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Boxhead – The Zombie Wars

Poor old zombies, there doesn’t appear to be a game out there at the moment that doesn’t invite us to gleefully detach their innards with an assortment of artillery. If there was a ZAS (Zombies Against Stereotypes) organisation then they’d have ample evidence in regards to their victimisation in video games. But as they don’t exist, get me my shotgun from the car boot – its butchery time on my watch.

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Taking charge of the game’s star, a John Rambo doppelganger that’s controlled via an on-screen analogue stick and fire button, you’ve got to survive endless waves of the departed that want to slap you to death. No gnawing or chomping this time, these walking dead and their spooky friends are up for a brawl. Along with the zombies are mummies, ghosts in Elvira cosplay and even fire-breathing devils. The title itself comes from the cubed, stylised appearance of the game’s models.

Set over six arenas, the arcade gameplay entails racking up as many points as feasible before you’re overwhelmed and clobbered to the ground. Entering the game on Casual will start you at the beginning, with other difficulties letting you leap straight into the later waves.

Within seconds, a legion of Satan’s army march towards you. Setting up defensive turrets and barricades, you need to be quick witted to escape the murderous hordes. Destroy them all and the next wave begins, and so on, the occasional cadaver leaving behind a box of loot to replenish your military hardware.

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To assist in sending these corpses back to their final resting place – ultimately entering hell itself to dispatch them to oblivion – you’re armed to the red bandana with weaponry and defensive tactics. There’s a pistol, shotgun, uzi and minigun, as well as explosive barrels, barricades, grenades and more. Touching the weapon icon produces a selection screen that mercifully halts the game in the process, giving you a breather to choose your weapon. Ploughing through the hordes of hell, unloading shell after shell of buckshot is gratifying.

Boxhead’s foremost issue is evident soon after the game loads – there is no music; none, nothing. It’s completely silent, and this wouldn’t be as bad if it let you listen to your own soundtrack, which it’ll irksomely fade out once the producer’s theme and logo loads. And then it’s back to the acoustic void. The world and its inhabitants create no noise either – bar the roar of the devils – and the only sounds churned out are from the guns. While they’re not harsh on the ears, it does nothing to elevate the complete absence of atmosphere.

Apart from the dollop of red that splats on the floor with every kill, Boxhead is distinctly light on gore. The cubed aesthetic provides an opportunity to be playful with cartoon violence. Instead, the undead wave their arms to act flabbergasted when shot, and in death plummet to the ground in a rather unspectacular fashion. Same with your character – it’s tricky to tell when you’re receiving damage in the heat of battle, especially when the screen is flooded with the undead buggers.

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The lack of an aural indication of damage can cause it to be difficult to distinguish if you’re hitting something, or being trounced yourself. And the missing impact or visible bullets adds further to this issue, making combat more cumbersome than it should be. That doesn’t purport that the game isn’t fun, as the core gameplay is addictive in short bursts as you frantically arrange defences and sprint around the arena blasting everything to kingdom come. When it becomes hectic there is also a faint hint of Gauntlet to the proceedings.

But by incorporating simple sound effects for all characters, tiny pixels of blood when shooting a zombie and a clear line of fire (red-dot sight, for example) it’d be less confusing. There’s also an issue with hit detection, in particular with scenery and placed defensive items. When trying to secure a gun torrent or lay a barricade, it doesn’t highlight where it’ll be placed.

So at times you’ll try placing a turret a few times until it fits, and then it might drop behind you, or into an adjacent place. Walking against these objects can cause movement to become choppy and clumsy, as if the firm grassland has turned into a swamp. A little wiggle resolves the glitched movement, but it does happen often.

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With no atmosphere or end goal this suffers from a lack of depth or progress. Add the inability to save your current game, and it becomes a whirl through the same scenario. None of this breaks the game, however, but a combination of no soundtrack, minimal sound effects and some odd collision detection does hinder it, eliminating some of the potential. Even with these faults it’s a fun game. The sort IT helpdesk technicians are no doubt playing instead of paying attention to your phone calls.

5 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

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