There are many games from the past few generations that are remembered with a degree of fondness. There were other games that were entertaining for about a weekend, but were quickly forgotten. Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse, originally released by developer Wideload in 2005, is one of those games that falls into the latter category. When a re-release was announced earlier this year, I couldn't think of a single person who asked for one. And, after playing it for a full weekend, I'm sorry to say that there's a lot about Stubbs the Zombie that didn't age well.
Brevity is the soul of brains
The one major element of Stubbs the Zombie that sticks out is its setting. Players are taken to the city of Punchbowl. It's a futuristic town with guide robots and hover cars, but it's one that's basically stuck in a 1950s timewarp. Stubbs just randomly shows up one day, hungry for brains. Don't think too hard about how he wound up there. The idea is just to start munching on human heads. It might take a while, given that the tutorial is painfully slow.
The majority of Stubbs is simply running around and eating people. Some won't resist, others will put up a big fight. But there isn't a lot of variety when it comes to objectives. Move forward, eat brains, move some more, eat some more brains. It's fun for about a minute, but it gets repetitive fast, which I'll discuss momentarily.
The action is broken up with some primitive cutscenes and, as ugly as the visuals are in this game, at least the cinematics are good for some laughs. The sight gags and the one-liners from the various citizens, as well as the police officers and the militias, are pretty funny in a B-movie kind of way. Stubbs' story isn't aiming for high art, it's aiming for a few good laughs. The absurdity of the dialogue nails that, as the story is mainly about people reacting to the presence of this awkward zombie with a gaping pancreatic wound.
The downside of the Stubbs visual style is that a majority of the game is presented through a grainy 1950s film filter. It's ugly as sin and even if the film filter is turned off in the Options menu, it offers little improvement. Stubbs looked so painfully dated that I seriously wondered if something was wrong with my Switch.
The walking (aimlessly) dead
As amusing as the cutscenes are, they eventually end and then you're reminded of what a painfully mediocre experience Stubbs the Zombie is from a gameplay standpoint. If humans try and resist, the idea is to strike them directly. The number of hits it takes to subdue them in order to eat their brains varies depending on the enemy and it's largely inconsistent due to the game's poor hit detection. Stubbs has a flatulence attack that can stun foes, but it's hard to tell how far it actually reaches. Ditto for Stubbs' other attacks, which include tossing his pancreas as a grenade and bowling his head at groups of enemies.
There's a cool idea in place in that any fallen enemies will rise again as zombie allies. Stubbs can whistle in their direction to get them to follow him. Again, that idea is undone by an inability to tell how far the whistle reaches and how many allies can be called over. Where this mechanic fails is that it's often really hard to tell who's a zombie ally and who's an enemy. Considering that portions of the stage won't open up until all enemies are defeated, this becomes aggravating fast.
Speaking of the stage opening up, Stubbs' stages are vast portions of the Punchbowl utopia and its surroundings. It can be easy to make a wrong turn and suddenly go down the same path you were going before. Unfortunately, this game doesn't offer a map, a radar, or anything to help you know where you're going. Much of this game is spent going in circles, unintentionally backtracking, or frantically searching for the one last enemy to help you progress forward. The combat is already monotonous, but this makes the moment-to-moment gameplay feel so much worse.
The best thing Stubbs has going for it is that some of the boss battles are genuinely clever. For example, the Punchbowl police station is supposed to end with a fight against the police chief, but he wants a dance-off. That leads to a dance battle between a balding police chief and an undead zombie breakdancing to 1950s doo-wop oldies. It's one of the funniest moments in the game and if there were more moments like this, Stubbs would really stand out.
Rebel without a clue
Video game rental venues like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video were in their twilight when Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse originally released. I say that because Stubbs feels like it was made for a weekend rental. There isn't a lot to it, it's not really made for longer play sessions, and the story only goes a few hours. There aren't any collectibles or really any incentive whatsoever to go back to it once it's over.
For those reasons and more, it continues to baffle me as to why Stubbs got this modern re-release. The story is fine, but clever narratives can only take a game so far. Nothing about this game feels like it belongs in 2021, whether it's the repetitive gameplay or the dated graphics. Like Stubbs' character in this specific story, this game should be approached as a curiosity and nothing more.
This review is based on a digital copy provided by the publisher. Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse will be available on Steam, the PlayStation Store, the Microsoft Store, and the Nintendo eShop on Tuesday, March 16 for $19.99. The game is rated M.
Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse
- Funny story
- Clever boss battles
- Repetitive gameplay
- Horribly dated visual style
- No map system to keep you on track
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse review: Brainless
This was one of the 2 games i was able to place on my Dad's Powermac. It ran terribly.
spoilers: it's great
This game had a really great soundtrack.
Ozzie be like...https://youtu.be/LK5DQe8xD7E