The territory of zombies and survival horror has been traversed numerous times by developers in search of an easy way to make the gamers wet themselves. Some of these games are more psychological and subliminal, like Silent Hill, and some are simple shock horrors, like Resident Evil. And yet, despite the plethora of zombified games available, we keep inexplicably returning to it. Recently, some developers, like in Stubbs The Zombie, have been taking a lighthearted look at this gaming niche, utilizing the inherent cultural desensitizing of zombification by its predecessors to combine a sharp comedic edge with enough action to make Serious Sam blush. Such is the case in Infected, Majesco’s most recent game for the PSP. The multiplayer aspect has been the selling point for this game, but how well does it hold up as a whole?
The story of Infected is standard zombie fare with a twist. It takes place in New York City prior to Christmas, as a vicious new strain of Mad Cow disease sweeps through the city, turning people into flesh-hungry zombies. As a new officer in the NYPD, you are sent out to deal with the threat, when you are infected yourself. However, you have developed an immunity to the virus; not only is your immunity protecting you from the virus, but it is so potent that your blood, when it comes in contact with infected blood, will cause the blood to boil and the zombie to explode into meaty chunks. You are given a Viral Gun, a gun hooked up to one of your veins that shoots blood-filled bullets. But it isn’t as easy as simply firing your gun at everything that moves; that is an honor left to your normal weapons, which are used to soften up a zombie before the blood bullet can penetrate the skin and blow the zombie up. As you are dispatched to each section of NYC for a mission, Dr. Schaeffer, the man who is researching the infected, and the commissioner give you briefings.
This portion of the game brings to light one of the best parts of the game: The wicked sense of humor. Rarely can a game make you chuckle, let alone laugh out loud, but the dialogue and cut-scenes in the game are hilarious. The briefings themselves are done only with text and speech, but the commissioner’s comments are almost always uproarious, usually showcasing his unrelenting stupidity or misfortune, such as memories of being locked in a cellar and eating feces for three months or setting off a sleeping gas grenade in the middle of the war room, with Dr. Schaeffer almost always being the victim and/or voice of reason amidst the raucous. Other times, there are full cut-scenes including the local news anchor giving broadcasts in which something goes awry, such as giving a gory account of the bloody fracas erupting throughout the city, not realizing that the broadcast is interrupting a children’s show. Even the mission descriptions are funny, often showcasing logical inconsistencies in the story with blatant acceptance, or poking fun at the game characters (for instance, a mission in Greenwich Village begs you to save the poets and interior decorators).
The game is simple at its core, yet complex in mastery. You start off by choosing your name (which is displayed as your nickname, as your character is Officer Stevens for consistency) and one of four avatars, which you can customize. You are then dispatched to different sections of New York, such as Greenwich Village, Times Square, Chinatown, Central Park, or other such familiar locales, each with its own terrain and layout. You are then given a mission objective. The types of missions vary from goal to goal. Some of them simply require you to wipe out the infected within a time limit, and other may have you rescuing civilians and delivering them to airlifts, or protecting isolated officers, though neither of these missions are anywhere near as tedious as they sound. All the while, you are also responsible for not letting too many infected spawn.
The actual gameplay has you in any of the maps with a certain number of civilians, infected, or both. The infected can permeate the city by emerging from manholes or actively infecting civilians, turning them into zombies. Different zombies may also appear, such as a large zombie with a tough exterior and animated skeleton, or a resilient Santa zombie that can take more punishment than normal zombies. As you run around wearing down zombies with your normal gun, it slowly upgrades depending on how many new guns you’ve bought. For instance, if you purchase the level one shotgun, for the rest of the game, when you’ve fired and killed enough zombies with your guns, the pistol will upgrade to the shotgun and stay as such so long as you keep killing zombies, but will turn back into the pistol if you aren’t killing enough. When you wear down a zombie enough, it will glow red, signifying that a viral shot will blow it up. If the zombie is near other zombies, the explosion will turn the surrounding zombies red, but if they are already red, a glowing rope will connect them, meaning that a viral shot to one will explode those that it is connected to, creating chain combos that help you get to the higher-tier weapons faster and score more points. With these mechanics in mind, you progress through different zones in the area, using a handy satellite map to make sure that you’ve cleared it out. Be careful, though – Should you ignore a zone for too long, a timer will appear and show you how long until the infected therein go berserk, making them stronger, faster, and tougher to kill.
As you go through the missions, you can do alternate objectives that score you medals. For instance, on a certain mission, saving 5 civilians can net you a bronze medal, but saving 15 civilians will get you a gold. With higher medals come unlockable items, avatars, and boatloads of cash. You can use cash to purchase new weapons or upgrades, and once you purchase them, they will be available to you in game. For instance, you can purchase the machine gun, and then you can build up to it in the game by killing enough infected so as to surpass the pistol and shotgun. You can also upgrade it for higher damage, or buy a higher-tier weapon. You can also upgrade your character by giving him more speed or health, and you unlock items that can be dropped by infected and used at a whim, such as grenades, shields, or even the highly entertaining viral chainsaw. Additionally, once you unlock avatars, you can use cash to buy them. The avatars range from customizable civilians to the members of Slipknot, or even to Majesco’s mascot, Bloodrayne.
When playing the game, it becomes clear that the emphasis is on absolute mayhem. Gutbucket rock blasts in the background as you go around saving civilians by picking them up like items (no escorts, thankfully), and you absolutely destroy everything in sight. Once you work your way up to the bazooka or BMFG, the city becomes you playground as you rack up incredible combos, including aerial combos that result in combo names like “Aerial Brain Rain” or ground combos such as “Meaty Chunks”, or some other gruesome names. The eruptions of blood and rocket blasts with the screen shaking and blaring rock create an engrossing and fun atmosphere, where destruction is the name of the game and the experience is a blood-soaked orgy of carnage and insanity that delivers one of the most visceral gameplay experiences on any console to date. It seems that the folks at Majesco were trying to channel the spirit of games such as Burnout or Black, where caution is thrown to the wind and the action reeks of testosterone and hard liquor. It is nothing short of absolutely enthralling.
The only problem with the game is that aside from the multiplayer, the game is short. Really short. If you are good at it, you can burn through with all gold medals in a matter of hours. At this point, if you have no way to play multiplayer, the game becomes stagnant and not that fun to play. If you do have multiplayer, though, it’s a keeper. Oh, and loading times are minimal.
As a shooter, it is rather obvious that this kind of game would have trouble on a system with a single analog stick. Thankfully, the developer has found a way to overcome this impediment by implementing a Doom-esque control layout. This means that vertical aiming has been eliminated, save for locking on to the infected when they are flying through the air courtesy of a rocket blast. This loss is actually an incredible gain for the game, seeing as how it streamlines your efficiency regarding movement, and the waist-up 3rd person view works with this control scheme quite nicely. The analog nub is used for turning and moving forwards and backwards, much like in the old Turok games, while strafing is accomplished by moving the nub left and right only when the right trigger is depressed, which also acts as lock-on, so circle-strafing is easy. The lock-on is like butter, allowing you to lock on effectively and smoothly to whomever you would like to have his ass handed to him, and transitioning between targets is equally effective thanks to the left trigger being used for swapping between victims. Aside from that, left and right on the d-pad are used to switch between available weapons, while down performs 180 degree turns, which is a valuable maneuver given the turn speed. The X button fires your current weapon, and the square button fires your viral gun, which can also be charged up for larger splatters. Triangle equips whatever weapons you may have picked up, such as grenades, and the circle button gives you a speed boost, though it uses up stamina. All in all, the controls actually work quite well on the system, so much so that the inclusion of vertical and horizontal aiming, even with two analog sticks, might have been worse than this. It’s hard to aim when the game gets as frantic as it does, so this stripped down, simple style was probably the best scheme they could have implemented.
Graphically, Infected is a cut above, but by no means remarkable. Every single avatar is modeled with great detail, and the options are endless given all of the body types. If you want to make an emo punk girl, a hippie, a clown, a biker, a secret agent, or even something resembling a member of S.T.A.R.S. (for all you RE fans out there), go right ahead. The inclusion of the Slipknot members and Chimaira are also nice touches, and being able to play as Bloodrayne is some great fan service. Each of the infected is also detailed quite well, though some more variety would have been nice. The cities themselves are open and expansive, using small subway tunnels to transfer between sections. Each specific location has a distinctive feel to it, though landmarks are nonexistent, and some textures could be better. The presentation, though, as well as the special effects such as exploding zombies and blood splatter, is magnificent. Not the best by far, but still very good, more so than many other titles for the PSP.
If you like heavy metal, this is the game for you… But if not, prepare to mute the game. The soundtrack on Infected features the likes of Slipknot, Chimaira, Trivium, Fear Factory, The Agony Scene, and other musicians dedicated to intense rock. The music still serves its purpose in that is accompanies the onscreen action perfectly. The quality is also exquisite, even through all the explosions and sound effects. You can even use it as a makeshift MP3 playlist by going to the soundtrack menu. Some of the songs sound similar given their nature, so if you want to mix it up during gameplay, you can go to the soundtrack menu and set songs to play in the menus, in the actual game, both, or none. The game even comes with music videos for The Agony Scene, Trivium, and Chimaira if you get interested in them, or if you are already a fan. Overall, great quality, great playlist, but a little more variety would be a plus.
Multiplayer is the most important aspect of this game, and it is also the major selling point. When playing over a local ad-hoc connection, you can play in a variety of fun matches, including standard blow-everything-up games, or even unique games such as Mad Cow, a version of It where the person who is It is a giant cow. Ad-hoc offers up to eight players at once, but the real meat of multiplayer is the genius one-on-one infrastructure mode.
When you play online, you get into a one-on-one showdown with another player. The game proceeds as normal until someone emerges as the victor, at which point he “infects” the other player with his virus. When a player is infected, the other person’s avatar appears in his game, and the only way to disinfect it is to defeat the infection in the three highest-tier single player missions, or to infect three other people (when you play online while you are infected, you play as the avatar that infected you). It’s fun and all, but you can also access a map that shows you where in the world you infection has been, and there’s no better feeling than turning on your PSP and seeing that some sucker in Bahrain has your virus. As you virus saturates a single area, the dot that shows you virus’ destination grows larger and larger.
Concept aside, the online multiplayer is entertaining, but as we all know, a multiplayer game is only as good as its community, and this is where the multiplayer falters. Good times are to be had online, but during multiplayer, I noticed that a sizeable chunk of my adversaries would simply drop out of the game if they were losing. This can be a minor nuisance or extremely frustrating depending on the battle, but oftentimes it is quite disappointing. But for those who stay on and play, it’s a blast. It also has the standard online leader boards and such, and tracking your virus is almost as fun as spreading it. If you are a multiplayer enthusiast with a PSP, you will thank yourself for buying this game.
What can you say about a game that bleeds action out of every pore? For a game this entertaining and excruciatingly funny, one would never expect it to be as deep as it is. Cheap thrills abound in mindless slaughter, but dedicated players can always be looking for the next biggest combo or where to infect next. If it weren’t for the single player length, I would proudly proclaim Infected as the PSP’s killer app, but for anyone with a wireless internet connection, you owe it to yourself to take infected for a spin. It will… Dare I say… Infect you! Ha! I’m so damn funny. But seriously, it’s one of the best games on the PSP, a better shooter than even Coded Arms or Battlefront II. Fun is to be had here.
Playing Hints and Tips
- Buy upgrades before you buy avatars. Upgrades mean better scores, which means more money, which means more avatars.
- When trying to protect people, clear out their immediate zone and move outwards on a rampage.
- To get high combos, soften up as many infected as you can without using the viral gun, lure them all together, and splatter away.
- To get the Slipknot and Chimaira avatars, kill a zombie near a Slipknot or Chimaira sign and grab the token they drop.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Not a true feat of the PSP’s power, but it is still very good as far as presentation and character models.
Some extra variety would have been nice, but you can toggle the music, and the sound quality is excellent. Is compliments the gameplay to a T.
Pure pandemonium is the only way to describe the game. It is, at its core, a no-holds-barred onslaught of guts and glory. Oh, and really big guns.
The single player game, while it lasts, is extremely fun and addictive, but the multiplayer is where the game truly shines in terms of replayability. It will get old with time if you do not have multiplayer thanks to the abruptness of the 30 odd single player missions, but with multiplayer, this game will last you a long, long time.