Zombi - Summary and Rating

Written by Morpheus Kitami


After last time, I slowly but surely uncovered more of the game with each playthrough. With each playthrough it became clear why nobody brings this up these days. Zombi just doesn't respect your time, and to be honest this was the wrong month to play a game that doesn't respect my time. But I'm getting ahead of myself...


The CPC version functions only with keyboard, specifically the arrow keys and the Alt key, or whatever my alt key is functioning as. You have a whole bunch of interaction options, most of which are parsed down to clicking on something with the mouse in the Amiga version. You have dedicated buttons to entering and exiting vehicles, and the movement system is interesting. You can move left, right, forward, backward, up, down, turn around, please don't let me hit the ground. Only problem is that you have to scroll through these one at a time, in a set fashion. No being smart and using different arrow keys to go back in that set or going in so and so direction. The Amiga, its just simplified to arrows around the graphical window. With the odd opening of doors. I'm going to go ahead and say if I actually could play this on the CPC, I would not be a happy camper.

Success!

Failure!

There's one exception to the Amiga's simplification of the interact, using items. You have two ways of using an item, clicking on it in your inventory, and clicking on the item you want to use it on. This is also used to drop items, because there's an item limit. Four to a character. The other option is to use the wrench icon at the bottom of the screen. The other icons there are quitting, saving and loading, the first unnecessary for me, the other two just unnecessary. Like I said last time, it would take a rank amateur 10 minutes with a walkthrough to win. That was only a slight under-exaggeration, and if you play longer than a certain time you're going to have a lot of dead time.

Protip, don't do this

Which brings me to an important part of the game, combat. Its very easy to kill most of these zombies. You do that by using the wrench icon, with a gun selected in the inventory, then clicking on the zombie's head. They walk around, so its not 100%. If you miss that, they growl, and attack. You solve this, by shooting them in the head. The ones you missed the first shot on come back, unless you put them in the basement's freezer. If you prefer the bits in Dawn where zombies get pushed around and punched out by humans...well...this isn't your game. When that happens, you have to rapidly click on the zombie and its not as fun as blasting them. Atlhough later I discovered that if you're really hurt, you can miss even if you hit them perfectly.

I'll have a Big Gropak

In the game there are three meters, one of which I assume is health, one is sleep, and the other hunger. These are vital because if you don't attend to them periodically, as I discovered while waiting for something to happen, you can turn into a zombie. Turn into one so hard you transcend this plane of existence. No, seriously, that happened to one of my guys. For this reason, I don't really know what happens after 7:00 AM. The other problem is that whenever a character sleeps, the only way they can be awakened is by another character. If you only have two characters and they're sleeping, in an otherwise completely clear map, game over. There are two food places, where you can restore hunger and sleep, but health only recovers by resting. This all seems confusing to me, but whatever. This causes an interesting mechanic, which I think is intentional, where the character's portraits slowly go down as they're in-danger of dying.

Hello darkness, my old friend

What's "interesting" about the game is the darkness mechanic and the day and night cycle. The basement is always dark, but past a certain time, everywhere turns dark. Dark means turning pitch-black, but you can solve this by using a flashlight or binoculars or solving a puzzle. You can't use a gun while doing this, so that makes whatever it is I'm doing in the basement fun. If the game gets dark everywhere. Well, it isn't game over, but you're not going to have fun until it gets bright again. This is 8 in-game hours, which is about...half an hour real time? You can't shoot while using the flashlight and you can't shoot in the dark. Although I found out later this was avoidable on my part. Still not fun though.

The most fun I've had all year

In order to win, I have to do three things. First, I have to do...something to this fusebox. There's a fuse on the third floor, its fairly easy to find. But putting it into the fusebox shocks you. I hope that's just because the fusebox is damaged and not because my party of neurosurgeons refuse to turn off the power. So I have to get a pair of rubber gloves. This was harder than it sounds. There are these storage containers all across the map. The problem is these containers are annoying to use. You have to click on them twice to get an item out, and three times if you've done that before. The rubber gloves are on the third floor, in the same container as the jerry can. This wasn't obvious to me, because whenever you open a container you've taken an item out of, it doesn't adjust to the next item, it stays the same. So I was assuming these containers only held one item. I can't help but feel the manual should have mentioned that.

The computer

I mentioned there was a computer last time. This actually does something. Not important, not really helpful. Firstly, the manual says "If you find it too difficult to use the computer, then have a last go at 'BYE'." I assumed this was polite French for saying, "If you find this game too difficult, then quit, you idiot." No, Bye is the quit function for the computer. Seeing as I've never had to type that into a command prompt in my life, you can hardly blame me for not realizing that. Secondly, the computer gives information about puzzles. I say information, but the only things I could get out of it was a confusing message, which just repeated the tape's "shoot brain" or fusebox. Help with the fusebox is one of the last things I needed.

The elevator, for real

The second thing I have to do to win is cover the "entrees" and "sorties" with the trucks. To do that I need the truck keys. The truck keys are on the fourth floor. From the stairwell, the only part of the fourth floor is the stairwell and a pile of yellow liquid. The elevator takes me to a camera room or something, but its locked. This isn't obvious, despite being able to reach there in the elevator. While there are other rooms hidden by the camera angle, there are maps, and you don't have to unlock them. Every time you try to go through a wall the game makes a noise and refuses to do so. That's the same sound that happens when you try to exit the elevator on the fourth floor. This is the kind of clever idea someone would have when they're running out of them. This is a good sign.

The...other maintenance room I guess

Here, there are three truck keys and a console. There's no point to the three truck keys, they're just there in case you lose a body. The console turns on the lights if you've fixed the fusebox. Not outside the mall, out there if its dark you're screwed. To annoy me further, that's not in the movie, they hotwire the trucks and they use the keys on unlocking stores. Of course, they were doing that because they were staying in the mall, but the game isn't letting movie logic dictate it.

Outside, fun

Outside is the most nerve-wracking part of the game. The direction you're supposed to go in shifts depending on whether or not you're in front of a truck. There's also a northern section, but as I mentioned, you can't see south and there's no difference between the rooms you can and can't go south in there. So that's go to a new screen, press down, repeat until either in the horde or no longer north. The actual trucks aren't that difficult to get in and move in front of the entrances. This is solely a movement problem.

Patrick is the rightmost character, in case you forgot

Once the entrances are blocked off, so is your character from the interior. They can return, if you find the rope in the sports shop and have a different character stand on the balcony and use the rope. To be honest, I only found this out after looking up the solution to the next bit. Yannick died the first time I blocked off the entrance. Because of the confusing view bit. Its really specific too, although sooner or later one can figure out that you're supposed to be at the truck at the front entrance. This isn't necessary as long as whoever's outside is safely tucked away somewhere, because they can come back in later. At this point there's nothing to do but kill all the zombies.

In-movie

In-game

The next bit is what really hammers home Zombi's incompetence as an adventure game. All the zombies are dead, the mall is safe. Even the three zombies in the basement are dead. Nothing is happening. There's a walkie talkie, it does nothing. Binoculars show me a van, but nothing happens. There's a road map...maybe...doesn't do anything. Okay, I see no way through this, what does a walkthrough say?
Put all the zombie corpses in the freezer.

Put all the zombie corpses in the freezer.

Put over 50 zombie corpses across 4 floors in the basement's freezer.
This is a level of disrespect for the player I haven't seen in an adventure game. I haven't seen an adventure game throw out this kind of busy-work before. Oh, sure there are worse puzzles and more annoying puzzles, but those are usually just badly implemented, not straight up wasting the player's time because the game would be 5 minutes otherwise. I could just be missing that game with worse busy-work. This would never exactly be fun, but this month I've had a lot of things wasting my time, so the last thing I need is a video game reminding me that I should be doing something else. Because I'm actually going to take that. The fun bit of Dawn was when they ruined their freezer by stuffing it full of zombie corpses. Yeah, that's what I remember. That wasn't less than 30 seconds or anything. The only reason why I remembered it is because the guy writing the Mobygames description spoiled that it's the way you prevent them from reviving. You can tell what I've missed because I didn't have a screenshot of it.

Now, I want to point out I had to do this twice. The first time I took too long putting corpses in the basement and it was night by the time the bikers entered. Its worth pointing out that I can bring them down three at a time, six if I have Alexandre do double-duty with Patrick, Yannick is sleeping off any health issues and Sylvie remains with the helicopter unless the rest are dead. Technically, I can hold 4 items, but a gun counts as one and its just quicker if I shoot and grab.

Tom Savini, playing the leader of the bikers

Some biker dude

Some biker dude in my face

This, for some reason, causes the Hell's Angels to show up. They look less like bikers and more like some kind of British thug. I want to say they're human versions of those dog criminals from the Donald Duck comics, but as an American, I've never read those. I'm sure there's some film or TV show I'm forgetting about that had these. They're like the zombies, except they're tougher. Sometimes you headshot them perfectly and they still attack you. They also have different attacking sounds. I'm not entirely certain they're necessary to kill.

The van

The end puzzle is insultingly easy for how confusing the rest of the puzzles are to do. After eliminating the bikers, I have to steal their fuel. This involves opening the cap, putting down the gas can and then using the garden hose. I can see this being confusing if you don't know that's a method of siphoning fuel though. Then, I don't really have to worry about anything and leisurely take everything that might be useful to the party later, even though there's no reason to do that. Curiously, the bikers seem to be dumber than the zombies, as I never saw them entering rooms they didn't start in after the attack.

I'm guessing the zombies reappeared because...it was in the movie

You repeat with the helicopter what you did with the van and apparently the tank is full. Must have been some huge gas can, or maybe no one on the dev team understood there was a size difference between the two. That's Zombi. A game that despite not being licensed, feels like its following the movie its based on far closer than most actual licensed games. There are a few more bits before the rating though.

Sylvie can stand here forever apparently

Because I didn't do much with Sylvie, for obvious reasons, I was curious if the game was lying about her being useless. At first I thought that was true, but as a bonus she was invulnerable, but it turned out that if you don't do anything, the zombies don't notice you, depending on the room. I eventually managed to get her using a gun. She handled it poorly, but she was considerably injured at this point. This ties into a different bit I didn't know you could do. See, earlier I didn't know you could have one character hold the flashlight and the other shoot. Its still stupid, but at the same time its clever. You could have Sylvie hold the flashlight and the other guy fix things.

He's dead, but I never fought him.

There's also a very unique mechanic that I never encountered during my main runs. Dead characters retain their inventories and can become zombies. That said, while I could find their corpse and loot them. (or put items there, unwise choice) I never found them after turning. It seems fairly uninteresting if they just turn into generic zombies after an in-game hour or two. Could explain why I thought Patrick transcended the boundaries of reality, he just turned into a generic zombie. That's lamer than I thought it would be.

Zombi is of note though, for two reasons. Its the first game, or at least close enough it makes little difference, to depict both graphic violence and zombies. Before this, zombies were just little blobs on the screen, blobs that might as well have been robots or mud monsters. Two of the earlier games seem to be of a mini-genre I've seen multiple independent variations of, including a Doctor Who version. Zombie Zombie (1984) is the closest, but again, blobs. Now with graphic violence there's Chiller, and maybe others, but this is the first one you could play in the comfort of your own home.


Puzzles and Solvability 
Let's see, all the puzzles can be boiled down to either, wrestling with the interface, the camera is hiding where you're supposed to go, or busywork. I wasn't expecting a forgotten gem, but I was expecting something that wasn't mimicking the movie to the point of insanity! This stuff would reek of desperation if it weren't following Dawn of the Dead's plot. It still is on some levels, but I at least understand why the lunacy is happening. Let me make two things clear, this is all the work I'd expect to see from an amateur adventure developer who ran out of ideas and I don't understand being this slavishly devoted to the plot when you aren't making an official adaptation. 

I would also like to mention that while there are elements, like the time limit, that in other games would result in me whining about them. Here, I don't care at all, so eh. 0 

Interface and Inventory 
Zombi's interface is very nice at first...unless you're playing the CPC version. What could be simpler? Click on which direction you want to go in, or click on what you want to use. But there's so much unnecessary clicking. Sometimes the direction buttons don't work until you move the cursor moves off and on that direction button again. If one thing could have used a shortcut in the direction keys, it was this. Unnecessary clicking continues with the action button, its not always clear if you're using something, which is a problem when you can get shocked by a fusebox. There's just so much clicking with item containers, not to mention the issue I had with multiple items in a container. 

I think the inventory limit works in this game's favor. If I had one character with 20 items, it would be a pain putting them down, with 4 items across 4 characters, its quite tolerable and interesting. There aren't that many useful items, so you only focus on one puzzle at a time. Yes, its a problem with the zombie corpses, but I consider that a failure of the puzzles, rather than the inventory.

Story and Setting 
Its a zombie apocalypse, set in a mall surrounded by zombies. Do a couple of random things, and some bikers show up in a van. Well...nobody's done it yet...

Sound and Graphics 
Musically, there are two tracks, one at the beginning and one at the end. I think this was the right choice, because who knows how long a general track would play for, and it makes the music more impactful. They're very nice, but I don't think hearing them, or a third choice for a few hours would be fun. This seems to be different on each computer, as the CPC's opening music was a take on Chopin's Sonata II, the famous bit and has no ending music, according to a longplay I saw. 

Oh, I didn't learn about this until reading through reviews, but in the Atari ST version, David Whittaker handled the music, which actually went through the entire game. Its sweet, but I don't know how well it would wear after multiple playthroughs. It also has better sound than the Amiga version, which is weird.

I don't have any complaints about the sound, the enemy death sound is a bit on the comical side, but everything else is pretty solid. 

Graphically, there's a lot I like, its mostly solid except for the weird way liquids are shown and Sylvie. Her sprite feels incredibly off, like the artist didn't know how to draw a woman's hair or face. The former is a very common problem I find, but you usually don't see it in professional work.

Environment and Atmosphere 
You can tell a lot of thought and care has been put into the mall...except with regards to camera. You can look along a path and see the story of someone who once came before you, someone who no doubt is currently trying to rip off your face. With exception to the escalator/stairs being out of the way I mean sure, the ads are all for Ubi Soft, and a couple of obvious jokes about Marijuana I could make, but some of them are actually reasonable, and who's to say there was never a billboard for Asphalt (1987) in a mall somewhere? As beginners trap as the instant-death scenes are, they feel clever...well, except the horde around the place, which brings me to atmosphere. 

This is actually them asking for programmers

Zombi wraps around from weird in a video gamey way to being outright surrealistic. Oh, on the surface its still nice, a punky zombie apocalypse setting that's a combination of Dawn of the Dead and Return of the Living Dead (1985). No one's ever actually copied that, but what makes Zombi interesting is the combination of the already fairly weird mall setting and the neverending identical zombies is just so weird it becomes very interesting, at least to me anyway. Its not worth it if you hate having to cart corpses for 10-15 minutes though.

Dialog and Acting I hear only silence now. 0 

Right 4+1+5+6, that's 16, 16/0.6=26.6667. I'll call that 27. I'm not going to remove any points, my distaste for the freezer bit is well-covered in the puzzle section. 


Alex Romanov has the winning score. Overall, this feels a lot like the sort of game that someone would make with AGS years later. Competent graphics with obvious issues, unusual choice of setting, and puzzles that no one wants to play through. Atlhough on the plus side this doesn't have some obvious over-used twist derail the plot. 

I don't know what's funnier, the tagline or Amiga Action's quotes

Old reviews were very generous. Especially compared to myself. Starting with ACE, there's a bunch of words that make me feel like I'm about to have a brain aneuryism. Somehow this game is going to be interesting a month after starting it and it has an IQ factor of 7. Yeah. Curiously, everyone else more or less hits the same points as me, but never go into the puzzles or anything. And everyone and their dog knows this is based of Dawn of the Dead. Curiously, it seems like everyone has their own (wrong) ideas about what's happening in the game. Hells Angels being thugs, them wanting the helicopter, or the survivors wanting to reach a desert island. There's nothing interesting going on in any of the non-English reviews based on what I could understand. Only Pelit stands out as having something lower than a 7 out of 10, with 62 out of 100. 

In modern reviews, the only one I could find was from Guru Larry. Look, this is a generic title, okay? There's nothing new from that, although he conveniently just mentions the whole dump 50 corpses in the basement as an aside. He's also the one credited as saying this is Ubi Soft's first game. Is that true? I don't know, I do know that checking a site for CPC games shows that there's a lot of 1986 games. 

Now, when I say that the team behind Zombi disappeared after this, that's not entirely true. There's a sequel, Hurlements, and one of the many English translation options for that is The Howling...but there's nothing that suggests the game is based off the film. The plot involves a recently released convict getting gold out of werewolf country. All I know about The Howling is from bits of The Howling 2. That knowledge gives me no answer to the question and neither does looking at a synopsis. 

As for the adaption of Romero's films into video games, well, later there would be a shooter based on Land of the Dead, but I understand its...bad, really bad. There are other games that are heavily inspired by his zombie films, but I would be hard-pressed to call them actual adaptations; Its not hard to see why they didn't get sued is what I'm saying. There's another adventure game based off his films, but that one is not set during Christmas time, so I'll have to pick a more appropriate time to play it. 

Ubi Soft's next published adventure game...is...I don't actually know. I was checking a CPC game site, as I said, and they've got a lot of games for that system. A lot of RPGs and adventure games. I'm not sure which ones are legit RPGs or not. I mean, I was plotting on learning French for Loricels's adventure games, but jees. Oh, and I'm sure they're missing a few on Mobygames. Oh, Jesus, there's one based off The Amityville Horror, someone shoot me. Oh...I really am going to have to learn French...Guess I better get started on that...the next game I can actually understand is The Final Command, something that at least looks pretty sweet. 

Final time: 3 hours

18 comments:

  1. yay ! My first correct guess in years !

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  2. I want to say they're human versions of those dog criminals from the Donald Duck comics, but as an American, I've never read those.

    The Beagle Boys?

    I know the Donald Duck comics are a bigger deal in Europe, but I'm not sure what you mean by "as an American". They exist here, don't they?

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    1. Well, I am half joking, but I haven't seen them anywhere that isn't the internet. I semi-regularly go to stores that sell comics and graphic novels and I've never seen any Disney comics IIRC. Probably just a combination of my generation not caring too much about comic books (especially Disney) and said comics being high interest items around these parts by those who do care.

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    2. Just out of curiosity, did the TV series DuckTales (1987-1990) make any impact in USA? That's one place to see the Beagle Boys.

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    3. Oh yes, it was very popular. Americans aren't big on the paper comics I don't think, but the TV show was a hit. People (including me) were quite excited for the reboot 2017- (technically; but will be cancelled after the end of season 3, I believe). David Tennant, who voices Scrooge in the new version, has talked in interviews about how he was a bit unprepared for how beloved it was in the US because it had not really been a big deal in the UK. It was part of a block called "The Disney Afternoon". Darkwing Duck was also pretty popular and may be getting a reboot as well.

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    4. That’s annoying as Duck Tales was huge in the UK. However he is too old for when it came out (being a major part of ITVs morning cartoon segments). Same with Gummi Bears. Darkwing Duck less so but mainly because Batman was in at the time and not many people here really knew Darkman which DD has quite a few references to

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    5. Ducktales would be the primary source for the Duck-Expanded-Universe for Americans, yes. But I think the Beagle Boys were fairly minor characters in the series, compared to Magica and Glomgold. I hear they play a larger role in the reboot.

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    6. Whaaaaaa? Beagle Boys were in enough episodes to be very identifiable. Like I’ve not read the comics, just literally the original cartoon - but I know what the Beagle Boys are.

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    7. I had the same thought, Deano.

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. I am sorry your comment was erased.

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  4. Erasing comments here is silencing people by violating their right to free speech11 January 2021 at 10:07

    Its true.

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    1. https://xkcd.com/1357/

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    2. This is a bit perplexing discussion, since Deano has removed their own comment, probably due to not having written it on the right comment thread.

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    3. Decry self-censorship!! Deano as the moral right to express his views on the wrong comment thread without being unfairly silenced by Deano!

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  5. Beagle boys are featured in the intro, so they are imprinted in your brain after few episodes.

    I probably missed it, but what's with the "e" missing ? Is it for copyright reasons?

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    1. I don't know whether or not there's some kind of copyright or trademark conflict with a game called "Zombie", but zombi or zonbi is the spelling in the Haitian tradition it comes from.

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    2. Zombi just seems to be the way the French spell the word. I guess it could be for copyright/trademark reasons, but they were skating awfully close to the sun anyway, given how many titles they released that shared names with movies.

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