There seemed to be a dearth of zombie games available when I was growing up. I’m sure I went entire years without having to battle the relentless forces of the undead, although that may have been due to a Treasure Island Dizzy addiction rather than any particular underlying market conditions. For kids growing up these days the zombie genre is in full force; it seems that every second game is based around a smelly shambling husk wondering towards you and even non-zombie based games are getting in on the action with special zombie modes. To survive in a market like this your product needs to be strong; it’s no longer enough to put ‘ZOMBIES’ in the title and wait for the money to come rolling in. Laughing Jackal are so confident that OMG-Z, their PSN Mini take on the zombie genre, is that strong that they haven’t even expanded the ‘Z’ in the title to ‘zombie’. A bold move, and OMG-Z backs this up by providing an incredibly fresh take on the whole ‘kill every zombie you see’ genre (for a game full of stinking rotting corpses that is).
OMG-Z sees you take the role of a nameless cop, dumped in the middle of undead central when your squad’s van is involved in an accident with a zombie driven tanker. As the only survivor you are all alone in a sea of hostile zombies, and so starts your journey to escape. The comic style artwork utilised to set the scene is well drawn and works well in introducing the player to the greyscale colour scheme used for the levels themselves. Action wise OMG-Z gives you a limited number of shots and asks you to use them to kill every zombie on the screen. Sounds simple enough, but in practice it proves to be horrendously addictive.
Working as a chain-reaction game your cop character is always rooted to a safe spot, with the D-pad/analogue stick controlling your targeting reticule and X firing your precious shots. The shoulder buttons act as visual aids, with the left showing you the health of each zombie on screen and the right highlighting which of the undead are special types of zombie. As you progress through the game’s 81 levels you encounter 5 types of zombie, ranging from your bog standard slightly explosive zombie to soldier zombies who drop and fire their automatic weapon on death. Each time you kill an undead minion the grey background explodes into colour, covered by a sumptuous explosion of blood red. Brutal chain reactions are set off as splash damage, bullets or even acid pools from dead zombies affect their fellow undead. There is very little that I have experienced in handheld gaming that is quite as satisfying as a single shot resulting in a canvas of red death across the screen of my PSP.
For each level you complete you have the chance to win one of four trophies, with the highest (platinum) awarded for killing everything on your screen. The first time you pick one of these trophies up in a level you are awarded money which can be spent upgrading your gun, the explosive barrels found in most levels and in a masterstroke of genius you can also upgrade the various zombies you face. You can make them explode with more power, their own bullets penetrate other zombies and so on. The counter-intuitiveness of the concept of upgrading the very foe that you face is rapidly overcome as you begin to wreak ever more bloody havoc on your path through the levels. Beyond being a novel and inventive game mechanic it also means that replayability increases as you realise you can now go back and finish off previously tricky sections.
From the not so secret reference to Resident Evil (the game is set in a city called "Redfield City") to the ability to pick up and put down at will, Laughing Jackal have created a true handheld masterpiece showcasing the high standards that are achievable for smaller sized developers.
If you are a member of PlaystationPlus you can download OMG-Z for free now!
If you aren’t, make sure to buy it on the PSN general release date of 17/08/2011.