As the videogame scene matures, and the games that frequent it become ever more complicated, there are times when you just hanker for the simple experiences; games that you can sit down with for one evening, have a bit of fun, hammer through without a care in the world and then discard for the next quick hit. Dustoff Z is one of those games.
It’s been three years since Xbox gamers have had the chance to play a Dustoff game, but now, following on from the release of the rather excellent Dustoff Heli Rescue 2 back in 2017, comes Invictus Games and Zordix’s Dustoff Z, a helicopter zombie combat game. And yes, as the genre hints at, your goal throughout is to take charge of a number of helicopters, fill them with sharpshooters and get out there to take down the zombie apocalypse that is threatening the extinction of mankind.
It all plays out with a lovely visual style, one that is full of detail but definitely errs on the side of minimalism – for instance, even the characters you’ll get to know are bereft of eyes. It’s not as blocky as the previous Dustoff that rocked up on Xbox One, but the simple visual style – and wonderful backing track that pushes everything along – does the job intended: bright, colourful, full of green blood and packed with huge explosions.
Gameplay-wise and control of your copter is done by simply moving left or right as the stages play out, occasionally moving up and down to higher or lower levels to navigate through broken buildings, under massive cranes or through tight gaps. Each stage is frequented with hundreds of zombies too – with multiple types running, jumping and flying at you without a care. There is, however, never a need to pinpoint a shot, with just the press of your trigger finger urging your crew members to do their very best. Again, Dustoff Z ensures that simplicity rolls over into the gameplay aspects too – fly, shoot, hope.
The levels themselves ramp up in complexity, but fail to ever push the boundaries of what is required of a game that you can really get your teeth into. Instead you’ll first be tasked with flying to safety, landing on an HQ’s helipad to conclude the initial level. From there, you do the same in the next, just after rescuing a couple of survivors out in the field. Throw in the odd convoy reccy, a bit of base camp defending, or the need to destroy certain items of interest along the way, and the base elements of Dustoff Z are well covered.
It’s nice therefore to see the odd bit of breakup from total zombie annihilation with the need to occasionally drag items through the field with the use of your winch, either building bridges to help rescue survivors, or picking up destructive bombs to clear pathways for convoys. You’ll also need to use that winch to drag home the big zombie bosses that pop up every now and then – take them down with all your might, drop a hook through their head and you’ll be able to fly back through the stage and ensure your buddies at army HQ can fully dissect and analyse them. A bit of physics comes into play here – dragging a hefty beast along with a copter is a recipe for disaster if you’re not careful.
Whatever you’re doing in Dustoff Z though, you need to watch out for a few things. Obviously the zombies are front and centre and they can’t be missed, but each and every helicopter in your stable comes with three vital stats that should be kept on top of – health, fuel and ammo. These will obviously deplete as you head into action, only topped up by picking up dropped health, ammo and fuel packs as you take down foes. There are also the occasional helipads found out in the field that let you resupply as and when is required, but other than that you’re on your own. Keeping an eye on these levels is vital, if only because without fuel or health you’ll fail your mission. Occasionally this is where Dustoff Z falls down, with many of the boss fights seeing you confined to a specific area, left to hope you take down the biggest of the bad before you run out of fuel. It’s nice then that each mission allows one in-game cash purchase to get you back into the action should you require it.
You won’t want to splash that cash willy-nilly though as success in Dustoff Z’s missions will provide you with cold hard cash, tins of beans and cogs of glory. These in turn go some way to leveling up and upgrading your fleet of helicopters and small army of gunners. Each copter is capable of different things – some are faster, some will hold more survivors, others will allow you to go with additional team members – and the shooters themselves come equipped with a variety of weapons and skills from assault rifles, through to machine guns and flamethrowers, up to grenade launchers and across to the formidable Zombinator with his gatling gun. Mixing and matching your team and your vehicle type can be key.
The problem is, whilst there is some fun to be had with Dustoff Z, the whole thing gets old real quick, and even if you do power on through to the conclusion, you’ll find little need for you to ever worry about bringing your best gaming skills to the table.
Dustoff Z runs with one game mode, that of a campaign, and with some delightfully created cutscenes delivering the odd bit of narrative and background to why and how you’re going to get rid of the zombie masses ahead of you, the basic gameplay boils down to nothing more than flying your chosen copter left and right, holding down the right trigger like there is no tomorrow and hoping you come out the other end successful. Whilst that is initially fine, and the stages themselves are fairly short, constant repetition raises its head time and time again.
A road map dictates the level structure but this is a massively linear affair with one stage being thrown out after another, each of which requests you to take down three completion stars in order to prove your worth. Nailing the mission objective, doing so in a specific time, and ensuring that there are no casualties all help your star level increase.
The real issue with Dustoff Z though comes just as you think you may have reached the utter conclusion. You see, the 30 or so levels that are present are all unlocked as and when you complete the one prior to it. Except for the final stage; a stage that unlocks depending on how much intel you have collected throughout the previous levels. This may come in the form of taking down specific zombie types, destroying certain vehicles, or putting an end to the hulking big bosses. But it may also come from killing slightly larger zombies – Lieutenants – before that, and then utilising your winch to drag them back to base. Now this is all well and good except for if you miss one or two of these guys in the early stages, and power on through to the end, as you’ll discover the finale of Dustoff Z is still locked, requesting you to fill your Alman-O-Tronic with all information. That would be absolutely fine, and going back through certain stages to sweep up these last bits and bobs would normally not be an issue – especially as by that time you’ll have a team of shooters and a plethora of helicopter types at your disposal; it would be a cinch. Except the development team behind Dustoff Z have given absolutely zero indication of which level any of these missing bits of intel can be found on. And I’ll tell you right now, going back through nearly 30 levels in the hope you finally find the one with the information you’re missing is nothing but an utter ballache.
It’s a shame too, because through my handful of hours with Dustoff Z, I’ve enjoyed what it’s delivered. There has been nothing outstanding, and it’s not going to be thought of as a game of the year contender, but for kicking back for some simple zombie blasting without a care in the world, it just about does the job. Until that discovery near the conclusion.
Of course, if you really like what Dustoff Z brings then you could even bother going through the levels again and again in the Hard and Epic difficulties. But why you would really want or need to do that is beyond me. It’s not like either of those additional options bring anything particularly different to Dustoff Z – just more zombies and more in-game cash-earning opportunities. Although if you are bothered about achievements and Gamerscore, there is a bit more of an appeal. The Daily Missions may also help drag you back in a little, but if truth be told just covering those objectives in a day or two will see you rewarded with more in-game cash than you’ll know what to do with.
Dustoff Z on Xbox One is one of those games that you should take a punt on if you’re looking to keep yourself entertained for an evening, home alone, with little else to keep you occupied. It delivers a decent upgrade system to both the shooters you can employ and the vehicles that you can fly, and there’s just enough of a test to ensure you won’t be able to shut your eyes and hope for the best. It’s disappointing that a lack of clarity in terms of what is required for full completion comes to the fore, and occasionally the physics go awry, but it’s still a decent little time waster.