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Prepare to see dead men walking in Alpha Software's latest release. Richard Drummond braves the challenge.

What do you get if you cross George Romero’s horror B-movies with the game Wolfenstein? Answer: Gloom. And, in the true tradition of the video nasty, they just didn’t know when to stop. Gloom, Ultimate Gloom and now Zombie Massacre. Yes, it’s yet another zombie-infested, fake 3D shoot-em-up.

The gameplay and controls of Zombie Massacre are all too familiar. The idea is to play through each of the 30 levels, obliterating the armies of undead. To progress to the next level you have to find the exit.

Self defence comes in the form of a plasma cannon for which you may collect power-ups and luckily someone has left these carelessly strewn about each level. You may also pick up health power-ups to repair any damage.

Two player games are possible via a null-modem cable or a modem, in either co-operative or combat modes. The former mode allows teamwork: it shows both players’ views on the same screen, players share lives and cannot hit each other. The latter mode is a head-to-head game like Quake’s deathmatch.

Graphically the game is adequate, if a bit repetitive. Some of the patterns used for walls, doors, etc, are nicely drawn but there’s too much repetition, making it difficult to distinguish one corridor from another. The zombies themselves are amusing, but poorly animated. I imagine zombies are supposed to shuffle, but a bit more life wouldn’t go amiss. They do explode rather extravagantly when you blast them, though. There’s even an option to turn the blood effects to ‘dirty’, where the ground becomes littered with dismembered body parts for you to trample on.

The sound effects also merit a chuckle or two. While playing Zombie Massacre in the office, everyone mistook the gurgles and groans of the zombies for a bout of terminal indigestion.

My main gripe with the gameplay is that the levels are just too empty; there is too little to do. Couple this with the unvaried graphics and the end result is Gloom indeed. The degree of interaction with the game world is too low.

In fact, the lack of feedback can be bewildering: doors open for no apparent reason, or upon walking into an empty corridor you suddenly get teleported somewhere else. Another problem lies in distinguishing what the exit of any particular level actually is.

While playing Zombie Massacre, everyone mistook the gurgles and groans of the zombies for a bout of terminal indigestion

The engine
The hardware requirements for Zombie Massacre are modest. The absolute minimum spec is an ‘020, AGA and 3Mb of memory although, as usual, the more power the better.

The game engine has been upgraded from Gloom and is now allegedly about 20% faster. But curiously, given the simplicity of the game engine, on an ‘060 the game feels less responsive than, say, Doom.

Upon starting Zombie Massacre, by default the multitasking is switched off and the game runs its own custom screen. However, the game setup utility offers an option to leave WB open and you can run in the screen of your choice; in practice this doesn’t work too well.

For me, it would crash in any screenmode other than NTSC, and NTSC just isn’t high enough because the screen display is chopped off and you lose the status panel.

The verdict
The question that strikes me with regard to Zombie Massacre is why another Gloom release? It doesn’t offer much more than the previous games in the series. Moreover, the game engine hasn’t aged well.

Amiga gaming has evolved considerably n the last year and a half. We’ve had Doom, Quake, Descent and now Hexen and Heretic. Technically, these are all much better games, and they’re all much more engaging to play.

Setting the scene

The Zombie Massacre CD features a 65Mb FMV animation of the "actors" stumbling about in zombie poses and mouthing zombie grimaces. The plot, as superfluous as they come, is voiced over by what sounds like a Geordie on valium. The story is some nonsense about biotechnology, genetic engineering and a supervirus which turns any ordinary Joe Public into a ravenous revenant with a lust for human flesh. Guess who has to clean up the mess?

All of this fails to build any atmosphere, however, and just adds to the amateurish, home movie feel of the package. Perhaps this is a deliberate allusion to the many films which obviously inspired the game...