There's a brutal honesty to Zombie Driver HD's title that you just can't help but admire. This isn't a game that wastes its time delivering compelling narratives or experimenting with some new spin on dispatching contemporary gaming's most overused enemies; it's just you and your car in a top-down format that evokes nostalgia for the simple early years of Grand Theft Auto. Oh, and there's a whole state's worth of zombies. Over the course of 31 levels, you smash through them and the destructible terrain with taxis and school buses, you fry them with rocket launchers and flamethrowers, and you level up your weapons and armor to do the same job more efficiently. It's not the most imaginative game around, but it's dumb, gory fun.
If you want story, Zombie Driver HD sprinkles in what seems like intentionally cringe-worthy voice acting before each round that does little more than provide context for the level's objectives, which include everything from defending a news van from a zombie swarm to pumping missiles into a massive zombie blob. The idea is that order has broken down to the point that the Army needs you and your uncommonly resilient taxi to thin the undead horde. It's simple but usually glorious fun, particularly when you zoom through dozens of zombies at once amid the satisfying sounds of crunching bone, and the sharp trigger controls for brakes and acceleration mark an improvement over the occasionally cumbersome maneuverings of the PC release.
It's a shame it's all over so quickly. Once you've worked your way up the gentle learning curve, most missions take only a couple of minutes to complete, extended only by a mildly annoying tendency for more zombies to wander back into the mission zone and push back the timer until you splatter every last one. Several side diversions exist, such as missions that have you save a police station or rescue some rich guy to unlock a squad car or a limo, respectively, but the true pleasures of Zombie Driver HD's campaigns spring from the sheer joy of firing at and running over zombies for extra cash for upgrades on your way back to base. It's a level design that screams for even more objectives per level, and it's regrettable that developer Exor Studios never fully delivers.
While the campaign might yield its share of kicks, it's nowhere near as engaging as the survival-style Slaughter mode, which pits you against escalating numbers of zombie hordes and rewards you with weapon upgrades for surviving a round. As in the campaign, there's a welcome variety of enemies, including run-of-the-mill zombies that swarm the car, hulking brutes that throw bricks, and fat zombies that rush you and explode. If there's a problem, it's that the tiny maps feel cramped after the spacious landscapes of the campaign, and the limited space ensures that you spend much of your time in Slaughter mode simply driving around in circles.
More disappointing is Blood Race mode, which entails barreling through narrow urban streets filled with jaywalking zombies in a race against AI companions, all while nabbing weapon upgrades and building multipliers on zombies to get a better score. It's not a bad idea at heart; in fact, it would probably be Zombie Driver HD's best feature if it let you race against real players instead of the game's disappointing AI. Indeed, the entirety of Zombie Driver HD could benefit from a multiplayer mode. The campaign, while already fun in short bursts, could have been much better if you could do all that zombie killing with a friend, through either an online connection or a local split-screen. As it is, the game's only nod to multiplayer excitement consists of a series of leaderboards, which might suffice for one playthrough. But if you could invite friends to join in on the carnage, Zombie Driver HD could provide a lot more replay value.
Other disappointments shamble about, such as tiny typefaces for the menus that make for rough reading when displayed on a television screen several feet from your face. Within the core gameplay, the camera is set at just the right distance to induce a twinge of motion sickness from all the acrobatic spinning. Fortunately, there's plenty of eye candy to go around, ranging from night levels that seem to highlight every individual leaf your headlights pass over, to the oddly detailed entrails the zombies spurt out, though you might encounter some occasional screen tearing.
Still, Zombie Driver HD manages to satisfy if you're seeking good-natured gore without many narrative interruptions, and the $10 price (800 Microsoft points) is justified. It's regrettable that it lacks the multiplayer gameplay its design all but screams for, but it delivers several hours' worth of enjoyable content nonetheless. The controls are responsive, and the sound of running your tires over yet another pile of undead seldom fails to provide a grisly satisfaction. Zombie Driver HD does its job well enough for you to overlook its lesser aspects; after all, it understands what makes the concept so appealing to begin with.