George Romero's City of the Dead E3 2005 Hands-On Impressions

Yes, THE George Romero. Yes, Tom Savini is in it. Yes, you shoot zombies.

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When you hear the name Romero, chances are, you think of one of two things: Doom or zombie movies. For the purposes of this story, try to think of the latter. At E3 2005, publisher Hip Games has a new zombie action game on display that has been developed under the tutelage of zombie film god George Romero. George Romero's City of the Dead is its name, and its goal is singular in focus: kill zombies. No weird non-zombie creatures to muck up the atmosphere and no puzzle-solving or any of that nonsense. Just pure, unadulterated zombie blasting. We got an in-depth look at the game at Hip's E3 booth and came away covered in zombie gunk.

City of the Dead isn't based on any specific Romero films, but it is based within the larger Dead universe. In it, you play as one of five different characters, all of which are just trying to survive in a city that has been overrun with the walking dead. In an ultimate "squeal with girly glee" moment, we were stoked to learn that special effects wizard and zombie film mainstay Tom Savini not only is in the game, but is one of the playable characters. He's also supervising some of the gore effects in the game, so you can expect an awful lot of zombie blood and guts flying all over the place.

The game itself is a first-person shooter, and it really doesn't aspire to be anything more than a fast-paced arcade shooter. You'll find a number of different weapon types, including pistols, machine guns, grenades, and shotguns. There were a couple of unique aspects of the weapons we saw. For instance, the shotgun is fully pump-action, meaning each time you fire, you'll have to manually reload it using the left trigger button. While that might seem a little cumbersome at first, it actually wasn't, and it seemed to add to the intensity of the action. Another cool thing is the way you can kind of jury-rig other things onto your weapons to make them more effective in melee combat. For example, you can tie a shovel to the butt of the shotgun, making it much easier to explode a zombie's head. The same can be done to your pistols, by taping brass knuckles to them.

But hey, the real star of the show here will be the zombies, and from what we saw, there ought to be a pretty good number of them. Zombies tend to travel in groups, and they come in different varieties. Obviously, there's the usual lumbering, biting, angry zombie, but we also saw a cop zombie, who, despite his condition, continually fired a shotgun at us at random intervals (not on purpose, but because it was a remembered action from when he was alive), and a leaper zombie, a creepy little guy who crawls around on the ground and then jumps at you. Zombies cannot be killed unless you destroy the brain, but you can knock them backward or even blow off body parts if you hit them elsewhere.

There will be 14 to 16 story missions in the game, though the story here is barely the focus. The developers used Burnout as an example of how they are really looking to make a super-arcadey, over-the-top kind of game. So a lot of the mission objectives will be appropriately focused on killing as many zombies as you can, without much worry about anything else. Once you complete the story mode, you'll also have arcade and multiplayer modes to check out. The arcade mode works similarly to Soul Calibur's weapon master mode. You'll be given a series of available challenges, each with semi-arbitrary rules, like you can only use melee combat, or you have to kill a certain number of a specific type of zombie. The multiplayer will be online for up to four players and features competitive and cooperative play. The cooperative mode sounds especially cool, as during the mode, your friends can be infected. Here, you can opt to just kill your partner immediately, sparing him the change of death, or you can keep him alive long enough to help you kill some more zombies. You'll have to be careful, however, because once they turn, they'll come after you.

The one area of the game we have to admit we weren't exactly enamored with at this point was the presentation. Mainly, the graphics in the game don't look that great at this stage of development. However, the game isn't due out until 2006, so hopefully the developers will use that time to polish up the visuals a bit more. Otherwise, we like everything we've seen of the game thus far, and it seems like it could provide some big, dumb fun for fans of zombie killing, in all its forms. City of the Dead is due out for the PS2, Xbox, and PC, and we'll bring you more on the game soon.

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