Getting a hands-on demo for an unreleased game is always a treat, but a hands-on demo at E3 becomes a true luxury when it allows you to escape the insanity of the show floor. I left the busy hall behind, navigating into the demo area just in time to make an appointment for a previously unspecified VR title, so you could imagine my surprise when I stepped into the demo room to find a couch, TV, and a collection of controllers rather than a VR visor and an open play space.
Not what I expected, but I was in the right place at the right time, so I settled onto the couch, controller in hand, to explore a zombie-infested post-apocalyptic London through my chosen avatar of Rei, a mohawked punk-rocker chick who excelled at smashing up the undead with an electric guitar. Steven Craft, co-founder of developer Paw Print Games, acted as my tour guide as I wandered the abandoned remains of Piccadilly Circus, bashing animated corpses, destroying barricades and looting crates as we battled our way towards the boss.
The world was decimated more than a year ago by a zombie outbreak, Craft explained, and four survivors, Rei, Mick “the Brick,” Teller, and Eddie have forged an alliance in order to survive. Brought together by circumstance, this band of not-quite-friends will have to survive several levels of side-scrolling couch co-op goodness as they attempt to annihilate a horde of various kinds of undead monsters and take back the broken city. With sharp, graphic novel-looking graphics, bold colors and thick lines, the game really does feel like an interactive comic book, and combos are surprisingly easy to pull off, even for a habitual, undisciplined button-masher such as myself. Characters snarked at each other as we progressed through the first level, learning the basics, when Craft finally suggested we pause so that I could put on the VR visor. My entire view of Bloody Zombies changed.
What felt like a solid but somewhat standard brawler suddenly morphed into a visually stunning world of mobile paper dolls and cardboard backdrops, laid out below me and stretching into the distance to both my left and right. What had previously just been a truck parked in front of a fire escape became a path to climb to a loot-filled secret area. I found myself leaning forward, looking down at the street below, turning my head far to the left to look back at what we had cleared. I marveled at how the street really was a three-dimensional space, how it had real width, and how much easier it was to understand where my character was within that space. Looking to the right, I could see a barricade and the miniboss looming beyond.
Bloody Zombies looks like nothing I have ever experienced in Virtual Reality before. Detached from a first-person perspective, you look down upon the stage from a god-like vantage point, watching as paper-thin characters advance through sprawling levels. Even watching the VR view while someone else played still didn’t quite do justice to what I saw while wearing the visor. Paw Print Games has taken an amazingly unique approach to VR, giving the player access to a two-dimensional world in three dimensions while still allowing VR players to play alongside traditional flat screen gamers.
A cross-compatible game, Bloody Zombies will be available on The Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC, as well as PlayStation VR, Vive and the Oculus Rift. “We’re looking to bring back that feeling of kids in the basement, from back in the 80’s,” Craft explained. “Thirty years later, things are different, technology is different, but we want that feeling.” Available for both local and online co-op, Bloody Zombies is just as functional and playable for flat screen gamers as it is for VR players, though those in a visor might have an easier time identifying routes to secret areas. As an extra treat, characters being controlled by someone playing in VR will spawn with a visor over their eyes, an easy indicator that this person just might be able to lead you to a secret stash of weapons, health and cellphones.