Rock of the Dead is the rhythm gamer's zombie shooter. It's a game where you literally rock zombies to death. It's like playing GuitarFreaks and Typing of the Dead at the same time, but actually possible. Why is this game even new? This should be a huge franchise by now, and its own genre. We should be giving out an annual award for the "Best Game Where You Use Guitars to Kill Zombies," and it should have some of the fiercest competition. Well, we're not there yet. But we can be. The revolution starts this year, with Epicenter Studios' Rock of the Dead.
Here's how it works: you strap on a guitar controller from any Guitar Hero or Rock Band game, or use a drum kit. You play as Neil Patrick Harris. He probably plays a character with some other name in the game, but you can call him NPH anyway. You're trying to rescue a woman voiced by Felicia Day, zombies are everywhere, and they all attack your NPH. So you kill them with your guitar. (The story behind this all is brought to by the guy who wrote The Witcher.)
Multiplayer is drop-in/drop-out so a buddy can hop in to help at any time, and even though you're on the same team and share lives and continues, you get separate high scores to keep it competitive. There are also branching paths to add to the replay value.
Each zombie has a pattern of colored dots below them. You hold in the fret buttons on your guitar that match the colored dots beneath the zombie you wish to attack, you strum, and the zombie dies. After you kill a particularly badass monster, NPH exclaims "Duuuuuuuuude!" Normally this all happens to new rock renditions of classical music, but there are a few Rob Zombie songs sprinkled throughout. The demo of the PS3 version that Nick Simberg and I played used "Dragula."
Many enemies were on the screen at once, but they each had different patterns. This way the game could tell exactly which enemies we were targeting, so we could focus on the enemies that were closer, faster, or stronger. This also means I couldn't just get into the rhythm and play the same thing repeatedly. I had to be ready for several different musical phrases of different lengths, rhythms, and difficulties, and I had to play them all as fast as possible to stay alive. Weaker enemies or the projectiles they were launching at us would only take two or three notes to stop, while bigger enemies could take four or more, or chords.
The biggest monsters (or maybe they're the smallest bosses) would activate a few musical bars, turning it into a regular music game for a short interlude. Both of us had to hit every note, but to a beat. After years of practice with other rhythm games, these sections were actually easier than the phrase-based monsters terrorizing the rest of the game. In addition to these zombie swarms, there were also some power-ups that could only be activated by a very quick musical phrase. These were only available for a second though, so you've got to be fast and accurate to grab them.
Rock of the Dead will be coming to the PS3, Wii, and XBox 360 later this year for $40. It's cheaper than most guitar games, and has more zombies. We're pretty pumped for this one. In fact, we already started our own zombie band to get ready for it. We're called Barbara and the Braineaters.