Certain games deal with such a level of realism and intent that things have become pretty breathtaking over the last few years. Progress in facial design and character expressions has ensured playing games can be likened to watching the very biggest blockbuster films; you aren’t just playing a role in a game, you’re experiencing every element of that world, so much so that you can nearly smell it. But, then there are other games that forego all that realism, leaving you to get involved in a zombie dance-off with a police captain and then spend time eating the brain of a barbershop quartet. Yes folks, welcome to Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse.
Stubbs first released on the Xbox back in 2005, at a time when social media still consisted of MySpace and the chance to actually meet real people in person. It did however receive some warm reviews, but wasn’t without controversy, accused of promoting cannibalism. Since that time, the developers always wanted to produce a sequel but after the company went bust in 2014 that dream faded away. Until now that is, because Stubbs is back and he’s hungry for a new generation of gaming.
There is a mad story rolling around in the back of Stubbs the Zombie; set in the fictional town of Punchbowl in 1959. Here the world is a mixture of old-school 1950’s design elements with B-movie robots and jet packs. Stubbs is our zombie hero, sprouting up from the ground smoking a cigarette, wearing a hat and a cheap suit before he immediately starts feasting on brains. Yet then he watches a bit of TV, spying a woman who he falls in love with before heading out to search for her across the world of Punchbowl. Here he meets all manner of crazy scientists, angry policemen, and mad countryfolk. The story is as bizarre as it sounds; pretty much like a bunch of hatters on LSD. It’s pure B-movie madness in fact, with a tongue-in-cheek goofiness that is the heart and soul of the game. The writing is clever though; fun with some great characters and brilliant concepts. At one point there is a barbershop quartet singing about how they are going to kill our mate Stubbs.
Gameplay-wise you initially get thrown into a sort of tutorial thanks to one of the robots, but from there you’re off. It presents itself – at least at the beginning – like an open-world game, a sort of zombie GTA if you like, but in reality it’s not like that at all. It’s a much more linear affair that provides the illusion of being in a huge world. The gameplay itself puts you in the third-person perspective, giving you the chance to control Stubbs as he stumbles along in, and with, the world.
It’s here where things get crazier, for it is left to you to sneak up behind any person and eat their brains. As soon as that is done they die for a second and then come back as a zombie follower, letting you control your zombie horde by whistling for them to follow you. They will eat anyone in their path for you, and at certain times even help with the destruction of walls that may be blocking a path, or are able to be used to unlock some puzzles. It’s a great effect, even when you consider the limitations on the number of zombies allowed on screen through that old Xbox game.
It’s not just about commanding hordes though, and there are special attacks you can use as well – these are a lot of fun, especially when you break wind and let out a toxic cloud of fury that confuses several enemies at once. You’ll need to use these too as quite quickly you start to encounter police with guns, scientists with ray guns, and soldiers with rocket launchers. One special attack that helps massively is that you can rip off your hand, controlling it from the POV of said hand as you crawl along floors and walls. You can then use this to possess enemies by jumping on their head, taking control of their mind and utilising their weapons until the possessed is killed. Other attacks include throwing your guts like grenades, and ripping your head off and using it as an exploding bowling ball. It’s very clever and a lot of fun.
As you would expect of a game from 2005 that is releasing here and now in 2021, the visuals have a new textured shine but this is still a game from yesteryear. Levels look old, dated and a bit barren, characters come across as extremely old-school, and no matter what anyone says, it takes a while to get used to the straight line level designs of years gone by. But you know what, it doesn’t really matter because Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse provides a good time, and ultimately that’s what counts. The sound design is excellent too, with some great tracks, brilliantly original material, and an excellent voice-over that excels throughout.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from Stubbs the Zombie, but Rebel Without a Pulse has proved to be enjoyable, with an entertaining narrative, writing and zaniness. The gameplay is still pretty original and it’s always more fun being a zombie than taking the other side and trying to kill millions of them. And really, what other game is capable of delivering dance moves, driving elements, boss battles, and the chance to urinate in an action sequence? If you’re after some old-school action and can forgive the dated visuals, then Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse on Xbox might well be worth your time.