Review: Zombie Tycoon 2

Zombie Tycoon 2: Brainhov’s Revenge is not a tycoon game. It is thusly named for its lead character Tycoon, who is not a zombie, but in fact controls zombies. And I couldn’t have told you why Brainhov wanted revenge until a little bit ago when I read a press release for the game, because the game itself sure never explains it. Perhaps the creators assumed you had played the first, but that seems like a pretty major assumption given that I’d never heard of the series before. This may seem like a petty series of knocks, but it captures the spirit of Zombie Tycoon 2- a game that doesn’t know what it wants to be, and squanders some quality elements in search of a purpose.

In truth a squad-based RTS in the manner of Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War 2, sans the loot, ZT2 tells the story of… uh… well, I couldn’t say, really. The cutscenes are all nonverbal, with characters grunting and emoting with no words involved, and while it’s enough to get the emotional gist, you’re never quite sure what’s going on. You play as a zombie master- at first the gas-masked, goose-stepping Tycoon, and later his devious former mentor Brainhov. The two are opposing forces in this world, two leaders of undead hordes aiming to conquer what remains of human civilization. The humans, on the whole, are largely inept, and portrayed as more of a complication than a legitimate player in this struggle- this is Tycoon vs. Brainhov, and everyone else is just an annoyance to them.

zt2tycoon

You command up to four units, be they squads of zombies, heroic zombified units like a massive body-less head on wheels that ploughs through the opposition, and your commander (Tycoon or Brainhov). In addition, by capturing neutral buildings around the map, you build up a horde, which you can unleash on a cooldown. The horde moves on AI, engaging whatever threat is closest, and dealing as much damage as they can before they are eliminated. This is perhaps the game’s best feature- when things seem stalemated, and you can’t seem to gain any ground, capturing a few more neutral buildings can allow you to unleash potentially dozens of fresh units from out of nowhere, which sweep across the map in a wave of destruction. The effect also tends to cascade- the horde is very fond of attacking neutral buildings, granting you an even larger horde for the next time you unleash it. It’s a great system, well implemented, and it’s one of the moments of pure fun I had with the game.

Unfortunately, those moments are fairly few. With almost no story, very simple strategy, a small unit cap, and throwing its lot in with the criminally overused “zombie game” motif, there’s not a lot to recommend here. Tycoon himself is occasionally charming in his spastic, mad scientist glory, but a few appealing animations doesn’t count for much in the grand scheme of the game. Both zombie leaders play basically the same, with a mobile command center that does double duty as both turret and hospital. Its ability to heal and even revive your dead units, however, is more a curse than a blessing. Given that it makes defeat only a mild setback for most of the game, it frees the level designers to be very casual- if any challenge can be overcome with enough time, what does it matter if the challenges themselves aren’t well designed? A question that answers itself- the ability to endlessly dust yourself off doesn’t matter when you lose all desire to do so.

zt2soldiers

From the always ill-advised RTS stealth mission, to a mission where you are constantly besieged by artillery that you literally cannot avoid in time, to missions that just take forever because there’s so much opposition and you have to keep rebuilding your army from scraps… it’s all doable, it’s all tolerable, but there’s no reason to persist. There’s no bright light here, no hook to make you put up with all the questionable design and boring gameplay. Zombie Tycoon 2 just has nothing going for it.

There are dozens of nits I could pick, about strange control options and weird sound design, but they really don’t matter compared to the simple truth: Zombie Tycoon 2 doesn’t have any higher ambition than to be a fun experience, and it isn’t one. I’ve played games that weren’t all that fun that I thought quite highly of- Gone Home wasn’t especially “fun.” Catherine was often not very fun. It goes without saying that Zombie Tycoon 2 isn’t a Gone Home or a Catherine, and that’s fine. It doesn’t have to be. But it does need some reason to be played, and it doesn’t present anything. Not buggy, not ugly, not clunky… just uninspired, unambitious, and thoroughly underwhelming. The name originally made me think it would be Lemonade Stand with zombies, and after seeing the end result… I think I would have preferred that.

One and a Half Stars Out of Five

Scanline Media received a copy of the game from the developer for review purposes.