Don't be fooled by the title. Zombie Tycoon II: Brainhov's Revenge actually has nothing to do with zombie simulation. You won't be sending your undead hordes off to work, building entertainment complexes for them to visit, or micro-managing a zombie community (get on it, games industry, because that would be excellent). What you'll find instead is a worryingly thin strategy game that never lives up to its intriguing premise.
This time around the titular Zombie Tycoon, a gas-masked mad scientist who leads a swarm of shambling undead, is battling his nemesis Dr. Brainhov, who controls his own horde of fast-moving zombies, for control of a small American town. That's a classic zombie fan's argument right there- fast or slow? Technically Tycoon's units hit harder and have more hit points at the cost of being slower, but there's little practical difference in tactics for either faction.
Yes, I know it looks sort of charming here
Rather than controlling hordes of zombies you have only four units; two core squads with various specialities, one heavy and your commander. It's stripped down strategy that aims at casual players, and is clearly intended to benefit the less responsive controls of handhelds and consoles rather than the precision of a mouse and keyboard.
Capturing certain buildings allows you to convert either of your main squads into specialist troops with their own unique abilities; from samurai close-combat specialists to engineers, to radiation zombies who can drip damaging toxic waste onto the battlefield. These units are essentially the same for both sides, with minor changes only. Backing up these basic troops are your control vehicle, a sort of mobile spawning point, and one of four hero units.
There are four hero units to choose from - an undead bear, a car/zombie combo, a burrowing wolverine beast and a robotic suit powered by a brain in a jar. Each heavy unit has their own list of moves, which will be familiar to anybody who's ever touched a MOBA like League of Legends. Stuns, debuffs, teleports, they're all here. Unfortunately most games quickly decay into a messy brawl with both players piling their core units into each other like the aftermath of a Millwall football match, so subtlety and tactics quickly go out the window in favour of spamming your damage abilities.
ZTII's lack of depth makes for some very dull combat scenarios, and it's not helped by some odd mechanics. To change your main troops into specialised units you need to send them into certain buildings, rather than switching them on the fly. Find yourself out in the open with the wrong troop type and you're pretty much stuck with them, unless you want to spend the three hours or so it takes for your zombies to slouch back to the building in question. It's a strange choice for a game that seems to be aiming for simple, straightforward mechanics. I suppose it's just as well that you won't use the more esoteric troop specialities that much. The only map available is a grid of suburban houses that makes unit experimentation mostly redundant. Every time I tried to use anything other than the close combat units, I got stomped in short order.
Simply rub zombies against objectives to succeed
The singleplayer campaign suffers from a similar lack of depth. There are eight levels, most of which require you to capture a certain number of objectives in order to win. Occasionally you'll come up against a mini boss battle in the form of one of the aforementioned hero units, which requires a little hands-on manoeuvring, but for most of the four hours or so it takes to complete the game you'll march your units in a big block across the map, swatting enemies as you see them.
And then, of course, there's the obligatory 'stealth' mission, which strategy developers insist on sticking into their games, no matter how ill-suited the mechanics are. Here it's a tedious chore, twenty minutes or so of hiding in bushes and avoiding lines of sight. Even thinking about it now is threatening to send me into an unrecoverable coma.
In general the campaign has the air of something thrown together half-heartedly to pad out the game, rather than a real alternative to multiplayer battles. There's only so many times you can run a load of zombies in to each other before you start to lose interest.
Added to the lack of imagination is the topsy-turvy difficulty. During my play-through I noticed several choke points, where swarms of enemy zombies tore my mobile command unit to pieces in moments, while my troops ineffectually swatted at them. Because the tactical options are so limited, especially in levels where you are restricted to one troop type, you occasionally run into sections where you are outnumbered, and there's simply nothing you can do, short of restarting a big chunk of the level. Which is not an enticing prospect.
The zombie rush ability is underused but fun
At least it's nice enough to look at. The graphical style is simple but charming, with Halloween backgrounds, expressive monsters and a vibrant colour palette that combines with the anarchic slapstick violence to make ZTII look like an exuberant Saturday morning cartoon. Lively cut-scenes do a good job of creating atmosphere. Still, it's not enough to inject any real spark into proceedings.
ZOMBIE TYCOON 2: BRAINHOV'S REVENGE VERDICT
Zombie Tycoon II has a neat premise. Who doesn’t want to control a rampaging horde of the undead? It’s a shame then, that it doesn’t really do anything worthwhile with the concept. The strategy on offer here is of the most basic kind, and quickly becomes a tedious succession of skirmishes with both parties smashing their troops into each other. Combined with a lacklustre singleplayer campaign and limited multiplayer, it never justifies its existence. Especially not on PC, where mechanics clearly designed to benefit less precise console controllers bog things down even further. Even if you do enjoy the bare-bones gameplay, there’s a grand total of one multiplayer map to enjoy. In zombie movie parlance then, less Dawn of the Dead, more Survival of the Dead. That means it’s rubbish.
TOP GAME MOMENT
I suppose it’s reasonably satisfying to signal a mass zombie charge on some innocent bystanders with a tap of the space bar.