ZR: Zombie Riot Review
By Bobby Murray
Developer: PlaySide Studios
Platform: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift
Genre: Shooter, Action
ZR: Zombie Riot is a casual, first-person shooter that shows a craft in not taking itself too seriously and delivers a game that requires some skill while still making it easy to feel like a badass apocalypse warrior. The game thrives when players face off against the undead while dual wielding pistols, and with unlimited ammo, players aren’t penalized for taking risks and getting creative with their shooting styles. With hints of a Borderlands stylistic influence, the game’s cartoony graphics and fonts contribute to the overall campy and enjoyable experience.By all accounts, ZR should have been a miserable experience. For the most part, the zombie genre is dead-dead (not just undead), and the game is a first-person gallery shooter – a run of the mill VR game type. While undoubtedly familiar, PlaySide Studios was able to produce a title that actually feels like a game rather than just dumping another generic zombie shooter on Steam (of which there are hundreds) that happened to be in VR.
What sets ZR apart is its attention to detail. Before the first lime-green, jack-o'-lantern zombie makes its appearance by crashing through the windshield of an errant ice cream truck, the player awakens in a garage with a disembodied voice yelling at them to pick up an earpiece sitting on the table next to them. It’s a brief introduction to the game’s loose narrative, but more importantly, it sets up the weapon switching mechanic. In addition to a pair of pistols, which are holstered at your hip, every level offers a different bonus weapon, be it a machine gun or a fire axe, which you can pick up from the environment around you.ZR also makes full use of its environments. Thankfully, the game doesn’t make you too disoriented by having zombies creep up behind you, but upstairs rooms, storm grates and corners just out of sight are all fair game. Additionally, in levels where you’re tasked with defending a turkey roasting on a grill, zombies may try to devour a drumstick, or they might decide to try some fresher meat and go after the player. The result is a dynamic gallery shooter which you actually feel a part of. The immersion is particularly amplified whenever a tank zombie comes barreling toward you. Seemingly standing 10 ft tall and about 8 ft wide, it’s hard to miss whenever a behemoth decides to join in on the fun.
The biggest knock against ZR is how it controls. Playing on the Oculus Rift, powerful two-handed weapons are difficult to aim. The pump shotgun, a classic gun for any zombie game, starts to point down at the ground as soon as you grab it with the second controller. Meanwhile, one sniping level brought the game’s intensity and gameplay to a screeching halt. Whereas the player is typically on eye level with the undead, in this section, the game places you well out of harm's way and arms you with a gun whose scope is a genuine nightmare to play with. Audio can also cut out time to time. Granted, the soundtrack is nothing special, but pure silence interrupted only by some beleaguered groaning would be tad-bit unsettling if it wasn’t so unintentionally funny.The game also features a horde mode with easy, medium and hard difficulties. It visits the same locations as the story mode, although players now have limited ammunition and can purchase weapons through a store. Players earn money by killing zombies and performing headshots. Endless Mode features much more variety with enemy types, and with some of the undead sprinting, it’s easy to go from in-control to overwhelmed in just a few seconds, an effective strategy for keeping players on their toes.
The Bottom Line
ZR: Zombie Riot sets out to create a light, fun and immersive shooter, and it accomplishes exactly that. The game won’t blow you away, and it often achieves the bare minimum, especially with the story mode. In addition to fixing the obvious controller issues with the Oculus Rift, it would have been nice to see a bit more consistent humor. Despite the cartoon setting, I routinely forgot the game was trying to be funny. After dying, you may see a zombie riding a tricycle, but in-game there’s hardly anything of note, and the companion talking in your earpiece is only there for some brief exposition. Nevertheless, killing a zombie with a headshot using a gun called the “Hellfish” while aiming behind your back in VR is pretty darn cool, and this game gives you plenty of chances to mow down zombies however you see fit.Story: 2/5: The story is bare bones, and only serves to get the character from point A to point B. Nonetheless, it adds some cohesiveness to the gameplay, avoiding the trap of just dropping players in random environments and telling them to shoot.
Visuals: 5/5: Capturing a quirky, cartoon style, ZR: Zombie Riot is a stand out visually. From the detailed weapon design, eerie night time settings and glowing zombies, stepping into the world of ZR is an absolute delight.
Playability: 3.5/5: The game controls well for the most part, and excels in dual wield pistol play. However, gameplay struggles when using melee weapons and guns such as the shotgun, which requires two hands to use.
User interface: 3.5/5: Players have access to a small arsenal of weaponry during levels, and switching between guns, in most cases, is a straightforward process. However, some levels can glitch, and after putting down a weapon, it might permanently fall out of reach.
Replay Value: 4/5: While you may leave a game session feeling frustrated, given enough time, it’s easy for your rage to give way to confidence that you’ll be able to fend off the undead for a little bit longer next time.
Overall Score: 3.5/5