I’m smiling too much while playing a detective on holiday (and on a few replays, a cheery British gal pyromaniac) aboard a huge cruise liner that’s suddenly become filled with zombies. A few comically big-headed biters go down with ease, M-rated blood splashing and splattering when they’re hit, but I’m soon jumping out of my skin when I spend too long on a large pack of undead that suddenly appear to my left (oops), and I get waylaid by some swarming in from the right (double oops, and GAME OVER). Ah well. A few shots to the menu later, I’m trying again and yes, having a blast. Yeah, some pleasure cruise vacation this is turning out to be, huh?
The game is called:
It’s an Unreal engine-based rail shooter downloadable PS4 or Xbox One title from developer Gaming Corps Studios, one of three games currently available for PDP’s new MARS LIGHTCON (lightgun) peripheral and IR STATION camera setup ($99.99, game included). The wireless LIGHTCON is sturdily built and came with 2 AA batteries installed that gave it a nice heft, but it’s light enough to be comfortable for long play sessions. It’s not cheap feeling at all, mind you, but something that’s very well-made and made to work precisely for the games that come out for it. I did replace the alkaline batteries with rechargeable ones because that’s how I roll these days.
Oddly, you need to have a wired or wireless controller handy to initialize or pause the games and definitely a wireless one if you happen to have an external hard drive plugged into a USB like I do. The IR STATION requires one port, your main controller another if it’s not wireless. PDP also sent over a nice controller charger set (I’ll review that in a separate article), but the PS4 has always suffered from a lack of USB ports. Personally, I think the console should have shipped with an extra side port and/or one on the rear because of peripherals like this and the fact that heavy users like myself need a larger storage.
Back to the game, it’s quite fun overall and offers up enough zombie types to keep things interesting (aliens, voodoo, and magic using undead pop in as the missions go on). The PS4 version generally runs smoothly, but there are a few areas with hiccups in the frame rate, and some scene transitions aren’t as smooth as they could be. That said, it’s got a certain charm and makes a good first impression.
The game also packs in eight characters to play as (some unlocked via mini-games), a single-player mode, a versus mode, six mini-games for up to four players (I’m especially fond of the quirky pinball , UFO, and “golf” games here). Overall, it’s worth a look if you like all things zombie-related. While it’s not rated for kids, given that there are a great deal of wee ones that find zombies awesome and kind of hilarious, if you’ve got them (kids, not zombies!) and you’re OK with the gory stuff, they might find this pretty cool.
While the campy voice acting gets repetitive, the audio design and soundtrack are quite excellent overall. You can expect about 2 hours or so in Story mode (well, experts will probably blow through in less time and nope, I’m no expert). unlocking everything in every mode depends on a player’s dedication to seeing it all as soon as possible or on their own time. While you need to restart the game each time (like most arcade games, there’s no save system in place), the game does track all your stats so you can see that progression if you’re curious.
There are retail versions of all three launch titles (games are presented as digital codes on cards inside of different box art for each title), but you only need to pick one pack for the IR camera and gun included unless you’re a hardcore collector for your console of choice who wants every variant. Extra LIGHTCON guns are $29.99 each; the games are $19.99 per title. This makes for an affordable option that has the potential to be a winner if and when more games and licenses are secured. Will it work on PS5 or Xbox Scarlett? I’ll ask PDP for a clarification on that. I’d gather that there’s no Switch version of this because the system’s portable nature prevents the IR Station peripheral from being attached (and it wouldn’t work at all in handheld node), but that’s one more question to prod the developers with. I also don’t know about cross-compatibility other than the PS4 IR has its USB cable attached to the camera, while the Xbox version doesn’t.
Setting up the IR STATION is simple, but for some users will be the trickiest part of installation. If you’re in a crowded or cluttered space, it requires exact placement so it can “see” all four corners of the TV screen (analog or otherwise, the unit supports any TV or projector either console can connect to). Maybe you’ll need a furniture adjustment to place the camera on so nothing is blocking it. Lighting in the room of choice also needs to be adjusted (shades drawn, if possible) so that the IR camera takes in the image from the TV or projector you’re using for maximum results. If you’re using a back light of any type, shutting it off will be VERY helpful here, as the extra light will cause the onscreen targeting to jump around.
The guns are very easy to pair. The wireless design means up to four LIGHTCONS can be used (so far) on a single console, so you can have at it with friends when they drop by for some co-op or versus action. The gun is designed with a trigger, a rear button that’s used differently for each game, a button on the right that pairs it to the IR STATION, and a sliding barrel for reloading or other functions in games that use that feature. In terms of accuracy, MARS is solid when paired properly, although the IR STATION will react to being bumped or moved by taking a few seconds to re-calibrate (guns need only to be paired once). Other than Big Buck Hunter Arcade (which is a few years old and has had MARS support added to it), the games won’t work without the IR camera and work best with other IR devices inactive.
Qubit’s Quest from developer Two Okes Entertainment Ltd. was next to try out and it’s a really good family friendly sci-fi action/platform game (with a LOT of explosions) where players need to protect a robotic dog as it travels though and around a hazardous environment. Not only do you need to blast robots, objects, and bosses, you also get to control the dog in some areas by jumping with the orange button on back of the gun or optionally, using the slide on the barrel. Paying attention to the levels will keep you out of pits and other traps, but those enemies tend to shoot glowing spheres that need to be blasted before that metal mutt buys the farm. There’s a lot going on here, but the game was simple to grasp, some areas were more fun than others, and overall, the game feels like one of those Dreamcast or arcade gun games you stumble upon circa 2001 or so. That’s a complement, mostly.
One issue is, while extremely fun to play, it feels like a launch title from the past on a console that’s set to be replaced within the next year or so. That said, between the main story content and the 10 mini-games here, they’re pretty solidly done and those mini-games are inspired by other arcade or arcade-like experiences you may or many not be aware of. The game is is, like Voyage of the Dead, meant to be played like an arcade game, so short sessions and lots of replays will be a thing for as long as this is in your play stack. While you can complete both games in a single sitting if you wanted to, like the games they’re modern versions of, you’ll be back for more if you’re wanting to beat that old scores and jump a few places on the leaderboards.
Finally, Game Mill and developer Play Mechanix, Inc.’s Big Buck Hunter Arcade ($19.99) was up, and while I’m not big on it (the game didn’t hold my attention for more than two plays as a bar attraction when I saw it a few years back and tried it out, but this version was played for a few hours), I could definitely see the appeal to those folks who still faithfully drop a few bucks on this and even spend a few thousand on owning the arcade machine if they can. Yes, it’s a bit dated with its sole banjo-laced country tune (I was still tapping a few toes and grinning as I played), smiling cute as a button live-action “guide” and one shot/reload style of play. That, and the game is paradoxically too quiet (there’s no music during play except that tune you’ll get an earwig to in menus) yet manages to tax the ears with it’s announcer calling out hits and misses endlessly.
The conversion to the MARS gun is a bit problematic in that yes, it works, but the game’s chuggy speed tends to make it sometimes feel sluggish even when the IR camera is set properly. I noticed between the long load times (for an arcade game, there’s a LOT of waiting), there’s a bit of drag to the targeting in some spots that makes a tightly timed game experience even more challenging. “There’s a new Sheriff in town!”, “Now that’s what I call shootin!”, Pick a spot!” and other chestnuts will reverberate in your dreams if you play this too long. The game does offer up 45 locations, leaderboards and co-op play, so there’s quite a lot of content here to be explored.
Visually, the game hasn’t aged well at all. It’s never really been a showpiece other than to those who are easily bowled over by what’s on display (mostly static environments and an on-rails camera that moves slightly when it needs to). As a friend who dropped by to play all three games noted: “This is the sort of game that works if you’re a little bit drunk and don’t mind missing a few shots.” Ow, but that was coming from a retired cop who target shoots for fun, so I had to defer to his expertise. Of the three launch titles, this might be the one that gets much needed patching first. I went and tried the game for just over an hour with the stock PS4 controller, and it’s pretty much the same thing with a bit more control. So I guess it’s an overall issue with the targeting being what it is and getting used to it over time.
Still, once you get used it it, you can at least play a fun homage to Duck Hunt and some of the other mini-games will hold your attention for a bit:
As for the future, there definitely needs to be support from a few key third parties as well as more first party titles coming in the future. Sega alone can fill out a library of games with some obvious titles (arcade and Dreamcast ports, please!) and while Namco is also one developer/publisher I’d also love to see on MARS, it’s hard to say if they have plans for this if they want to distribute their own guns down the road. I think they should consider letting PDP handle their titles, as the LIGHTCON works quite well and it would save the cost of creating a new peripheral. But we’ll see, of course. I can think of a bunch of other older games, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of things.
Scores: MARS LIGHTCON/IR STATION: A (95%)
Voyage of the Dead: B (80%)
Qubit’s Quest: C+ (75%)
Big Buck Hunter Arcade: D (65%)
-Review unit and codes provided by PDP