In case you’re still unsure what that might mean, it’s Trials HD in the sense that you have a vehicle – this time a series of cars, monster trucks and, eventually, a sixteen-wheeler – and a course ahead of you, all lumps, bumps and ramps. You can accelerate, turbo and nudge the nose of your vehicle to anticipate the course as it undulates, and your ability to meet the floor with your wheels determines how fast you accelerate off afterwards. Unlike Trials HD, you can’t really crash: it’s more about conserving your fuel so you can get further and further along a course.
It’s Carmageddon in the sense that there are zombies blooming everywhere. Every stretch of road has dozens of them, and you’re going to be landing with a fountain of blood and innards. There are big ones, small ones, some as big as your head.
Unlike Carmageddon, the zombies don’t mean anything at all. Diddly squat. They don’t do much more than factor into an end-of-level score. They’re not big enough to slow you down, they don’t drop power ups, they don’t fight you or do anything really. Some of them lamely skewer themselves on the front spikes of your car. Consider them the equivalent of fireworks or confetti, as their catherine-wheeling entrails make you feel like Evil Knievel.
Which, cutting to the chase, isn’t very good, is it? ‘Zombie’ is the first word in the title, so you would expect them to play a much larger role. We don’t play Back 4 Blood because we like sprinting to safe houses, we do it because zombies come in waves, and there’s a thrill to desperately holding them back. So, boo, Zombie Hill Racing, you fall at the first blood-soaked hurdle.
Mixing up the Trials HD format a bit, there’s something between an idle game and a roguelike going on. You won’t be able to complete a course on the first try. Well, you might, but you’d be rather impressive. You’re going to run out of fuel, leaving you stranded in the zombie wasteland. That signals a return to your garage, where you can count the money from your previous run. This money is determined by how far you travelled, alongside a few other factors.
With that money, you can purchase upgrades for your vehicle. You might choose to add Weight to your car, so it’s not halted by the various crates and barrels that the zombies like to sit and swing their legs on. Or perhaps you might want to upgrade your Wheels, so that you can get better traction on the hills. Turbo, Armour, Guns, Engine and more can be upgraded in this way, giving you incremental improvements that mean, just maybe, you can beat your previous personal best and make your way to the campsite at the end of the course.
The upgrading loop is undoubtedly the best part of Zombie Hill Racing. It’s balanced cunningly so that, every time we ever returned to the garage, regardless of how rubbish our run was, we could buy at least one upgrade. There’s a small counterpoint to that, as it’s balanced so well that you can rarely afford to buy a second upgrade, but it’s still a hell of a motivation. Zombie Hill Racing beckons you to have one more go, because you were probably inches from the end campsite, and a new upgrade to your Fuel might get you over that line.
There are six levels with three sub-levels in each, making eighteen courses in total, which might seem lean. But credit to Zombie Hill Racing, it’s actually substantial, especially considering that £3.29 price. You’re going to be replaying each course ten times or so before you complete it, ratcheting up your upgrades as you go, which – let’s do our ten times tables here – means 180 runs before you’ve rinsed the game of everything it has to offer. When a run can take a couple of minutes, that can mean a lot of play-time for the price of renting Death Race 2000.
But Zombie Hill Racing can’t quite hold the interest all the way to the finish line. Since the zombies provide zero interest and strategy, it’s down to the courses to bring the variety, and they can’t manage it. There’s only so many ways to present ramps, hills and bridges. This course takes you down then up; this one takes you up and then down. It needed some va-va-voom, some extra elements to pay attention to. Bizarrely, the last world adds geysers that you can hitch a ride on, which mixes things up for ten minutes or so, and you wonder why they were held back for so long.
Zombie Hill Racing is not bad by any means. The controls are simple and feel good, particularly when you land a jump perfectly and the vehicle lurches forward at speed. That loop of finishing a run, buying a powerful upgrade and then feeling the difference on the course is also tasty. And the price is low for what you get. There’s a wealth of value for your three quid.
But, as it turns out, the bane of the zombie isn’t a headshot, it’s boredom. The courses are all a little too familiar, the zombies don’t actually do anything, and you realise that you’ve been doing the same thing for three hours: accelerating before ramps and landing as level as possible. If you’re after a zen, chillout game of Carmageddon then maybe Zombie Hill Racing will work for you. For us, it was a bit of an uphill slog.
You can buy Zombie Hill Racing from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S