An interesting idea is picked apart during a frustrating campaign leaving a basic, dull RTS underneath.

Developer Frima Studio
Publisher Frima Studio
Franchise Zombie Tycoon
Genre Builder; Strategy
PSTV Yes
Physical English No

 

World-building & Story

Set in the city of Finkleville, Zombie Tycoon 2 – as the title suggests – follows the events of the first game as Archibald Brainhov attempts to get his revenge on the assistant who betrayed him, Orville Tycoon. This has led to the two raising huge armies of undead and duking it out for supremacy using the formula that Brainhov developed – although in predictably farcical fashion.

2018-12-03-193113Oddly, the game’s plot does rely somewhat heavily on its predecessor which was a rather obscure PSP Mini, meaning that diving straight in here can be somewhat confusing. The campaign missions flip between Brainhov and Tycoon and you’ll often see events from both of their perspectives which is an interesting way to deliver the story, although sadly what little there is here is not particularly engaging.

See, everything is presented in an exaggerated Saturday morning cartoon-esque manner, complete with cutscenes that feature the characters making noises rather than talking (there’s absolutely no dialogue in the game). It means things can be a little bit difficult to interpret and also that there’s no real depth to anything either – it’s basically comedic zombie hijinks in game form which is fine, but not especially what I was expecting and a little bit of a missed opportunity given that there is a pretty interesting setting here.

2018-12-23-121517At least the world building is much better – Finkleville feels like a place ravaged by an undead outbreak and there’s codex entries for pretty much every building, monster and unit meaning you can spend some time reading up about what happened and who everyone is if you wish.

 

Presentation & Sound

With colourful graphics and exaggerated character designs, Zombie Tycoon 2 makes a solid first impression – but technical problems (likely due to Vita’s compatibility issues with Unreal Engine) mean that the package isn’t as solid as it first appears.

2018-12-03-193419I have to give it to the character designers – there’s an amusing cast here. Brainhov is a shambling blue-coloured zombie who tends to jerk around erratically while he walks, while Orville Tycoon is a memorable lead with his white lab coat and gas mask permanently affixed to his face. The way he exaggeratedly gestures to order his army around, which includes things like Samurai zombies and great green slimes on wheels is pitched perfectly, giving the game a very cartoon-y feel.

Elsewhere, presentation is in a traditional isometric viewpoint as you command your troops around the battlefield. Each area is littered with basic 3D buildings that don’t look particularly fantastic, but as previously mentioned the areas here are usually filled with colour (helped by the fact that Brainhov’s army is blue and Tycoon’s is green), which at least makes them feel a bit more vibrant (there were a few nice sunsets which bathed the screen in oranges and purples, a palette which I always find works particularly well).

2018-12-23-121435The problem is Zombie Tycoon’s performance – it’s not terrible by any means, but it stutters regularly in cutscenes and transitions as well as revealing some horrible grey outlines on the outskirts of each area when panning around at the start. There’s also some fairly lengthy load times thrown in for good measure  and while none of this really causes any problems individually, combined make the game a bit of a pain to play (and I usually have a high tolerance for this stuff – see Jak & Daxter).

Sound is nothing special – zombies moan and splutter as they drag themselves across the map while Tycoon screeches from inside his gas mask. There is music, but I couldn’t really tell you much more about it than that – showing how not memorable it is!

 

Gameplay & Content

Simplifying real-time strategy gameplay to its absolute basics, Zombie Tycoon 2 is full of brilliant ideas but fails to capitalise on any of them, leaving a frustrating final product that feels like a massive missed opportunity.

2018-12-24-192858Instead of allowing you to build vases and spawn tonnes of units, Brainhov’s Revenge is tailored around a controller – namely you have one squad of units assigned to square and another on circle, with a powerful monster on x and your faction leader on triangle. You move around the map with the analogue stick and order your units with the corresponding face button, which is an intuitive system which works well – but you can’t really gain any more troops than this (with a minor exception which I’ll explain below).

The game does include some neat ideas of its own – for example, your leader will move around in a vehicle called a ‘mobile spawner’ which basically replenishes your squads when they’re in range and also acts as a stationary turret that can defend itself in a pinch. The monster on x will be your strongest unit and has a number of special skills you can trigger with the d-pad adding an extra layer to encounters – it’s definitely more Command and Conquer 4 than Tiberian Sun, but it works.

2018-12-24-112910There is somewhat of an element of base building thanks to the houses and other structures you come across, which can be attacked and captured. Houses award you roaming zombies which will defend their local area, but can also be ordered to do a ‘dead rush’ which basically allows you to swarm an area for a short time (however, you’ll have no real control over this besides the initial order – after this they just run wherever they want). Other buildings, such as hardware stores, can be used to upgrade your squad zombies into things like engineers that can fix bridges or decontamination units that clean up toxic waste, and working out what to do within a mission is part of the challenge. It’s a lot more MOBA than traditional RTS, but it works… for the first mission.

See the biggest problem in Zombie Tycoon 2 is that the mission design starts off strong and then just descends into absolute nonsense, making the single player an absolute slog to play. You’ll start off controlling a decent team and getting the basics of the game and will be challenged without it being stupid, but then the team at Frima Studio decide to ramp up the difficult and throw a load of gimmicks at you, which turns the title from enjoyable to frustrating and really missed the point of what makes it great early on.

2018-12-24-184854Take for example the boss battle with Bearhug. I was interested to see how the game would handle bosses and it’s in traditional style (enclosed arena, pattern recognition) except with the RTS base it’s just not fun. You have to guide your unit through a maze of bear traps until you get a momentary chance to strike and while it’s a decent idea, I didn’t have fun for a second of it (the hitboxes on the traps are incredibly unforgiving and the whole thing feels tedious), making me wonder what the point of including it was.

Zombie Tycoon 2 then follows this up with a stealth mission (which is as terrible as I’m sure you can imagine) and tops it all off with chapter 7, which pits you against numerous other factions including the police and some ultra-powerful rednecks in one of the most challenging sections I’ve come across. If this was a standard RTS I’d probably have a brilliant time trying to defend my forces on all fronts, but with the lack of options available here my patience was stretched to the limit (I just could not gain a proper handle on the battle) and I ended up giving up on the title completely.

2018-12-25-024109There is a multiplayer mode here (which was still online but completely dead when I tried), although I did manage to get a match going with a friend which was moderate fun as the two factions’ different abilities really came to light (Brainhov has fast but weak zombies while Tycoon has fewer but stronger ones). I couldn’t see it hooking me for long, but at least it’s there and felt somewhat comparable to Vita’s only other MOBA Invoker’s Tournament.

Something that’s missing altogether is an offline skirmish mode (with randomly generated maps) – which I always look for in games of this genre as it adds immensely to the replayability for me (I must have spent over 200 hours on Red Alert 3). Without this you’ve just got a brief and frustrating campaign and an un-populated online, leaving the game with little to offer.

2018-12-24-190846I had high hopes that Zombie Tycoon 2 would fill the RTS-shaped hole in Vita’s library and despite plenty of neat ideas, nearly all of them are executed poorly leaving a package I really can’t recommend unless you’re desperate for something a bit different.

 

Conclusion

While Zombie Tycoon 2 delivers a competent RTS base that feels built around Vita’s hardware and offers fleeting moments of brilliance throughout its campaign, the vast majority is a frustrating slog that feels determined to suck the fun out of the gameplay base. An absent story and some technical issues just serve to further disappoint – not a complete disaster, but definitely not recommended.

4.5/10 

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