It was somewhere around the time when I was fighting a giant, undead, car-flinging grizzly bear with a massive zombie-bulldozer-thing that Zombie Tycoon II: Brainhov’s Revenge really started to click for me.
As much as it pains me to admit this, I don’t have the tactical military prowess I like to imagine I possess. I’m great at multitasking and, after decades of gaming, I like to think I know my way around resource management, exploiting weaknesses and breaking an opponent’s defenses down piece by piece. Despite all of that, however, strategy battle games have never really been my cup of tea. I sunk quite a few hours into Starcraft back in the day, but something about that style of gameplay and all of those variables to keep in order just never really grabbed my attention.
Zombie Tycoon II (PS3, PS Vita), though, found its way into my wheelhouse by distilling the more complex systems of these types of games into a light-hearted series of missions that even I could muddle my way through. So maybe I didn’t utilize the best strategies at first. And maybe I was too afraid of leaving my mobile spawn unit unprotected to split up my resources and more quickly overtake large chunks of post-apocalyptic suburbia, turning what should have been 15 minute missions into hour-long ordeals. But at least I was having fun along the way.
In Zombie Tycoon II, I took on the role of a mad scientist bent on destroying the world with a horde of shambling, hulking undead monstrosities. An old rival (and eventual playable character) arrives on the scene with his own army of zombies, the frail yet extremely fast and overwhelming variety made popular in recent film.
The game proper is somewhat short, but there are enough additional objectives thrown into each of the missions to warrant a second or third trip into each chapter. As I said earlier, Zombie Tycoon II is similar to other strategy games like Starcraft, but its missions are more like multi-layered puzzles that need to be untangled. Instead of just building the best army possible and going after the opponent, you may need to create certain types of zombies to get through various obstacles. Figuring out the best way to achieve these goals is a large part of the fun, and it becomes even more interesting when missions throw in additional objectives like a crazed werebadger that will annihilate your forces if they stand on soft dirt too long, or perhaps a trailer park full of rednecks that you need to sneak past rather than eradicate.
You only have four core groups to control here, so there are far fewer moving pieces to juggle as the various missions unfold. You’ll almost always be in control of a mobile spawning unit. This bad boy grants you a deeper look into the fog of war that obscures unexplored areas, automatically creates additional units when it’s standing still and even comes with a mounted gun that can dish out quite a bit of damage.
The Square and Circle buttons control their own small zombie hordes, each of which can be specialized after taking over special facilities, like a boxing gym or a dojo. The X button controls your team’s Monster, one of four hulking beasts that come with their own set of unique abilities, which are mapped to the D-pad. This “hero” factor gives Zombie Tycoon II a distinct MOBA flavor, and it fits the gameplay nicely.
While the campaign is all about using your skills and steadily building zombie horde to take over large maps and eradicate the final remnants of humanity, mutliplayer is where that MOBA aspect really stands out. Players choose between the two races of zombies and decide which Monster they’re going to take into battle on symmetrical maps. From there, it’s up to the player to decide how they want to take down the competition. You can go straight after them with limited resources, start taking over houses to build your numbers, eradicate specialty buildings to create a more specialized army, etc. It all seems pretty straightforward at first but, the more I played the multiplayer portion, the more depth I discovered.
Zombie Tycoon II isn’t a huge offering, but there’s certainly enough here to keep you busy with the campaign for a few days (Or even longer, if you’re one of those people who likes to strive for tactical perfection). And despite the limited number of variables, the variety in multiplayer shines through. Your time spent with the game could greatly increase depending on how deep those online hooks sink in.
The game isn’t without its faults. It’s a small gripe, but the lack of touch controls on the Vita version of Zombie Tycoon II was kind of surprising. The length of some of the missions, especially in the later chapters, doesn’t suit the mobile platform too well, either. There’s also the lack of an ad-hoc mode and, if a multiplayer match starts going south, there are few ways I’ve discovered to shake off the setbacks and get my army back in the game. That last one could just be the lack of strategy know-how I was talking about earlier, though.
But if you put those little gripes aside, Zombie Tycoon II is certainly a nifty game. It simplifies the strategy genre without dumbing it down and offers a type of gameplay you can’t really get anywhere else. It’s a nice addition to the PS3 library, but it’s an especially solid fit on the Vita.
Zombie Tycoon II: Brainhov’s Revenge is a notable title in its genre
This review is based on a PSVita copy of the game provided by the publisher
About the Author:
Ryan Winslett is an Arizona-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a contributing writer for Gaming Blend and his work has also appeared on Joystiq, Gamasutra and Joystick Division. His only crime is loving too much.