The new and improved zombie slasher.
A little over a year ago we were treated to a slightly over-priced zombie-smashing romp on Xbox 360 called Monster Madness: Battle for Suburbia. The premise behind the game was solid, but the execution and sloppy controls left much to be desired. Building on the promise of that game developer Psyonix has created the definitive version of Monster Madness for Sony’s monster console. The big question on everyone’s mind though, is if it is too little, too late. With a brand new control scheme, online co-op and a host of new challenges and options, Grave Danger is certainly the perfect interpretation of the game, but it still manages to miss a few important cues to make it an instant classic.
Grave Danger is your typical top-down hack and slash infested with zombies very akin to the popular retro title Zombies Ate My Neighbors. You choose from one of four characters and set out on a path of destruction complete with both melee and ranged weapons. The biggest culprit to the original 360 incarnation were the controls. You were forced to use the right analog stick to aim for both melee and ranged and pull the right trigger to attack. With the PS3 outing everything has been streamlined with both forms in mind. The melee attack button has now been mapped to the circle button making it feel more like a traditional hack and slash, while the right analog stick now fires ranged weapons automatically much like the popular two-stick shooters such as Geometry Wars.
This new scheme makes things much easier to handle and of course more intuitive. Switching between ranged and melee attacks is now simple and considering that dodging and jumping are both independent buttons, you can now evade without dislocating your wrist. Another huge improvement (depending on your level of hardcore-ness) is the new spawning system. The original game was made much more frustrating by the fact that you if you died, you had to start the entire level over again. This was fixed in a patch later on adding better checkpoints, but it still made the game ridiculously difficult for casual players. With Grave Danger the developers have opted to allow instant respawns exactly where you died. While it does bring down the challenge, it does open the game up and make it more friendly to casual players. Obtaining S ranks on all levels is still challenging so the hardcore players still have plenty to work for.
Fans of the original game will also be pleased to hear that the team has added a solid amount of new costumes and challenges. These new challenges combine some of the best stuff found in the game, including vehicle segments, and give them to you in bite-sized increments. Completing these with certain ranks will net you new costumes for your characters. In a way the game feels more like a mindless arcade shooter now than a methodical action game, and for most players that will be a relief. There are plenty of fans crying foul on forums, but if you are not the kind of gamer who enjoys memorizing levels just to be able to beat them, these new improvements will be a blessing.
Another huge improvement is the ability to upgrade characters using Monster Tokens. Anyone who played the original game certainly remembers Larry’s trailer where you could upgrade weapons and purchase items, but now you can also beef up your characters. Spending Monster Tokens allows you to improve things such as strength, mobility and reload time making hunting for these things more rewarding. It is also worth mentioning that searching for these tokens has been greatly improved and they are certainly more in ample supply in the PS3 version.
My favorite addition – and the one I criticized the 360 version for lacking the most – is the online co-op mode. You can join up to three other players online and blast through the substantial campaign mode. We did experience some lag in our playtests, but it was nothing that couldn’t be overlooked, the voice chat situation however, is another story. It is no secret that voice chat in PS3 games has had a hard life. From being omitted on some games to not working properly on others, it continues to be an issue. Grave Danger suffers the same problems mostly due to the fact that it runs on Gamespy as opposed to the PSN. In most online sessions you could hear one or two people shouting “Can you hear me?” and rarely did anyone ever hear my cries for help. Couple this with online co-op and you will spend far too much time trying to sort out the voice issues, which are certainly imperative in a co-op game.
The traditional competitive modes from Battle for Suburbia return for Grave Danger, but much like the previous outing feel more forced than fun. This game was built as a hack and slash party game and trying to force a deathmatch mode into the mix feels sloppy. The co-op challenge modes are still a blast and you really can have a ball toying around with the physics and vehicles, but overall online is best left to co-op. Unfortunately the community for this game was lacking as of press time and I don’t feel it will flourish nearly as much as other titles on the network.
All of these improvements do come with some omissions that will likely anger fans of the original though. For starters – not to spoil too much – the final encounter in the game has been altered. There are also some missing cut scenes, including one vital one that really dug deeper into the story. Of course these were not sloppy omissions, but they are blatantly obvious to fans of the original game. Some of the later shooting segments were also removed, although they were considered some of the tougher sequences in the game so they are not missed nearly as much. Bottom line is that even with all of these cuts, unless you are a huge fan of the original they will be hard to notice.
Monster Madness: Grave Danger is the type of game that is hard to classify. On one hand if you are a fan of hack and slash zombie games (and let’s be honest your options are limited) this could easily be a fun romp for a weekend or perhaps longer depending on how many friends you have online to play with. On the other hand it can grow tedious fairly quickly and without online you will get bored relatively quickly. If you enjoyed the original game but found it frustrating, than Grave Danger will be a welcome addition. However, if you loved the challenge of the original this one will likely be a cakewalk by comparison. If you fall into the final tier of gamers who have never checked out Monster Madness, the PS3 version is by far the superior one and if you love hack and slash titles there is certainly plenty here to enjoy.