What do you do when the city you love is overrun by a horrific virus that transforms the city's citizens from peace-loving folk into a teeming mass of flesh-craving zombies? If your answer is that you grab every weapon available to you and start turning the tops of their undead heads into canoes, then you're just the type of person Majesco Games' upcoming third-person shooter, Infected, is looking for. We count ourselves as members of this group and, as proof, we have spent the last few days blasting our way through the PSP game's single-player campaign to get a feel for just how hairy things can get in this high-impact (and very funny) action game.
Infected's opening scene places the character in a charming, picturesque setting: a ceremonial lighting of the Christmas tree at Rockerfeller Center in snowy downtown New York. As a city official welcomes the gathered crowd to the ceremony, a fresh-faced wheelchair-bound lad wheels himself up to the switch and throws it. The Christmas tree lights up in a rainbow of bright colors to the roar of an approving crowd. Unfortunately, that applause lasts only a handful of seconds before abruptly coming to an end. There's something under the tree; something that shouldn't be.
As if seeking to reset the ceremony and start all over again, the youngster switches off the lights and immediately turns them back on. The camera cuts to a close-up shot of the mangled face of a zombie. The lights go off and on again, and we see another undead former New Yorker. Once more the lights flicker--and this time we cut to a zombified Santa Claus, complete with a jingling elf hat. Something is amiss in Infected's New York, and before anyone can do anything about it, the zombies spread out and attack everyone in sight. Cut to a news report on the scene where the anchorwoman delivers a classic understatement: "Worst shopping season ever? Find out at 11…"
Enter Officer Stevens, the tough-as-nails cop you'll play as in the game and whose blood is somehow immune to the effects of the virus that has plagued the entire city and, as far as anyone else in the game knows, the entire world. In fact, Stevens' blood isn't just immune to the virus; it will also act as your number one weapon in the fight against the horde of zombies overrunning the city. As a result, you'll be armed with a handy blood gun that will instantaneously splat any zombie with which the gun's ammo comes in contact.
Infected will give you a lot of options for customizing your particular version of Officer Stevens, including choosing his or her name, gender, body type (from more than 20 different preset types), skin color, outfit type and color, as well as hairstyle and hair color. You'll have handful of body types to choose from the outset, but as you progress through the game and rack up cash rewards for your heroic deeds, you'll be able to unlock new types, including models designed after videogame vixen BloodRayne, and members of the hardcore metal act Slipknot. After all, there are few people better equipped to hold back an unending torrent of undead than skinny, makeup-clad whiny boys. You'll even be able to choose your region of origin, which includes continent, country, and city. Want to have your character originate from the city of Ouagadougou in the West African nation of Burkina Faso? Go for it. When it comes to character creation, you'll only be locked to your region of origin once the game begins. Everything else is fully customizable at any time, including your arsenal of weapons.
Speaking of weapons, you already know a bit about Officer Stevens' blood gun that can kill zombies with a single shot. There's one caveat to this ability, however. A zombie can only be splatted by the blood gun once he or she has been sufficiently weakened by a traditional ballistic weapon like a pistol, shotgun, or rocket launcher. Enemies are color coded in the game to give you a visual clue on how to defeat them. For example, yellow enemies require some softening up with the regular weaponry, while red foes are ripe for the splatting with the blood gun. If you play your cards right, you can chain multiple splats into combos that will help you earn new weapons in a particular level. So, as you fight through the missions in the game, you'll find yourself trying to blast as many zombies in a close proximity to one another as possible, and then setting off a huge chain-reaction combo with the blood gun to earn maximum points. If it sounds a bit underhanded and gory, trust us, it is. And that's a good thing.
Gore! Gore! Gore!
In fact, Infected will probably go down as the goriest PSP game ever released when it hits store shelves in November, thanks to the sheer amounts of blood and meaty chunks that rain down on you as you blast your way through the missions using pump-action shotguns, lead-spraying machine guns, shoulder-mounted rocket launchers and the like. Each of these weapons can be upgraded in between missions by spending the cash you earn once the job is done. You can even purchase new weapons that you'll be able to pick up in successive mission levels--hand grenades, damage modifiers, and even that most effective piece of anti-zombie technology: the chainsaw.
The amount of money you earn is tied to your success in achieving each mission's goals. Perform just adequately and you'll earn a bronze shield; excel and you'll grab yourself a silver or gold shield and extra hazard pay along with it. Missions in Infected come in a number of basic forms, though with enough variety to keep things spicy as you play through the game--like basic kill-'em-all missions where your goal is to wipe out every single zombie on a particular level, to more complicated citizen-rescue missions where you tear through an urban environment looking to evacuate as many uninfected citizens as you can (while blasting your way through any zombie stupid enough to get in your path).
Even though the game takes place in New York, there's lots of variety to the environment--some missions have you running through traditional urban zones, while others may send you to Central Park to mow down zombies by the dozen. You'll even make your way underground, either to battle the undead in the subways, or to use the tunnels to take you to new zones of the city where fresh crops of the bleeding evil look to do you egregious bodily harm.
Further complications arise when a particular mission zone has become overloaded with the virus. In those instances, any zombie in the area becomes enraged and imbued with superhuman speed and strength. Because of this, it will take twice as many shots to prep this superhuman baddie for the blood gun, though you'll likely be too busy running for your life to notice.
One of Infected's most attractive aspects is its wireless multiplayer features. In addition to supporting both ad hoc and infrastructure play, the game's "virus" theme will carry over into online matches. When you beat other players in multiplayer games, you can infect your opponent's PSP, and then transfer your version of Officer Stevens into his or her PSP. Play enough games on the Internet and your personal virus can spread far and wide among other players. You'll even be able to keep track of how far your persona has spread using a handy virus map feature found in the game (it will also keep track of your online stats). If you're beaten, you'll be infected by a virus from your opponent (and thus his or her player avatar will replace the zombies in select missions in your single-player campaign). The only way to "cure" yourself will be to complete three of the newly infected matches in campaign mode, or to infect three other players with the same virus. Multiplayer modes include support for up to eight players and include modes such as deathmatch and team deathmatch, along with savior and "mad cow." In mad cow, your goal is to find and don the mad cow suit in a particular level, and the winner is the player who manages to wear the mad cow costume the longest; "savior" matches challenge you to save more innocent civilians than your opponent before the game clock winds down. Infected's multiplayer may not be incredibly deep when it comes to different types of matches, but the unique charms in taking the virus theme online is a great design choice and should be a big plus in the final version of the game.
The kind of graphical power the Planet Moon folks have pulled out of the relatively young PSP's hardware is on impressive display in Infected. Multiple enemies pile up on the screen quickly, and even if the frame rate dips a bit, it's not enough to kill the action. There's a good amount of variety to the enemies onscreen. For example, standard undead come in a number of standard flavors, but there's also plenty of tough Santa zombies, and some hulking undead atrocities that you'll definitely want to stay as far away from as possible.
Our favorite part of the game so far, however, has to be the sound--and in particular the voice-over cutscenes that take place during the mission prep screens, some of which are ridiculously funny. The game's silly sense of humor is a trademark for Planet Moon and is on full effect here in scenes that include a misguided tour of City Hall by a group of "special" youngsters, plus a desperate phone call to Tokyo's mayor that must be heard to be believed. Cutscenes of this quality are a great incentive to getting through more missions so that you can see where the game's madcap sense of humor will take you next. Of course, the vivacious and varied soundtrack that features a mix of up-tempo techno and brutal death metal is great fun as well.
Infected's harried pace and nonstop action should make it one of the bloodier games of the holiday season, while its random humor and interesting spin on multiplayer gaming will keep the game from becoming just another third-person shooter. Infected's disease is due to contaminate store shelves in mid-November, and we'll bring you a full review of the game once it's released. Until then, take your medication and approach Christmas-tree-lighting ceremonies with extreme caution.