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Players:1 - 4 (2 - 16 online)
Price: $59.99
Platform(s):Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Artificial Studios
Publisher: SouthPeak Games
ESRB: Teen

Zombies Ate My Neighbors was one of those games that revolutionized the zombie, survivor-horror genre. Any game before it was just inferior in every way, and every game after it [in the genre] still wasn’t like it. Artificial Studios, however, has redeemed the survivor-horror shtick from Konami’s and Capcom’s abundant and redundant Resident Evil and Silent Hill games, with a fun-loving arcade shooter, Monster Madness.

The story is quite simple (as it needs to be) with four friends gathered together one night, when suddenly their peaceful suburbia is overrun with zombies, werewolves, vampires, demons and giant killer robots...but mostly it’s just zombies. How lovely. It’s up to the player (or players) to stop the attacking undead and other grizzly creatures as it turns into an all out battle for suburbia.

The game is quite simple in its mechanics, and if you’ve played a game like Hunter you’ll be right at home with the controls and playing style in Monster Madness. I must warn you, though, since the controls are nearly identical to Hunter if you don’t like moving around with one analog and changing directions (to shoot) with the other analog, this could be problematic. But if you played Robotron or any game similar to it, you’ll be right at home with Monster Madness. The biggest difference, though, from this game and other hack-and-slash games in this genre is that Battle for Suburbia prompts for more interactivity and allows players to pick up and use a wide variety of objects and environmental debris. In fact, items like couches, wrenches, tables and other objects can be used as a weapon for players to throw around or used to crush or clobber enemies with melee attacks.

Monster Madness also features a variety of specialty and upgradable weapons. The more accessorial tools and equipment that players find the more a weapon can be upgraded, or built. Yep, there’s a light weapon-crafting feature, in which a weapon can be crafted based on how many monster tokens are collected (from killing monsters, of course) and what kind of items players have acquired by visiting a sporadically placed location called Larry Tools’ Trailer. The difficulty setting of the game will also vary how much it costs to upgrade or purchase new weapons and ultimately adds a bit of elongated replay for gamers who want a challenge in collecting more powerful weapons, which range from shotguns to flame throwers to rocket launchers. In addition to the projectile based weapons, dual-wielding and melee attacks, this game steps it up to the next level by allowing players to take on the form of various other monsters, using an amulet. The playable creatures don’t change the gameplay by a whole lot, but they do add a brief mix-up in the way that the game is played. Also, how often do you get to play a werewolf? Exactly.

There’s also a nice selection of vehicles and vehicle-oriented segments. In fact, out of the 20 stages, players will have access to vehicles quite a bit. Unlike Bungie’s Halo series, Artificial Studios ensured players with a variety of gameplay. However, there is a minor issue during multiplayer coop, of getting hung-up on objects while driving around in some of the vehicles. When played in single-player there’s the option to change the camera to a “chase view”, so players can easily avoid and dodge obstacles that they might otherwise get stuck on. Still, when you toss the four-player cooperative option into the mix it makes for great fun. And the minor issue of getting jammed on objects is forgivable only because of the fast pace and usually insane combat theatrics.

Like Marvel Ultimate Alliance and other multiplayer games in that category, Monster Madness was made to be played with four players. The only downside is that there is no Live Support for coop play. But the local coop is still fine and dandy, considering that local same-screen or split-screen coop options are far and few on most of the recent Xbox 360 games. And besides that, it’s just plain fun!

But for those who can’t live without their Xbox Live, the option, alongside system-link, are very much present. Up to 16 players can duke it out in various modes that prove to be frantic and sometimes tough to keep up with. Nevertheless, the option is there for those who want to use it, and while it could have been a bit more refined to support less erratic battles, Monster Madness’ multiplayer component works well enough for the kind of game that it is.

My only complaint with the actual fighting/shooting – which does carry over into the multiplayer portion of the game – is that because of the way the physics are handled in the game there’s some less-than emphatic reactions from the characters when getting hit. It reminded me a little bit of the stiff Fight Night Round 3 boxer mechanics when the boxers would get hit and fall with underwhelming grace. Luckily, it’s not something that entirely detracts from the overall gameplay, but it was somewhat of a peeve.

When it comes to Monster Madness’ aesthetic appeal, the Unreal Engine 3 comes through to deliver some acceptable, next-gen retro graphics...if that’s possible. The game has an old-school feel to its visual presentation, but it’s done with nicely modeled characters, monsters and high-end lighting effects. The audio is quite fetching and provides gamers with the necessary clarity in weapon effects and comical voice acting. This is accompanied by the overtly Halloween-esque, fun-house musical themes, which suit the art-style dead-on.

Overall, this is a great multiplayer coop game to have if you wanted something different from Marvel Ultimate Alliance. Alternatively, if you’re the kind of gamer who’s tired of one shooter after another, this a great escape for Xbox 360 owners looking for a little diversity. Yes, there are hang-ups in the overall gameplay mechanics, such as getting jammed or stuck on objects, and the different characters are pretty much the same with the exception of their looks and melee attacks, but the game is still generically fun and even better with three other friends.
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