Undead Knights PSP Review

If there’s one thing in the video game world that people can’t get rid of, it’s those undead walkabouts called zombies. They’ve populated all sorts of genres and the poor sods are always receiving punishment because they just wouldn’t give up trying to eat the player’s brains. Team Tachyon on the other hand is out to prove that zombies can make great team players with their release of Undead Knights on the PSP.

Undead Knights follows the story of three playable anti-heroes, Romulus, his brother Remus and Remus’ wife Sylvia, who all belong to the House of Blood. That was until their King sealed their fate away by having the three knights murdered after they suspected the King’s wife, Fatima, of wrong doing. Not happy by getting slaughtered by their own King, the group decide to make a pact with The Beast, who brings them back from the dead as necromancers. Now the undead knights are on a warpath to gain revenge.

Gamers definitely should not play this game for the story alone since it isn’t all that good. It serves as a setting for players to be able to beat up some knights with their undead servants. Undead Knights plays like Tecmo Koei’s Dynasty Warriors series, albeit with zombies thrown in as well as the tiniest bit of strategy you could possibly add to that style of hack and slash. What is a bit strange is that since it’s published by Tecmo Koei you would expect the Dynasty Warriors experts at Omega Force to be creating this, instead it’s the fairly new team at Team Tachyon, who have borrowed heavily.

Take away the zombies and Undead Knights could easily be mistaken for Dynasty Warriors. The three main characters all appear to have the same animation as characters from Omega Force’s series. They also have crazy attire and super-sized weapons, even the controls are basically the same. The only difference is how the zombies play, which when you read it on paper, sounds interesting.

The main focus of the game is to build up your zombies by turning your foes into your undead servants, up to a maximum of ten can become your slaves at one time. Grabbing an enemy with the circle button will bring up a meter which shows you taking over their soul. Once full the enemy turns into a zombie for you to control. This isn’t the best way to gain undead soldiers as it takes too much time and you are vulnerable to getting hit. Instead you should attack with the square or circle button and when the enemy soldier is flashing red, press circle, this will instantly convert the enemy into a zombie and it also nets you a little bit of health recovery.

Another way to gain zombies is by using a fully charged Wrath metre. This is just like the Musou special move from Dynasty Warriors. Your character will light up in red and unleash a devastating combo that if any normal foes get killed with it they will automatically turn into the undead. It’s good to use on boss situations as it does a lot of damage as well.

I’m quite a fan of the Dynasty Warriors formula and I love the idea of having an army of zombies to do your dirty work, but the way Undead Knights works with the concept is a mixed bag. This is due to how they fit in the strategic aspects; throughout the game you will have to use your zombies for a number of roles. It ranges from creating a bridge of zombies to cross a gap to destroying towers and walls, or launching them into barriers to break them. They can also be used for bait to set off enemy traps, picked up to use as shield, thrown at enemies to act like bombs or just be used for general attacking.

The problem comes down to trying to control your zombies to do this stuff – it feels so detached from the main game. To issue a command to your undead hoard you need hold down the R button, which turns the view into an over-the-shoulder type, with a reticule to show where your character is aiming. Using the reticule you need to point to things to send the zombies to attack that point, but because you need to hold down the R button to make them do that, you cannot see what’s coming after you; therefore it sometimes results in you getting hit by some unexpected guest. What makes it even worse is when you’re attacking structures, it zooms into the structure showing your zombies damaging it, but you haven’t a clue what the hell is near you, usually resulting in the camera zooming back to you after you get hit. This kicks you off the zombie command view, resulting in half of your zombies giving up attacking the designated area.

It might not seem that bad but you have to take into the account the unlimited spawning of the basic enemy, the guys that dress in yellow and carry a sword. They are easy to take down because they are spawning for the sole purpose of being converting into zombies, so that if the player loses their zombies for any reason, they have a limitless supply to create new ones. It doesn’t mix well with how the zombie control is set up and will frustrate players.

There’s a simple pattern in the level design that is fairly obvious after defeating a few of the game’s twenty chapters. Undead Knights breaks down into this formula. The player is attacking soldiers, converting  them and then killing a mini boss or breaking obstacles with zombies, and then continuing onto the boss. It’s nothing all that exciting and it is a real shame that they haven’t used some more interesting ideas to make your zombies amusing martyrs of the undead. I’d like to be able to use my zombies as instant kill attacks on those damn annoying horse riders. Those guys just constantly knock you down and if you’re stuck near a wall then you’ve got to hope that they don’t attack, so you get time to roll away because they will hit you when you get up. There doesn’t seem to be a way to avoid it since you can’t block attacks.

Each of the three characters has the ability to level up using the souls you collect from finishing a chapter. The levels for each character are the same; it’s just the story scenes play out a little differently depending on who you pick. An achievement-based system is implemented into the game to add replay value. If you can find a friend with the game then you can have some multiplayer versus mode between the three options available. Survival Race is a race to the goal and then you have to kill the enemies. King Battle is the first to kill a boss, but the last one, Undead Battle, is the most amusing as it has you and another player trying to throw zombies at each other to get the most hits.

Many of the levels look bland and feel similar throughout the game, they are very uninspiring. The overall presentation in Undead Knights is just about okay. The player characters look pretty good but the small enemies lack the same detail. Larger monsters look better and are the highlights of the game’s engine along with the cut scenes, but apart from that everything else is average at best.

It’s amusing watching the cut scenes and seeing the characters speak their lines, but their mouth remains closed constantly throughout the scene. It’s like they are just talking to each other with the power of mind speak. I guess there’s some plague running throughout the kingdom that locks everyone’s jawbone.

The voice work itself is tolerable but very over the top. There are swear words thrown in, like when you use your wrath attack with Sylvia, the female knight of the game, she shouts out “Every last fucker die!” and she’s so full of anger she means it too. Soundtrack wise the game is full of heavy metal guitar riffs that feel kind of tacky. I frequently enjoy heavy riffs over the top of battle scenes. I even like the music in Kingdom Under Fire on the Xbox or the older Dynasty Warriors games, but in Undead Knights it just sounds generic and not catchy in the slightest.

I have no doubt that some people will enjoy the mindless violence and see it as an interesting take on the Dynasty Warriors formula. It makes for a quick pick up and play title because the stages are really short, lasting between 10-20 minutes a chapter. I just wish the overall game had better mechanics.

There’s so much more you could do with an army of zombies than what Undead Knights leads you to believe. The way the game is executed doesn’t do the idea any justice, but I’d be interested in a sequel to see the concept fully fleshed out. As it is, Undead Knights just feels very average.

5/10

by

Version tested: PSP

Developer: Team Tachyon

Publisher: Tecmo Koei

Genre: Action

Players: 1-4