The idea of adding the undead to a classic period drama always intrigued me but clearly not enough to get past my initial interest and actually read the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. So the announcement of an iPhone gave me a reason to haul my lazy ass into the fiction and get to play a side-scrolling beat em up in the process. Being a genre that could so easily stumble into the pitfalls that plague all that came before it, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies manages to side step a few of them but can’t help tripping up every now and again. My conclusion awaits beyond the break…
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is based on a 2009 book by Seth Grahame-Smith which adds to the original 1813 Pride and Prejudice placing it in an alternative universe where zombies (or unmentionables as they’re called) infest the English countryside. These unmentionables are just seen as an everyday annoyance to those who inhabit the land rather than the typical population-thinning brain deads like other zombie romps. Your heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, lives with her parents and four sisters on a country estate, learning martial arts and swordplay in order to stay alive long enough to marry. Soon enough she catches the eye of an aloof Mr Darcy but not always for the right reasons. I’m told the story stays true to Grahame-Smith’s adaptation with large portions streamlined in order to make it work within a portable game. And work it does as one of the reasons that made me continue playing was to unfurl the narrative while slicing up some of the living dead. The ending was a little anti-climatic but better than a “Thanks for playing” kind of wrap-up. If all you’re interested in is re-killing the zombies, an option for skipping the cut-scenes is available which becomes a blessing if you happen to die mid-level. Instead of starting off where you where slain, the whole chapter restarts forcing you back to the beginning. A frustration at first but the bite-sized levels aren’t so lengthy that you’ll be covering too much familiar ground over the 12 chapters of gameplay.
Visually, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a well presented game. The animations are smooth (played on iPhone 3Gs) played over a score that suits the period nicely. Characters have a distinct comic book feel to them and the environments look as if sketched in the 1800’s, graphically updated for today’s technology. Fun little details like that and the expressions on the faces of those involved in each cut scene add personality to a familiar ‘kill everything on screen then go right’ game type. The light hearted art-style allows for PPZ to be quite a gory side-scroller. Zombies spray blood and explode into chunks of body parts and some of the larger ones vomit at you. There are around 10 different enemy types including undead rabbits, normal zombie cannon fodder and sword-wielding ninjas that are more tasking to take down. A handful of boss fights intersperse the chapters and brake up the continuing swarm of foes.
There’s a deliberate oriental flair to PPZ that is most evident in the combat. You move Ms Bennet with a virtual analog stick to the left of the screen and the default slash is done by tapping pretty much anywhere else. This results in a single swipe of her sword and to do anything more exciting you have to pull of her warrior moves. These are done by swiping your previously tapping thumb up, down, left, right or any of the diagonals which relates to a preset list of moves. For example, swiping up makes Ms Bennet jump, follow this with a swipe down causes her to stamp the ground, effecting zombies closest to her. It did become all too easy to pull off the wrong move leaving you vulnerable momentarily and I can’t figure out if it was due to over sensitivity of because there is nothing on screen to help you slide your thumb in your chosen direction. When it worked it was perfect, when it didn’t, it bugged the hell out of me. That said, the warrior moves by far are the most enjoyable aspect of combat but do come with a limiting tech bar that depletes every time you initiate a move. Occasionally I found myself surrounded by zombies and fiendishly tapping the default attack whilst I waited for the bar to recharge. This only served as another annoyance as I was only able to advance a couple of steps at a time and quickly became swamped with the undead wanting to chew on my grey matter.
When you take out a zombie or smash an object on the 2D plain, they often drop coins that can be spent between chapters in something called tea time. Doing so upgrades your warrior moves and health/technical abilities meaning my time waiting for the tech bar to regenerate was greatly reduced. Somehow I accumulated enough money in the first seven chapters to be fully maxed out in every skill level from then onwards, lessoning the game’s difficulty. Developers Freeverse have added a end of level ranking system, awarding you a bronze, silver, gold or platinum coin depending on how well you played so there’s plenty of replayability and even more so when you factor in the Plus+ leaderboards.
With side-scrolling beat em ups there’s a clear understanding of what to expect. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a good looking, interesting version of this with a story that is actually worthwhile if not a tad pompous at times. What lets it down is the fiddly control scheme to an otherwise fun combat system. The barrage of differing zombies and ninjas can become boring as you draw closer to the end but played in 10-15 minute segments does quell the boredom enough to get the most out of it. Freeverse found a snug little spot, somewhere in between great and tiresome for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies delivering a good but flawed experience.
Entertaining and worthy of your time but still room for improvement.