DEVELOPER: Planet Moon Studios

I’ve been a fan of developer Planet Moon since
their third-person shooter/eater Giants: Citizen Kabuto. That
title blended three variants on the traditional run-and-gun formula into one
cohesive package, and stood out from its peers thanks to a wicked, wacky sense
of humor. The developer’s follow-up title, Armed and Dangerous,
toned down the variety of gameplay for a more familiar shooter style, though
the humor remained thankfully intact.

With Infected, Planet Moon’s debut
PSP title, the developers have reached the nadir of their gameplay innovation,
but their senses of humor and design are as solid as ever.

The Pitch

Planet Moon has, in their history, come up with
compelling storylines that, despite their instant attraction, have very little
depth. Infected starts out as shallow as can be — a zombie
plague hits
New York City! —
but, sadly, doesn’t make as much of its thin plot as could be made. The main
problem is that no compelling characters are made; instead, the player takes on
the customizable persona of a
cop whose blood is not only resistant to
zombification, but also damages zombies. The player is a walking counter-virus,
which sets up some fun gameplay moments, but isn’t mined to its story

Where Giants and Armed and
were console titles, however, Infected is
designed entirely for the PSP. Limited story has become sort of a hallmark for
handheld titles (which is a shame, seeing as how there are quite a few handheld
titles with damn good stories — last year’s Fire Emblem: The Sacred
or Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, for
example), so I don’t want to devote too much time complaining about Infected‘s
lack on that front. I will say that I feel a bit let down by a developer which
has proven before its agility with thin stories, but that’s not a quality of
the game itself.

The Play

The gameplay in Infected has been
favorably compared to that of classic arcade action fests like Robotron
. It’s a comparison I can pretty well get behind. There isn’t much
of a variety to the play objectives, all of which fall under the umbrella of "Slaughter
the Dead." Sometimes you’re trying to save X number of civilians,
sometimes you’re required to kill all the enemies before the timer runs out,
and sometimes the game just wants you to kill until your thumbs bleed.

The one unique bit of gameplay is the enemy
chaining system. Basically, all the zombies have to be destroyed through the
use of your viral gun, which is a separate weapon from your usual armada of
pistols, RPGs, and submachine guns. You can use the heavier equipment to get a
zombie’s health down to zero, but to deal the finishing blow you have to use
your viral gun. The twist is that if you have a lot of near-dead zombies close
together, you can explode them all with a single shot of the viral gun,
chaining their deaths together for points and bonus items. It lends a bit of a
puzzler aspect to the fast and furious third-person shooting.

A few developers have tried to work third- or
first-person shooters onto the PSP’s single-analog control scheme, with varying
degrees of failure, but Planet Moon have done all right. The analog nub
controls movement of your character, with the default in a semi-tank mode
whereby the character turns when the nub is pushed to the left or right. In
order to stabilize and strafe, hold the right trigger down. This takes only a
couple of minutes to become familiar, and after that works very smoothly. The
problem is that the directional pad is then used to switch weapons, but to do
so requires lifting your thumb off the analog nub, which often spells certain
death in heavy combat situations.

The Replay

Depending on how well you do at achieving the
goals of any given level, you are granted medals and, along with them, degrees
of "hazard pay". If you don’t warrant even the bronze medal, then you
get nothing from the level, and really ought to replay it. The hazard pay is
then spent between levels on upgrades to character stats, weapon proficiencies,
special weapons, and other unlockables such as new character models.

The enhancement model is well-established as
enticing gamers to play for just one more level; it’s a similar
carrot-and-stick that drives the Diablo games. Unfortunately for Infected,
the number of bonuses are kind of slim and run out early on, so the mid- to
late-game offers less of an incentive to score highly, unless you’re the type
who really likes alternate player models. The life of the game is shortened
somewhat, as a result.

The other factor that might help to lengthen Infected‘s
grip on a gamer is its unique multiplayer game. There is a mode that lets
players "infect" each other with custom viruses, which are based on
your player model. Each time you defeat an opponent, you infect their PSP
(don’t worry; it’s a cosmetic, in-game infection). Subsequently, if that opponent
goes on to defeat someone else, he’ll pass your virus on, unless he has cleaned
you out of his system. It’s a nifty idea, but I’m afraid I can only comment on
it as a concept, since I was unable to find any games before turning in this review using infrastructure mode, and I don’t know anyone that could play ad hoc (local) with me. It’s a clever idea, though, especially since you can also
use the developer’s site to track the progress of your virus.

The multiplayer game is pretty standard
deathmatch scenarios, but the purely-cosmetic customizability limits its adoption by
action gamers.

The Presentation

This is a good game with which to show off your
PSP to skeptics, as long as you don’t let them look at the environments.
Instead, pump them through the slick menus, the splatter kills, and let them
ogle the pretty lighting and explosion effects.

The character animations aren’t the greatest,
with a slight disconnect between the animation of your character’s legs and the
speed at which he moves. The backgrounds are boxy and limited, but Planet Moon
wisely focused their artistic attentions on those aspects of the game which
your eye will be naturally drawn to. The technical limitations of the PSP
prevented them from heaping as much gory love on your character’s surroundings.

There’s a decent tracklist of licensed music that
accompanies the action, but the slight loading hitch that pops up when a new
song is rotated in gets annoying pretty quickly. The songs are from bands such
as Slipknot, so if you don’t like nu-metal, or prefer to kill zombies to, I
dunno, Vivaldi or something, then you may want to just can the stuff. Other
load times are generally good, with five to ten seconds when shifting between menus
and missions.

The Verdict

I’ve got no qualms recommending Infected
for the PSP player who moans the dearth of good games for the system. Its slick
production values and grab-and-go style of play suit the system, taking
advantage of its control scheme, a/v quality, and power. It’s not a game that’s
going to last long in anyone’s collection; the shine does wear off before too
long, but as a piece of consumable entertainment it does its job well, which is
to say it is darn fun while it lasts.