We're entering the final stretch of this year's Hallowe'en season, and while I've been enjoying it as much as ever there's one thing that's been missing - gore. All the games I've looked at so far have been Hallowe'eny in their own way, but they've been anaemic affairs with barely a drop of claret between them. That's going to change today. We're going see enough splattered blood and internal organs to make Freddy Krueger question the quality of his work, all thanks to Sammy's 1995 arcade lightgun schlock-and-gore-em-up Zombie Raid.
I assume I'll be playing as the raider and not the raidee in this scenario: zombies are shufflers, they're shamblers, they don't make for great raiders. I'm sure the attract mode will fill in some of the details for me, though.
A grown-up Tom Sawyer runs through the standard dark and stormy night, clearly terrified by the unseen presence which is pursuing him. He's right to be scared, and as the lightning flashes the thing behind him is revealed. Duhn duhn duuuhn!
When Captain Hook solved Pinhead's puzzle box, he was changed forever by the dark forces of Hell itself! Hell did an especially good job on the jowls, that neck is a veritable Niagara Falls of malodorous skin and (I assume) long-forgotten morsels of food. It's no wonder this guy's wearing a coat with the tallest collar he could find.
Upon cornering him against a wall, the hook-handed demon orders one of his minions to kill the poor country bumpkin. Why? We're never told, but unless it's the aftermath of a dispute about the pricing of the farmer's pick-your-own-strawberries scheme then I'd put it down to the usual demonic overexuberance.
Once you start the actual game, you're introduced Zombie Raid's hero. He's come to this village to investigate the strange reports of grave robbings and monstrous creatures, not out of curiosity or even a desire to help but because he's broke and he was offered some money. His name is Edward Windsor, and he's a miserable detective.
See? He's a wretched investigator, a despondent gumshoe, a woebegone private dick. I wasn't just being mean.
Part of his miserableness may be due to the fact that his left hand is horribly deformed. That thing looks like it's turning into the root system of a tree, but apart from that his blonde hair, brown trenchcoat and monster-slaying ways give him a rather "John Constantine" feel. Also, I think he might be a cowboy. Edward Windsor is a deep and multifaceted guy.
The game starts with you gliding past a cemetery, the names of the development staff appearing on-screen to give the impression that you're starring in a movie. Enemies pop up in the background, scuttling around and brandishing shotguns, but we'll get to them soon enough. First there's the matter of the giant wolf-man who pops up in front of you, holding a hostage.
Or maybe he's an ape-man. It's hard to tell, but I'm sure we can all agree he's rocking those washboard abs. He's a hideous mutant and a fitness freak! His muscle mass must come in handy when he's kidnapping people, which is what's going on at the moment - after taunting you, Wolf-Ape Hardbody here leaps into the night sky and the game proper begins.
It's a lightgun shooter, so you should know how this works. You aim your gun at the parade of foul monsters that march into your line of sight - in this first area, that usually means these shotgun-wielding farmers who remind me of Ted from The Fast Show - and pull the trigger. Hopefully, the bad guy dies. Keep doing that until you finish the game or your trigger finger explodes under the strain and horribly wounds any bystanders in an eruption of ruined flesh and splintered bone. I think that might be how the guy with the hook in the intro lost his hand in the first place.
Speaking of exploding flesh, I promised you gore and gore you shall have. Here's what happens when you shoot one of the basic enemies.
Apparently Edward is using special prototype ammunition that fires a small yet powerful gravitational distortion field that turns his enemies inside-out. That was with just one round, too, one round being more than enough to completely disintegrate this guy's torso and send his hands flying free of their sinewy shackles to lead a new life in the long grass of the graveyard (until a crow eats them). Edward Windsor is not fucking around here.
I should point out that I was not born in 1886. I'm old, but I'm not quite that old. Zombie Raid asks you to enter your initials at the start of the game, and obviously puts whatever you entered on this gravestone, a nice idea that is somewhat undermined by the three-letter limit. Sure, if your name's Dan or Sue or something it'll be kind of neat, but otherwise it doesn't quite pan out and if you went for the comedy option and called yourself POO or ASS it's going to take some of the atmosphere out of the scene.
Suddenly, a tree full of undead monkeys. They look a lot like that monster from the intro, so I guess that makes him an ape too. Good to have some closure on that. The monkeys leap from tree to tree, sometimes soaring high into the air and descending on Edward in a frenzy of rending, poop-encrusted claws. Edward chases alongside them, and it's a credit to the breathless B-movie feel Zombie Raid has already established that you don't immediately question how Edward is flying through the treetops. I'll save you some pondering now and tell you Edward is wearing a jetpack. He isn't, but it helps some later scenes make a lot more sense.
Towards the end of the first stage you'll encounter your first actual zombies - I suppose the farmers might have been zombies, but they looked more "possessed" than "undead." No such issues with these guys, though - they're premium, Grade-A living dead. They haul themselves from their graves and immediately set about killing you by... throwing stakes at you? Yep, that thing flying toward Edward is definitely a stake. I think they're a little confused about which side of the monster-slaying business they're working for now, and while Edward would die if someone rammed a wooden spike through his heart it's because he's a feeble mortal and not because he's a vampire.
The living dead tend to attack in numbers, but that shouldn't be a problem: since the early nineties I must have killed enough digital zombies to populate every capital city in the world ten times over, and in Zombie Raid I have a gun, so all I need to do is shoot them right in the head.
Hey, no fair! A zombie headshot should be rewarded with a satisfying popping noise followed swiftly by a shower of clotted blood and brain matter, not a zombie that just keeps on coming and now presents a smaller target. Luckily Edward's magical inside-out bullets still work on zombies, as evidenced by the zombie on the left looking like fifty pounds of sausage meat being crammed into a white toast rack.
After killing enough zombies, Edward falls down a hole and lands in the lair of everyone's favourite super-buff ape-man. He's the boss of the first stage, and it's hard to imagine how this fight could be more simple: just fire at the boss as fast as you can. He'll die eventually, but possibly not before your wrists if you're playing the original arcade cabinet. The Zombie Raid cabinet features the mounted guns of something like Operation Wolf or Alien 3: The Gun, but they're shaped like pump-action shotguns and to reload you have to, that's right, pump them. I'm sure it's very satisfying and immersive at first, but your default weapon can only fire six shots before it must be refilled so I hope you have the wrist muscles of an Olympic shot-putter, because you're going to be reloading a lot.
With the boss killed and your reloading arm screaming for medical attention, the hostage is freed. His name is Charles, and judging by his elongated proportions a lot of his time as the ape-man's captive was spent being stretched on the rack. Charles informs you that he'll be tagging along on your increasingly vague mission, rallying you with a cry of "let's break some monster bones!" That's an oddly specific battle cry, Charles - not "let's kill some monsters" or "let's destroy this evil" but concentrating on the narrow field of breaking bones. Maybe Charles is an orthopaedic doctor when he's not being abducted by giant monkeys.
It was a spot of luck to find Charles at this precise moment, because he's got a car and he's willing to drive Edward to the dark and foreboding castle that lurks nearby. Charles drives while you shoot the cars that pull up alongside you, although I don't think there's actually much point shooting the cars themselves: you can knock bits off them, but it's not the automobiles that are going to hurt you. That's a job for the swollen-headed mutants inside, so you should concentrate your fire on those freaks instead of the fine vintage cars.
You soon reach the castle and begin to explore, but Charles is desperate for revenge after his ordeal at the hands of the ape-man and wreaks his terrible vengeance on the first obstacle we come across.
Sadly, that obstacle is just a locked gate. That doesn't stop Charles, though, and with a cry of "I'll take care of this!" he leaps forward and blows the gate away in a hail of machine gun fire. That, uh, that was real helpful, Chuck. Tell you what, why don't you go and wait in the car?
The next area takes place in a decaying courtyard, and it feels very much like a traditional lightgun game - enemies pop up in windows and from behind trees, unzombified civilians who should not be shot run across the screen making loud noises and waving their arms about, I lose a lot of health for shooting large, distracting civilians. You know, the usual. The huge axe-wielding Frankensteins that pop up right in front of you and take several shots to kill are less common in the genre, but I'm glad to see them here. They even made the effort to switch to their hot-pink neck bolts so they'd match their trousers, look.
This area goes on for a while, until Edward decides that gravity is for chumps and launches himself high up the side of the castle, shooting out all the windows until he spots a familiar face.
Looking more like a Cenobitic California Raisin than ever, the hook-handed mutant sits at a tenth-story window and stares Edward right in the eye. See what I mean about believing the jetpack lie? Unexplained hovering aside, this is probably my favourite bit in the entire game. This mutant isn't going to let a chance to taunt Edward slip away, especially when it's so rare for people to fly past his window. He prepares a statement of soul-searing horror, a phrase dripping with sinister innuendo and promised torments. He puts on his best Peter Lorre voice - or at least the Looney Tunes version of Peter Lorre's voice - and speaks these dread words:
"Welcome to my dinner party, pal. Today I'm serving a special dish..."
You know those times when something, despite how lame it is or how unamusing it looks on paper, hits your funnybone in just the right way? This was one of those times. I laughed, I laughed some more, I found myself thinking about it hours later and laughing all over again. It's just so wonderfully stupid, so utterly redundant, so deeply un-menacing that the only proper response is to love it unconditionally and quote it every time someone asks you what you're having for dinner. He might as well have just said "I AM GOING TO KILL YOU" in his goofy, strangely cheerful voice for all the menace it contains. God bless you, you wrinkly bastard - you've lightened my heart on this cold October afternoon. You don't even fight the guy, you simply fall down another hole.
Nothing's ever going to top that, but I suppose I'd better talk about the rest of the game. You start stage three in the castle's crypt, where kneeling mummies throw bandages at you. They're probably aiming for your mouth in an attempt to stifle your giggles. Mutilated corpse (oddly drawn in a much more realistic style than the cartoony enemies) hang from the walls, and you can shoot them to reveal power-ups. Most of the items you can collect are the usual fare - health ups, score bonuses, auto-fire icon that let you hold the trigger down instead of pulling it for each shot. You can also collect different weapons, including a more powerful shotgun that has the unfortunate side effect of only holding four shots before you need to reload, fire rounds and a secret thunder gun that calls down a bolt of lighting on anything you manage to shoot with it. You lose your weapon if you're hit, and given the overwhelming amount of enemies and the speed with which they attack you'll be doing well to hold onto any power-up for more than fifteen seconds.
Zombie Raid also tries to catch you out with the occasional jump-scare, like this maggot-filled corpse that descends from the ceiling. Sadly Sammy don't seem to have grasped the underlying concept of the surprise scare: for example, the appearance of the corpse is signalled by a "dramatic" music hit as it slides slowly down the screen. For the amount of surprise it generates I'm amazed I didn't receive a telegram in stage one telling me this was going to happen, followed by a regular newsletter full of reminders that yes, a scare is coming soon. At least it looks suitably disgusting in all its sort-of photorealistic glory.
At the end of the stage, a lift disgorges a horde of zombies. It might not look like much, but this will be important later so keep it in mind.
I was expecting, in the usual videogame tradition, to be fighting waves of enemies while the lift slowly crawled toward its destination, but that wasn't the case. Instead, I fought a green-and-purple version of the first boss. I say "fought" - I shot it a few times before Charles arrived to help out.
Thanks Charles, that was definitely more helpful than your assault on the undefended gate. I'm also glad to see you're packing the same obscenely powerful ammunition as I am. I'll inform Ape-Man II's family of his death and suggest that they go for a closed-casket funeral.
The next stage starts throwing everything at you, with all the monsters you've fought before popping up again as you make your way through more of the castle's cellar. For some reason, the cellar is full of small tables laid out for a romantic encounter - two chairs, candles, wine. I feel like I've stumbled onto an undead speed-dating event, and it's my job to destroy all the participants. Well, Edward is a miserable detective, after all - maybe he's miserable because he can't get laid, and if that's the case then seeing zombies and Frankensteins hooking up is bound to make him grumpy. Grumpy enough to kill everything. Yeah, it's probably a good job that there's this zombie uprising happening for Edward to focus his aggression on.
The second half of the stage takes place in the castle's luxurious upper floors. These areas are packed with mutant apes, because the cold and gloomy dungeons are no place for a monkey. No, they're much more at home here, amongst the myriad of easily breakable and no-doubt expensive objets d'art. Stained-glass windows, ornate candelabras, marble statues - there's nothing here that Edward won't shoot, and sometimes you even get power-ups for your trouble. One of the statues held a strange blue crystal, which you can see floating around in the screenshot above. This is also important. I hope you brought an exercise book or something to take notes in.
At the top of the castle, yet more drama unfolds as Edward is ambushed!
I appreciate the warning, Charles, but really - "watch your behind!"? There's no need for that kind of crudeness. You could have just said "look out."
So, it's a surprise attack but after the way he dealt with that ape in the elevator, I'm sure Charles will have the situation firmly under control in no time.
Or not. Poor old Charles, you were the finest slightly pointless sidekick a miserable detective could ever hope to rescue from a mutant ape.
Then Charles was a zombie. Or a vampire or something, I'm not sure. Possibly a Deadite. He wants you to look at his body, which is apparently indestructible, and then he turns into a boss fight.
I'm sure he's supposed to be some species of vampire, because he's hanging upside down and attacking with bats. Sure he's firing the bats out of his mouth, but for me that's enough to put him firmly in the Nosferatu camp.
This fight is where the limitations of Edward's gun become extremely apparent: between Monstro-Charles, his bats and the normal enemies that still pop up during the battle, you spend so much time reloading your measly six rounds that there's very little time to actually damage the boss, and as a result the fight starts to drag as your health is chipped away by the occasional bat that makes it through your barrage. You'll soon wish it would just end already, which is a shame because up until now I'd been really enjoying Zombie Raid.
Eventually you'll hit Charles enough times to make him explode - something that'll really test the limits of his "indestructible" body - and you can move on to the final stage.
It's a secret laboratory where the main subject of research seems to be "wouldn't it be neat if brains could fly around and shoot lightning?" Obviously that is neat, and I'm always happy to see a new enemy type, so full marks to whatever scientist is behind all this. If there was a Nobel Prize for Blasphemous Tinkering with God's Divine Order, he'd be up on that stage in Sweden, harvesting the organs of his fellow nominees.
It's an uncomplicated stage, a simple right-to-left sweep through a lab filled with all the trappings usually found in any respectable mad scientist's workspace, as well as hundreds of monsters. It'll test your reflexes and the strength of your trigger finger to their limits, and waiting for you at the end is your old pal Charles.
This time he's taken the form of a huge, two-headed monster with a single eye where his belly-button should be. That's his weak point, but hitting it involves removing his heads (which quickly grow back) so they can't block his eye with their massive, Bruce-Campbell-sized chins. Much like the last boss, this is more a battle of attrition than anything else, but at least it's simple and even relatively easy once you figure out his attack patterns.
When Charles' indestructible body has been destructed for a second time, Zombie Raid is over and you can sit back and enjoy the rewarding and cheerful ending sequence.
Unsurprisingly, that was a lie. What actually happens is that Edward falls into a spike-filled pit and dies a gruesome death witnessed only by a pair of faintly mocking skulls. Hooray!
Apparently I made a mistake, and my initial thought was "yeah, it was rescuing Charles from that monkey" but in actuality I didn't collect enough crystals. Remember when I pointed out that blue crystal orb? There are three of them hidden through the game, one each in stages two, three and four. I found the latter two through my unwavering dedication to the destruction every single piece of background furniture, but the first one eluded me so I looked it up. It turns out the elevator full of zombies was the key, and to get the crystal you have to destroy every single zombie that crawls out of the lift. The problem is... I couldn't do that. I tried until my trigger finger was practically smoking from the friction, but I couldn't finish them all off in time before they wandered off the screen and I couldn't seem to keep hold of a more powerful weapon for long enough to bring it to bear on them. I can only apologise for this shameful oversight.
Luckily, I managed to find some screenshots from vgmuseum that show what happens when you collect all the orbs. I know, exciting, right?
You fight another boss. This one is big and green and has less heads but more arms, and it's actually the monster with the hook. He reveals his plan to force the evolution of the human race and then morph into this thing, which is certainly more impressive than his original form. Also, we're back to the extremely well-defined abdominal muscles. That last stage was half laboratory, half gym, I guess.
Once he's defeated, Edward announces that the village (and, by extension, the entire human race) is safe, but that he cannot escape his destiny of a shooter of evil things. He is, and forever will be, a miserable detective. It's barely any more cheerful than the "bad" ending, but any outcome that doesn't end with a metal spike lodged in your intestines has to go down as a win.
You also get a credits sequence where the development staff are drawn as famous monster, which is nice and I'm sure was fun for them as long as they got to be a cool monster and not a merman or something.
So that's Zombie Raid, and it was fun. Just about as much fun as I could handle, to be honest - it was starting to drag a little toward the end. More variety would have been good, especially in the enemy design department, but those issues aside it's a fun, frantic shooter that you'll enjoy if you like monsters, gore and wonderfully cheesy sampled speech. I know I do - I'm still chuckling about that mutant's dinner party plans even now.
It scores big on the Hallowe'en-O-Meter, too!
Nine out of ten seems about right for a game that does a great job of capturing the over-the-top, red-paint-blood and glow-in-the-dark ghoulishness that I personally think of as the essence of Hallowe'en. Plus it's got vampires, zombies, Frankensteins and angry farmers with shotguns, it doesn't get much more Hallowe'eny than that. If you're hanging out with a friend on Hallowe'en night (because really, who goes to a party on a Wednesday night?) and you're looking for some quick two-player fun to fit the spooky mood, then you could do a lot worse than Zombie Raid.