Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler's Green (Video Game)
Devolped by Groove Games
Published by Brainbox Games
Road to Fiddler's Green has always been a bit of a strange title. Coming seemingly out of nowhere a couple of months ago, we were promised a budget FPS title in the spirit of George A. Romero's latest film, the brilliant Land of the Dead.
Given the very short notice, and the budget price point, my expectations were a little tempered, but ultimately the game's biggest failings are in it's somewhat mysterious origins.
To cut a long story short, Fiddler's Green began as a different zombie title, one that Universal liked enough to license Land of the Dead to Brainbox and Groove Games. At best, the end result feels like something from Romero’s work. At worse feels like a stitched together Frankenstein’s monster of a game.
Its biggest failing though, is how it treats its zombies.
Romero’s movies are not open to interpretation when it comes to the mechanics of their monsters. Even though how and why the dead are coming back to life is debated, there’s no debating how you go about making them permanently dead: You destroy the brain. It’s the only way. No questions, no exceptions.
Selling a videogame on this license, and stumbling at the very first zombie encounter is something the game never recovers from, because you see, here zombies can take numerous shots to the head before they die. Here zombies can seemingly bleed to death after having their legs shot off.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with such things in essence, it’s just a complete mishandling of the source material that shows a lack of confidence in the rules of the universe it’s supposed to be based on.
Personally, I wasn’t expecting this game to be the best game I’d ever play, but I was hoping it would remind me of the film.
I was expecting the graphics to look a little dated, which they do, mostly in the geometry of the environments your exploring. The zombies look nice, and animate, or if you like re-animate, well. Strange crawling zombies are the sort of liberty with the source material I appreciate. Heck, I don’t even greatly mind that you can survive zombie bites and no one else can, or the toxic vomit spewing ghouls.
The level design varies from mundane to inspired, sadly generally staying nearer the mundane end, but there is some imagination here. The cornfields of the early levels are very atmospheric and unfortunately really the highpoint, though the last couple of levels do nicely evoke some of the locations from its big screen cousin, sadly they come too late to offer much reconciliation.
So what the game basically offers is a dated, arcade oriented experience. You’ll occasionally be sent key hunting, or tasked with escorting another survivor you run into, but generally it’s just walking onwards through a trickle flow of the undead.
There just doesn’t seem to be enough zombies. Perhaps it’s the CGI movies you regularly see while playing the game that often show greater numbers, perhaps it’s the cinematic reference piece, or perhaps it’s that footage of Dead Rising that keeps looking better and better. Regardless, you never really feel overwhelmed, and it’s a feeling that a game like this needs.
It’s not that you’re over armed. The first few guns you run into are actually disturbingly useless. The melee weapons are nice, but basically once you find an axe, you’ll never trade it for anything else, which is a shame too, as it robs the game of a potential strategic element. You’ll switch from guns to melee to conserve or restock on ammo quite regularly, but it makes you all too aware of the twitchy hit detection.
Like games from yesteryears, you can’t shoot over a zombies shoulder as the bullet with hit the zombie in front. When a more threatening zombie is behind a less threatening one this gets to be rather annoying.
Also, there’s little indication as to how strong any given zombie is, or how many shots to the head it will take. A helmeted zombie could take half the number of head shots that the unarmed zombie stood next to it takes. Zombies carrying weapons are magically stronger for no given reason.
At least the zombies act like zombies. They can be amusingly stupid at times too, not to the detriment of the game. They’ll break down open doors for example. For the most part they just amble towards you moaning, but they’ll occasionally make a sudden lunge towards you, which might seem unzombielike but is in keeping with what you see zombies doing in the movies.
There is a story of sorts, which is one of the things I most enjoyed about the game mainly because it’s so understated. You’re just an every-man caught in the middle of a zombie holocaust trying to find a safe place to stay, and some other survivors to join up with. The journey takes him through back streets, sewers, hospitals and police stations; all those kind of urban environments you see in zombie movies, but they just ring kind of hollow. You can turn on radios for updates which are definitely effective, and a lot of the items in the world are searchable, but it does mean you’ll spend a rather long time opening cupboards and filing cabinets.
The voice acting of your main character is good, but there’s basically only him and his friend Otis that you’ll hear talking. You’ll talk to other people, but you won’t hear them. Your character will narrate the gist of the conversation instead and it’s rather annoying.
Guns don’t have quite enough punch, and the music gets pretty repetitive, but the star of the sound effects is without a doubt the noises the melee weapons make, which sound just like I’d expect them to; loud, painful and disturbing. A great job done there.
The single player game isn’t all that long, which is fair enough for a budget game, so it’s worth mentioning the multiplayer, which offers a few deathmatch and capture the flag maps, spiced up by the facts there are also zombies roaming the levels as well as other humans. The mode with the most maps is "Invasion", which sees humans fighting waves of computer controlled zombies.
This was probably the most fun I had with the game... again it’s not particularly deep, but it is more fun to fight zombies with a friend than by yourself.
What is disappointing is that none of these levels have been based on locations from the films, another real missed opportunity.
The PC version offers more players than the XBox version, and from what I’ve heard that isn’t the only place the XBox version loses out. For the extra $10 the XBox version costs you get a game that’s much buggier and often crashes, problems I never once experienced with the PC version.
While intrigued PC owners may look at the $20 price tag and consider taking the game for a spin, especially those with older PCs that can’t run new games like F.E.A.R., XBox owners should definitely steer clear. You can definitely take off a mug of blood for the XBox version, but the PC version deserves it’s rather mediocre score.
The biggest problem is what it could have been with a few little tweaks. A fun arcadey game with the Romero universe rules... Instead we get a mediocre zombie shooter trying to pretend it’s something it isn’t.
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