As mentioned in my MARS lightgun review (as well as the look at Dreamcast games I’d like to see come back), I’m a big fan of the classic lightgun titles, specifically the House of the Dead titles from the arcade days. Countless hours were spent perfecting a run with my brother through the original game and its sequels. When I first heard about the MARS my initial thoughts went to a hopeful remake. While that’s not the case yet, we do have Voyage of the Dead; a similarly campy zombie affair, this time based on a cruise ship infested with all manner of the undead. Have Gaming Corps used the intervening years to hone the formula?
The result is not without merit, though I don’t think it’ll be as fondly remembered as the 90’s classics that clearly inspired it. Starting off, we get to choose from a few different characters, each with their own special weapon and bucket of cheese from which to grasp their dialogue. Each of these fit some sort of stereotype; from the detective just looking for a break to angsty teen girl and a alcoholic fisherman, they are at least all uniquely presented. More can be unlocked by completing quests in the extra modes too, allowing for some odd pairings. Throughout the campaign, each will deliver various lines of dialogue at points, though somewhat understandably, they don’t seem to interact with each other.
After a brief opening cinematic – where they are glad to have stumbled upon the bar, only to find the staff already being munched on – the action kicks off. The light-gun does an excellent job of keeping up with the action; its fast response time and accurate sights allowing you to nail shots easily. Sadly, the game itself at times seems to actively try to hinder your efforts. Despite (or perhaps because of) running on Unreal Engine, things sometimes chug along at an almost slide-show pace. When the camera swings around there’s a perceptible hitching while new areas load in. At times, slowdown occurs throwing off the aim, and when later weapons have explosives being thrown around, the game struggles to keep up. Not ideal at at the best of times, when it actively makes the gun in your hand feel useless it’s mightily frustrating. Somewhat oddly though, even these issues are not consistent. Repeated plays through the opening level saw varying performance – at times things ran fine, yet on the next the game would struggle to keep up. As mentioned in other articles, my ageing launch machine may be partly to blame, but it bears talking about all the same.
Which is a shame really, as when things work Voyage is quite fun. Popping off zombie heads is satisfying, there’s some inventive monsters to contend with and using each characters unique weapon adds a little something new to the genre. My wife was particularly fond of the Arsonist’s flame thrower, melting zombies across the screen in no time. The fisherman’s spear (my favourite) is powerful, though solo players may find it too slow to rely on. Upon completing a stage you are granted a choice of upgrade depending on the character, allowing more damage to be dished out, or more special ammo to be gathered etc. I found this to give a good sense of progression, though occasionally the options presented don’t feel all that useful.
Boss battles pop up along the way, requiring you to pay attention to specific weak spots to defeat. These present a decent challenge, though perhaps too much at points. The first proper one – Baron Dumorte– flits about the screen quickly, and often needs small targets to be hit to prevent him from attacking. And of course, once you ‘kill’ him, be prepared for round two…
Unlike the arcade classics, you can’t simply pop another quid in to carry on (thankfully). Here, it’s a one and done affair. While your life bar is fairly generous, once it’s empty you’ll need to restart the story. Even in multiplayer, which supports up to four players, once a player is out that’s it, at least until the next chapter. Items can be shot in the background for perks, such as healing you or granting more powerful ammo so you’re encouraged to shoot anything and everything in sight. It’s a little disheartening though to die and know you need to restart the whole game again. Hell, there aren’t even virtual credits to at least give you a couple of tries to continue. I’m all for nostalgia (in case you couldn’t tell) but it would have been nice to be able to simply pick up from a later chapter just to help see the whole story.
If that all gets too much though, there are a few mini games to partake in that mix things up a bit. My personal favourite being Zombie Golf , where you need to hold the trigger whilst you aim your shot before letting go to kick a zombie head on to one of the targets out at sea. It’s a neat addition to the package and uses the gun in a unique way. Other side missions are slightly more traditional; amongst others, a horde mode seeing you fending off an endless wave of the undead, while the Detective’s mission has you playing a game of Guess Who – you’ll need to shoot (or spare) specific zombies within a tight time limit. Some of these can be played with others, while some are strictly solo affairs. Completing high scores also unlocks new characters to use in the story mode, adding extra incentive to play through each one at least a couple of times.
While it won’t go down in history alongside some of the classics, Voyage of the Dead is a fun arcade light gun shooter that shows of what the MARS can do. It’s a shame that technically the title holds the hardware back, with slowdown and hitches that make aiming much harder than it needs to be. Beyond that though, Voyage shows the promise that the hardware holds, and I can only hope we get further, more optimised titles going forward.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.