MM: Grave Danger16 Sep 2008
Last year’s Monster Madness: Battle for Suburbia for the PC and Xbox 360 was an attempt to bring an old school monster fest to the next gen of gaming machines. Sadly, it wasn’t particularly well-received due to an ill-conceived control system and a very shonky camera. SouthPeak Interactive charged developer Psyonix with producing a PS3 ‘remix’ and the good news is that Grave Danger is a better game than the original. However, there are still more than a few issues that prevent it from becoming the nostalgic gem we hoped it would be.Grave Danger centres on four stereotypical teens (the skater, the nerd, the goth, and the cheerleader) who are thrown together when their peaceful suburban life is interrupted by a horde of brain-hungry zombies. If this all sounds a little familiar it’s because Monster Madness has clearly been inspired by the 1993 SNES/Megadrive classic, Zombies Ate My Neighbours. Thankfully, Artificial Studios and Immersion Games were good enough to acknowledge this, tipping a gigantic wink to Zombies in one of the game’s early cutscenes.Like its inspiration, Grave Danger is an old-school action game at heart. It’s light on story and heavy on knocking the living (or rather, undead) crap out of everything in sight. The top-down perspective makes space for a lot of monsters and the player must battle their way through them using a combination of melee and ranged attacks.Thankfully, this is a lot easier in Grave Danger thanks to the revamped control system. The left stick moves your player while the right stick movements fire your ranged weapon in the desired direction. It’s a much better system than in Battle for Suburbia and Psyonix has ensured that it’s easy to switch between gun and melee attacks using only the circle button. The monster bashing is uncomplicated and generally pretty satisfying if a little repetitive. Each of the four characters has a preferred type of melee weapon which means that the game encourages you to stick with one or two close combat weapons throughout the action.However, in an effort to stop Grave Danger from slipping into monotony the developers have ensured that there is a healthy selection of monsters (over 70) to contend with and they vary wildly in size and in the kind of attacks they favour. As you progress through the game you’ll also get the chance to improve your odds of survival by upgrading your character’s abilities and weapons with the help of Larry Tools. Larry sells objects that improve your stats, but it’s his weapon-building skills that you’ll be most interested in. Like in Battle for Suburbia, the player can collect parts during each level which can then be used to buy/upgrade weapons. However, in Grave Danger the collection system has been simplified – parts no longer appear randomly throughout levels but are instead kept in toolboxes that are placed in fixed positions. With enough parts, you can quickly get your hands on some fearsome weapons. And you’ll need them.As the game progresses the monster count gets predictably higher and Grave Danger is at its best when you’re on the verge of being over-run. This is amplified in the 4 player co-op mode which, despite being a bit on the laggy side, is a genuine blast when the screen is filled with monsters. Sadly, when the game does get busier, the myriad technical faults start to rise to the surface. The camera problem that plagued Battle for Suburbia may have been diminished in Grave Danger, but it’s still far from perfect. Too often throughout the game, the camera can’t seem to keep up with the action and this is especially evident in the co-op mode. Add to this some very noticeable screen tearing (the park level is a nightmare) and a pretty unstable framerate (the vehicle sections suffer considerably) and we have a game that, despite its modest visuals, does not perform well.The cheap production values in Grave Danger also do little to endear it to the gamer. The comic book cut scenes look nice enough, but to say that the voice acting is terrible would be an understatement. Almost every morsel of dialogue uttered throughout the game is intensely annoying and by the time you encounter the Leprechaun (worst Irish accent since Richard Gere in the Jackal) you’ll want to turn the sound off.In essence, Grave Danger just doesn’t feel like it should be a full-price game. There’s little in the way of replay value as the difference between playable characters is largely cosmetic and the new Challenge Mode (basically a selection of 25 mini-games) is not as fun as the Adventure Mode. There is something likeable about Grave Danger but the technical issues come dangerously close to eclipsing its nostalgic charm. The simple, disposable gameplay is refreshing to an extent but the game just can’t keep up the pace for all of its 18 levels.