There was a time when you could step onto the fictional football field in your favourite sports simulation game without having to worry about the problem of outside interference: the bad weather, the swathes of furiously-shouting fans hurling sharply-worded verbal abuse in your direction, the walking undead advancing slowly but menacingly towards your position for the sole purpose of turning you into a light afternoon snack. Yes, you read that section of the sentence correctly.
Those times of unadulterated football simulation free from the very real dangers of an imminent zombie apocalypse have all but passed, as Death Penalty: Zombie Football ushers in a new age of blood-soaked sporting achievement where being alive is simply an optional extra and is not guaranteed. Blending mild football corner-taking action with the threat of steadily-advancing zombie footballers, this game is sure to call upon your goal-scoring skills while simultaneously testing your talent for the decimation of the opposing team, which is composed entirely of decaying footballers. With an unlimited quantity of footballs and your best kicking foot as your only weapon, you must defeat the waves of zombies and end this terrible unpleasantness before they put an end to your footballing career. Permanently.
This one’s taken the Red Bull adverts too literally. The game is awash with a variety of foe with various characteristics to make your life difficult
As far as flash-powered zombie-tinged football simulations go, Death Penalty: Zombie Football exists at the more simplistic end of the spectrum, and the zombie football spectrum is a pretty basic one in the first place. The action takes place entirely in the penalty box with a side-view of the entire affair being the sole camera angle available, and indeed the only necessary angle due to the simple nature of the gameplay. A limitless supply of footballs make their way towards you courtesy of a member of your team on the side of the pitch; these footballs must be utilised to take down the increasing number of advancing zombie footballers that seem to be creeping towards you from behind the goalpost. Once you have managed to take out the wave of decaying footballers, you must take on the goalkeeper, who is difficult enough to be considered the boss of each level. You can only claim a true victory once the keeper is no more and you have scored the winning goal, which should be a breeze considering the fact that you just annihilated the entire of the opposing team using nothing but footballs; an empty goal shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Did that ball just explode?
In spite of its basic nature, the game actually has plenty to offer in the way of attainable power-ups and performance-improving incentives to continue playing. Your successful progression through the levels in the game is rewarded with a variety of weaponised footballs that possess a variety of properties to bring the pain to your undead opponents. Sure, your standard leather football is ok for the first level; you can take a few heads off and eventually make the zombies fall at your feet with repeated and continual shots with your standard weapon.
When the action gets a little tougher, however, the standard leather ball seems a little bit too weak for the job, which is when the more dangerous balls come out to play. The first of these balls is the ‘Rollerball’, which is apparently coated in metal to maximise damage. The second offering is the ‘Grenade Ball’, which needs little explanation as far as I’m concerned, and results in some explosive dismemberment of the opponents. Hold on for a little more progress and you will be rewarded with the ‘Hot Ball’ and the ‘Nitro Ball’, which coats the enemy with a medieval helping of burning liquid and temporarily freezes enemies on the spot respectively. The ultimate weapon is the ‘Beach Ball’, which sounds harmless but is in fact a ball with higher explosivity than the grenade ball. You cannot freely select the ball you wish to use during the match, nor can you choose to use only one of these balls; you are tasked with arranging the order in which the balls appear in the menu screen between each level. You must click and drag your weapons of choice into whatever order you wish: this is the order in which they will be dished out to you via thrown-in when the game begins.
The attainable balls gained through successful completion of levels in the game most definitely don’t conform to the rules of the game, or indeed the Geneva Convention. The Grenade Ball cannot possibly be legal.
The selection of increasingly dangerous and effective weapons helps to hold your interest throughout the game, making you want to just hold on for one more level to see what the next weapon will be. Before you know it, you’ve reached the end of the game without really knowing how you got there; such is the power of attainable weaponry within games.
Your performance can also be enhanced within the game by adding to your upgradable abilities after every level. You have the opportunity to increase both the power of your shot and the frequency of the throw-ins which provide you with your spherical weapon of zombie destruction. Increasing your abilities may seem to make minimal difference at first, but when you progress far enough to add a significant number of points to your skills, you will wonder how you coped with the frustratingly infrequent supply of footballs that you are stuck with at the beginning of the game. Increased ball power also comes as a great benefit to you, since your starting power is pretty minimal, and you’re going to need all the help you can get when the waves of zombies become more difficult to manage.
The oncoming waves of zombies aren’t simply comprised of generic, faceless foes which are as easily defeated as each other; in fact, the selection of enemies varies in difficulty, appearance, temperament and relative ability to make your victory as difficult as possible. Some simply stumble towards you in true zombie style; dealing with this kind of foe is as easy as a football to the face or bodily area. Other foes are substantially more difficult to kill, wearing various protective items to prolong their life such as metal helmets and traffic cones (an idea borrowed from Plants Vs Zombies), requiring considerably more shots to the head or bodily area before they decide to bite the blood-soaked turf. The occasional subterranean zombie squeezes its way out of the ground to make its advances (Pro Zombie Soccer comes to mind), whereas some enemies possess wings which they use to zig-zag towards you while airborne, making them very difficult to take out until they hit the ground and make their way towards you with alarming speed. Towards the end of the game, a giant enemy in mouse costume even makes an appearance, proving extremely difficult to take out even with your selection of dangerous weapons that are available. The goalkeeper is always the final foe left standing, and he must be defeated before he reaches your position; failure to do so results in bitter defeat and the starting of the game from scratch (a slightly irritating feature which reminded me of the frustration of losing all your lives in Mario and having to restart the game entirely).
The gameplay is decidedly simple and unassuming; your player is moved back and forth with the mouse and shots are taken with a gentle click of the left mouse button. The angle of the shot is decided by the position of your mouse and is indicated by the dotted green line that emanates from your player. The power of your shot depends on how well you manage to hit the ball; as is indicated by the game in the introductory menus, the closer you manage to get the ball to the perforated green line when you click to shoot, the more powerful your shots become. Missing the ball entirely is inevitable on the first few goes since the whole system takes a little getting used to. It isn’t the most ideal of controller arrangements but when it comes down to it, it is a system that works and shouldn’t prove to be too much of a problem for anyone capable of working a computer mouse in the first place.
The only thing better than a headshot is an explosive headshot: Bonuses are rife for headshots and other such football trickery. Apparently red cards are a good thing.
Bonuses and words of praise are given should you manage to pull off some of the trickier shots of the game like headshots, decapitations, scoring goals while the keeper is still alive and even full-body explosive shots, where the enemy simply combusts into nothingness. Managing to make contact with the ball when it is perfectly aligned with the perforated line results in a powerful ‘sweet’ shot, launching the ball with excessive force at the enemy. You can sometimes use the balls a few times should they bounce back in the correct way. Again, the movement of the enemies and feel of the game in general is a little clumsy, with the controls falling a little short of being completely responsive to the movement of your mouse; this comes back to the slightly awkward controls, but I managed to successfully complete the game without too much trouble, so the issue is minor compared to the fun I managed to derive from the whole experience. I mean, zombies on a football pitch? Who comes up with these zany ideas!? There’s no way any referee would allow this in a game (before he was eaten alive, that is).
I have to admit to being a sceptic when it comes to any game that involves football, while being instantly convinced of the quality of a game that has even the slightest zombie involvement. Death Penalty manages to incorporate the only interesting thing about football (shooting and scoring) with the thing that makes anything worth your time, being a zombie invasion. It’s simple, fun and can be instantly picked up by even the most unfamiliar users of technology. The game is silly enough not to be weighed down with all the things that make football an absolute bore - those who wish to delve into such games on the lighter side can find more at big web game football themed sites like www.sambafoot.co.uk which serves up an endless range of flash produced footy titles. Things such as travelling back and forth up and down the pitch, incessant passing between players of the same team and those silly ‘rule’ things that limit everyone’s true potential. This game throws the rules out of the window to deliver an addictive and extremely playable game of moderate violence and unbridled, light-hearted fun. The slightly awkward movement of your player and lack of responsiveness in the controls don’t really factor into my judgement of the title; the game is relatively short and can be completed before you even notice its faults. Lace up, step up to the penalty box and prepare for yet another zombie pitch invasion but be warned: this match won’t be repeated on Match of the Day 2.