Reviewed: December 12, 2005
Released: November 15, 2005
Planet Moon is responsible for some of my all-time favorite titles including MDK and Giants on the PC and more recently, Armed & Dangerous on the Xbox. These guys are known for their twisted sense of British-style humor that they manage to incorporate into all of their titles, and the gameplay isn’t half bad either.
So when I heard these guys were working on a blood and guts zombie shooter for the PSP my curiosity peaked. And when I heard that shooter was going to have a heavy multiplayer component that allowed me to “infect” other PSP’s and spread my own custom virus around the world and track those results…well it just got a whole lot better.
Infected hits stores just in time for the holiday shopping season, which just so happens to mirror the game’s storyline that opens with the lighting of the Christmas tree in New York City. As the tree comes alive with lights zombies rush the crowd and the results are most horrific, with people getting ripped limb from limb and eaten alive.
You play as rookie cop, Officer Stevens, on routine patrol that night when the zombie invasion begins and during the attack you get bit, but for some unknown reason the virus doesn’t turn you into a zombie. Not only are you immune, but your blood turns out to be deadly to the swarms of zombies roaming the Big Apple.
The NYC Bio Hazard team discovers your rare talents and puts you in charge of cleaning up the city and ridding New York of the zombie infestation. With a good selection of missions taking place all over the city, a large assortment of weapons, and some explosive toxic plasma coursing through your veins, prepare for a bloodbath of epic proportions. George Romero would be proud.
Infected divides itself into a down and dirty single player game and a more…ahem…fleshed out multiplayer experience. The single player game features 40 missions set against a great storyline with all sorts of Planet Moon-style cutscenes and humor between the missions.
Missions are relatively short, usually 3-8 minutes each, and require you to perform one or more objectives like saving a certain amount of civilians, killing x-many zombies, or going up against a larger boss. Objectives are relatively easy, but the gameplay is quite challenging offering multiple levels of success and rewarding you with bronze, silver, and gold badges as well as cash prizes.
As has become the norm for just about any game these days, there is an upgrade system in place that allows you to spend your hard-earned money on stats like heath and speed and upgrade your ballistic weapons. There is also a secondary menu of experimental technology and special weapons like greandes and chainsaws that you can access as you progress through the story.
Gameplay is deceptively simple yet totally challenging. You run around the levels with the analog pad locking onto targets with the right trigger and changing targets with the left. You then unload countless rounds into the infected citizens with the X button to wear down their resistance then fire off a few rounds of your viral gun with the square button and watch them explode.
The trick is to lure zombies into proximity with other zombies and when you explode them with your viral gun any nearby zombies that come in contact with the flying giblets will instantly turn red and not require you to wear them down with bullets. This is how you score combos and massive points.
Not everyone is a zombie and you will often be required to save innocent non-infected citizens or stranded officers or other military personnel. Zombies will target the uninfected so you will need to continually scan your map for green dots and prioritized your targets making sure to shoot any zombies that are about to eat a civilian.
As more civilians are infected the overall infection level of the area will slowly rise. When there are no more civilians an Outbreak can occur and zombies will invade neighboring zones of the city. If the infestation becomes too great the zone will go into a Berserk mode and zombies will become hungrier and more aggressive. Unless you can reduce their numbers you are looking at a Viral Overload where the entire level goes berserk.
While this simple and straightforward gameplay works well against hordes of zombies it just doesn’t come through in the multiplayer game. Online multiplayer is very impersonal with no lobby or text chat before or after a game. You simply join a game via the GameSpy matchmaking service and you are thrust into two-player battles for a few minutes to see who can score the most kills. The person who does so infects the other person (and their PSP) and they will need to rid their system of your infection by completing some missions or defeating other online gamers. Until they do, your infection will be spread by that player.
Deathmatch games are exceedingly boring since you merely trade off kills based on who has the better weapon at the time. Since you can lock onto a target and they can do the same, there is no way to dodge unless you can put an object between you and them. So versus battles boil down to two characters circling each other unloaded their weapons, often at pointblank range, hoping they have more health and better ammo. The only slight strategy is to prep a zombie by turning him red then luring your opponent nearby and popping the zombie and hope to damage the other player for a quicker finish.
Oddly enough, the "Infect the World" concept will probably keep you playing this rather boring online mode longer than you probably should if for no other reason that to track your progress on the real-time world map that shows your infection and those of the top ranked players. You can get infection counts for each city and country and it’s a cool way to get instant and visual bragging rights.
Where the multiplayer does shine is in the local wireless play with support for up to eight players going at it in a much wider variety of games including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Savior mode where you must race around saving civilians in a bloody game of Hungry Hungry Hippo. Then you have Mad Cow, which puts one player in the role of the cow, and he is hunted by all the other players. You earn points for each second you are the cow and the person who eventually kills you becomes the cow and it all starts over.
The graphics in Infected are off the hook, not only with horrific bloody visuals that are so over-the-top they become funny, but also with the wonderful assortment of cutscenes that range from kiddy shows with hand puppets – no, real talking hands – that are interrupted by new anchors who talk about moms ripping open their kids bellies to eat their intestines.
The rest of the presentation follows the scrambled news coverage of this apocalyptic event with some of the best and irreverent headlines that are sadly quite indicative of today’s media obsession with news…the badder the better. Unfortunately the cutscenes are way too few and far between with a developer like Planet Moon behind the scenes.
The game graphics are most impressive with large chunks of New York City providing the backdrop for your zombie carnage. Many levels are divided into zones that you can access via subway stations, and each area will be full of fresh zombies and petrified civilians. There is plenty of details like cars, helicopters, and detailed buildings.
Character design is simple but with enough detail that you can appreciate the lurching zombies chasing down screaming women, or the giant zombie in the Santa suit that explodes into a skeleton for his final shot. Zombies are highlighted in yellow and turn to red when ready to splat, and there are some really good frag animations with plenty of splashing blood and flying giblets. If you get a cluster combo going you will see the zombies all connected with a ribbon of red energy before the screen erupts in blood and guts. Majesco has finally released a game with more blood than BloodRayne 2.
The soundtrack for Infected is what I like to call “angry rock”, and while I typically don't like this style of music I have to admit it really works for this game. It’s that hard-driving speed metal with a few F-words thrown in to insure that Mature rating (as if the blood and brains weren’t enough). Bands like Ill Nino, Chimaira, Fear Factory, Pimp X, Junkie XL, and Slipknot all lend some licensed music to the mayhem and Slipknot even makes an appearance if you can find the hidden icons.
The voice acting is hysterically funny and quite good actually, and I show the opening movie to anybody who happens to be passing by between missions, more for my ownamusement than theirs. Outside the cutscenes there are some radio briefings that preface most of the missions and even some radio chatter that you can eavesdrop on for several good laughs.
The rest of the game is nothing else but the repetitive sounds of gunfire interspersed with the splat or multiple splats of zombie fatalities; simple, disgusting, and great fun.
The 40 missions that make up the story mode of Infected can be completed in 5-8 hours, although to actually earn gold badges in all those levels might take significantly longer. Those final levels are brutally difficult and will take numerous attempts.
The online play is sadly not nearly as fun as I had hoped, but the good news is there is always somebody out there to play against, even if they do kick your ass. The online deathmatch is so simplistic that skill plays very little into the equation and nobody has a clear advantage. Playing online and losing does extend the life of your single-player experience in that your missions become infected and you have to replay them to rid your PSP of the infection.
The local multiplayer modes are much more fun with great game types and countless hours of entertainment assuming you have friends with their own PSP and copies of the game. I can only imagine how much more fun this game would have been if these modes had made it online.
Infected is one of those concepts that is so simple and well executed that it just had to succeed. But just in case, Planet Moon packed in a humorous story and more blood than any handheld game has ever scene.
The controls are great, the action is intense, and the challenge is continually evolving to test your skills and abilities. The relatively short missions are served in bite-sized chunks perfect for handheld gaming. This might not be the best PSP game available, but it certainly is the most addicting.