Whiskey and zombies, two of my favourite things in the world. Nothing beats kicking back with a nice glass of Jack Daniels (other whiskeys are available) and watching The Walking Dead or playing through Dead Rising 3 of an evening. Of course, if a genuine zombie apocalypse occurred, and the only thing that could keep you from turning undead and munching on your friends was a bottle of “home brewed” whiskey, I’m not sure which would be the worse fate.
Coming from Nuttery Entertainment is a new game where we have to finely balance the need to stay alive with the ability to still kinda function – that game is Whiskey & Zombies. So, can a zombie outbreak be fun when you’ve got moonshine inside you?
We play as one of four members of the same family, a bunch of hillbillies called the McCrearys. Now, the McCrearys had a reputation before the world went to hell in a handbasket, and that reputation was as the finest moonshine brewers and bootleggers in the good ol’ South of the US of A. Now, it turns out, in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, that the moonshine they brew not only kills the zombie virus but will also turn a zombie back into a regular person, which is handy to know in a multiplayer kind of way. So, with a grand total of three game modes to go at, and a story to follow (such as it is, basically you need to get whiskey and stay alive, end of narrative) lets see what’s on offer, shall we?
In the traditional manner, we shall look first of all at the presentation of the game. Now, are you an old codger like me, old enough to remember Gauntlet the first time around? Well, if so, you’ll feel right at home here as Whiskey & Zombies is presented from a straight on, top down perspective, with only the characters heads and arms visible. And the same goes for the zombie sprites, but I will talk more about those in the upcoming “things wrong with this game” paragraph.
The graphics are small, but functional, and everything moves very smoothly, which is good for a game that claims to be optimised for the Series X|S consoles. There’s nothing here that would cause an Xbox 360 to sweat, so quite why its X|S specified, and quite why it has to be installed on precious internal storage, I do not know. Anyhoo, the sound is as you’d expect with a bunch of drunk rednecks being assaulted by the undead, glugging bottles, loud firearms and the odd shout of “Die Zombie!”. The intro to each story level is quite well done though, with a fully voiced introduction telling us what we need to do, complete with authentic redneck language and more use of an expletive for excrement than I have heard in a long time. Still, it’s all authentically acted, and so it works.
Once the lead character has finished swearing, it’s time to get into the meat of things. Once you (and a friend or three in multiplayer mode, but they have to be local as there is no online multiplayer here; missed opportunity) spawn into the level, you have an objective to fulfil, which is usually to find some whiskey, carry it back to your pickup (what else are you going to drive in the South?) and then get the hell out of Dodge… or the swamp or the prison, wherever you happen to find yourself.
So far, so simple, right? Well, that’s to discount the swarms of zombies in each level, who seem to have mislaid their glasses but have instead put new batteries in their hearing aids. If you wander about the place, walking softly and carrying a big stick, you can usually deal with the odd zombie or ten. Use a firearm or start up a truck though and the zeds come swarming out of every shadow; you will quickly be overwhelmed. Some planning is necessary, as is the ability to stay in just the right amount of drink – too much whiskey and you can pass out, giving any zombies nearby carte blanche to chew on your flesh. If you go too far the other way, and don’t have any whiskey at all, your health will go down until you drink again. On one of the levels, I had finished the objectives, downed all the whiskey, and was driving out of the level to suddenly die. Somewhat arbitrary, I felt at the time, especially as the tutorial doesn’t mention this little nugget of info. So, pro tip: Always have a bottle of whiskey in your pocket or backup in case of emergencies. Some days at work I feel like taking that advice…
Combat is actioned via the traditional twin stick controls – left stick runs your redneck about while the right stick aims your weapon of choice, which can range from a pair of fists (and the associated drunken fury that goes with them) via handguns, rifles and all the way up to grenade launchers. The noisier weapons kill faster but attract more of the undead, and running out of ammo in the middle of a swarm is not a good look, trust me. The overall feeling is one of fun, and walking backwards while blasting away in front of you soon becomes second nature.
In addition to the story mode, there is the obligatory PvP mode, called Last Billy Standing, and also an endless horde mode type affair to go at, so there is a bit of content to play with.
How about problems with the game? Well, there’s really only one, but it’s a doozy. Whiskey & Zombies is set at night and this means that the surroundings and the ground are dark – so why in the name of all that’s holy are the zombies jet black outlines, to all intents and purposes, invisible? I’ve never heard of stealth zombies before, but they are here and they make Whiskey & Zombies about twenty times harder than it needs to be. Not being able to see an enemy is a cheap trick and it certainly leads to some cheap feeling deaths, as the shadow of a tree could have a million zombies in it, and you’d have no way of knowing until you get close and they call come streaming out. This one decision makes the game more annoying than fun, sadly.
In conclusion and what we have in Whiskey & Zombies is a good multiplayer party game ruined by the addition of a weird design decision. There is fun to be had, especially with friends and whiskey, but it is harder than it needs to be, and frustration is only one invisible zombie away.
Whiskey & Zombies is available from the Xbox Store