When I saw My Cat vs Zombies Ep I listed in the new releases a few weeks ago, I pointed and laughed. I did, literally – I turned to the other person in the room, flung out my accusatory finger and made a “haw haw, what’s this rubbish?” kind of noise. I may also have rhetorically exclaimed something like “who would think that’s a good idea?!” or “what’s wrong with these people?!”
The title and cover are absolutely despicable. On Xbox Live Indie Games, the word ‘zombies’ immediately gives me indigestion. 90% of the time it’s like a rickety old flickering neon sign advertising bargain bandwagon rides (boarding hourly from outside the Creative Bankruptcy Motel). Expanding it to anything ‘versus zombies’ is an improvement in the same way that falling into a sewage processing facility is an improvement over faceplanting in a urinal. It’s more ambitious, but that’s not necessarily a welcome quality.
‘Cats versus zombies’ would be like falling into a sewage processing facility with the greatest hits of ABBA playing in the background. On their own, cats/ABBA are fine, but their sickly sweet presence is almost insulting when it’s tacked on to a horrible experience in a cynical attempt to dilute your misery. The final touch, making it ‘my cat versus zombies’ and having a LOLcat-style cover that was thrown together while waiting for a bus just adds a smear of self-indulgence, like a man in a huge foam Stetson singing along to ‘Dancing Queen’ off-key while the mingled excretions of a major city close over your despairing head.
So yes, I felt thoroughly justified in my pointing and laughing, secure in the knowledge that my obnoxious behaviour was positively genteel by comparison to this game’s many crimes.
Well the developer can point and laugh right back at me, because My Cat vs Zombies Ep I is pretty good.
The world has been overrun by zombies, as you might expect. What you probably wouldn’t expect is the immunity of cats to the zombie-propagating virus, and the consequent rise of cat colonies in the abandoned subway tunnels beneath the world’s cities. There’s a definite touch of Fallout 3 to the setting. You’ll journey entirely through tunnels, crossing disused stretches of track and stumbling across little isolated enclaves of survivors. There are also rumours of a larger, secure cat city known as Whiskertown, which put me in mind of the awed curiosity I felt whenever someone in Fallout 3’s wilderness mentioned Rivet City.
I also felt touches of the old SNES RPG Shadowrun in places, particularly when I was asked early on to deliver a shipment of hallucinogenic catnip to a junkie. The bleak ad hoc communities remind me of Fallout, but the slide into despairing depravity has Shadowrun’s fingerprints on it, intentionally or not.
In gameplay, My Cat vs Zombies Ep I is essentially a twin-stick shooter. Move with one stick, aim with the other, shoot with the right trigger. The emphasis on taking missions from NPCs, exploring the maze of tunnels for loot and making the most of relatively sparse supplies of ammunition give the game a more action-RPG feel than the control scheme would suggest. Fallout 3 rears its head again here in the form of perks that you can choose from each time you gain a level, mostly giving you either a damage boost or extra health.
In spite of all this, the game is far from serious. In conversation, characters are represented by amusing or cute photos of real cats, and the names of the perks make liberal use of the internet’s various cat memes. I never laughed aloud, but the tongue in cheek tone works fairly well and gives the game some personality.
Aside from the largely uninspiring visual design (par for the course among Xbox indies), my only real complaint is the length. I wasn’t watching the clock, but I estimate that I finished My Cat vs Zombies Ep I in about an hour, maybe an hour and a half, and that included quite a lot of leisurely exploration. That still isn’t bad for 80 Microsoft points, and this game is clearly intended as the first in a series of episodes, but I’m no fan of the episodic release format. It irritates me when I have to stop playing just as a game is hitting its stride.
Still, if wanting more of the same is my biggest gripe, I’d have to say My Cat vs Zombies Ep I is a winner. Not a big winner – maybe a local raffle winner rather than a lottery millionaire – but certainly worth a play for its charming post-apocalyptic RPG adventure. It’s just a shame that everyone with any taste will be sent screaming in the opposite direction by the gut-churningly awful title and cover art.