Undead Empire: Hellfire review
- Straightforward fun
- Great game for multiplayer sessions, especially parties around one console
- Cheap, and good amounts of fun for the price
Not so much?
- Graphically functional, but no more than that
- Occasional - though very occasional - bugs
- Small playerbase means a lack of random public games to join online
At its heart, Undead Empire: Hellfire is a good game. Quite how long the appeal of the game would last in single player is uncertain – fun for a while certainly – but should provide longer term fun with friends, especially going for an old-school gaming session jostling for controllers in front of the same TV. Does the game provide you enough fun to be worth 80 Microsoft points? That it certainly does.
It was only the other day that I was looking at 2013′s release schedule and feeling underwhelmed. So with nothing big on the horizon, it seems it’s the indie developers we should be keeping our eye on… cue Undead Empire: Hellfire, stepping forward at just the right time.
Big Rook Games‘ sequel to their earlier Undead Empire, Undead Empire: Hellfire is a twin-stick shooter with more than a feel of Smash TV about it – that is, keep moving, keep yourself alive and leave a long, bloody trail on route.
The enemies you’re blasting away at come in a variety of shapes and sizes – the majority being shuffling zombies lining up to be shot, with later distinct ones beginning to vomit shots back at you, and various monstrous animals such as fast moving crows, leaping attack dogs, and… erm… flesh-eating moose. For the record, that isn’t a sentence I ever saw myself writing before playing this game.
The items in question are random drops from killed monsters. Predominantly this is money to spend in the shop between stages – no apocalypse scenario is so terrible that someone, somewhere can’t profit from it, right? – but the drops also include ammunition for the various types of weapon. Ammunition for all weapons except the pistol is limited, and the pistol itself only ranks slightly above bad language in its ability to cause damage. If, like me, you occasionally start a new stage forgetting to buy more ammunition for your actual weapons you will find yourself doing a direct test against such language.
… unless of course unlimited ammunition appeals, which is where the survival mode comes into its own. Unlike the main game mode which gives you a health bar and five lives, survival mode is a one-hit-to-die, one-life game against an unending wave of zombies but starts you with an upgraded version of your character’s main weapon and infinite ammo. The odds are definitely in favour of the mobs, but doing your best to hold on for a decent score on the global leaderboard is appealing.
There are six characters to choose from, each with a special skill, and the game supports up to four players simultaneously, either on one console or via Xbox Live. Keeping players all on the same screen is handled imaginatively – instead of screen edges becoming solid obstacles, the game field scales, zooming out to display more of the arena.
On the whole, the game is quite well balanced – provided you have enough ammo on you, which fast firing weapons will eat through in no time – although an upgraded shotgun will consume ammo far slower than the others while also creating a 60° cone of death in front of you.
There are a few downsides to the game however. Presentation is perhaps one of the key areas that might seem to let the game down. Visually, the game’s graphics are functional but not outstanding – you won’t be confusing dangerous and harmless objects, for example, but nothing stands out as stunning.
Music is a touch idiosyncratic too – the title screen and in-game tunes sounding almost like retro console pieces, and importantly are not anything that will irritate after hearing them for extended periods of time; but when viewing the global leaderboards or credits you are hit with alt rock. Not a major complaint, and indeed not even bad rock perhaps, but coming as a sudden change and perhaps not fitting the game’s style and theme.
There are also a few little bugs – “little” being things such as how the schoolgirl character doesn’t get any points in survival mode for some reason, regardless of how many kills are made. Also as enemies are solid objects, a necessity of the game mechanics – you can get crowded and have you push your way through a crowd, and the zombies will press against each other in large mobs but never overlap – they occasionally seem to “force” each other through solid covering objects. However, with these points made, bugs and glitches do seem to be few and far between.
Now, we’ve always told ourselves that a good game is a good game, regardless of how it looks. If it plays well, it’s a good game – think how many technically outdated retro titles survive today thanks to that thinking. And at its heart, Undead Empire: Hellfire is a good game. Quite how long the appeal of the game would last in single player is uncertain – fun for a while certainly – but should provide longer term fun with friends, especially going for an old-school gaming session jostling for controllers in front of the same TV. The mechanics of it may bring to mind Smash TV or Robotron, but in multiplayer it has more in spirit with the chaos of multiplayer Gauntlet.
And presentation issues aside, there is only one question that matters – does the game provide you enough fun to be worth 80 Microsoft points (UK£0.68, US$1.00)? That it certainly does.
Undead Empire: Hellfire is now available on the Xbox Live Indie marketplace