Reading the developer’s description of a video game is pretty normal in the life of a reviewer, but it’s never a good sign when you still feel the need to read it even after you’ve finished the game, just to comprehend what happened.
As a Nazi Zombie game, Valley of the Dead: MalnaZidos shouldn’t need much of an explanation, but it tries to will itself some meaning when it probably should have just tried to be fun.
Taking place in the Spanish Civil War, enemies band together to take out Nazis who have poisoned the population with a blue zombie-creating gas. Controlling the main character, Jun, you are part of said group that increases in size as you progress and they require protecting. It’s a nice idea in theory, but it’s a difficult feature to implement well, and like nearly every other element in MalnaZidos, its awkward implementation leads to poor playability and makes you question whether it needed to be included in the first place.
I always say that ambitious games should be applauded, but they also need to be realistic in what can be achieved, and this title is certainly not that, stringing together as much logic and sense as a Jack-in-the-Box.
The story skips from one map to the next with animated screenshot cutscenes and seems to tell a story of a war that just happens to include zombies – or at least, from what I could gather from the barely legible English subtitles and Spanish audio. Your group, which amasses around 7 characters by the end, might as well consist of untrained and anonymous bystanders, as you not only learn nothing about them, but the reason they require saving is that they seem to think that thin air is the enemy – as they are awfully good at hitting it.
Ironically, the incredibly slow and wooden controls of your character actually adds tension to the proceedings as it takes time to aim and take your shots, but as your comrades have a health meter like Superman on steroids, you needn’t worry about it.
It goes without saying that the key to a good zombie game is the zombies and while – visually – they are well-designed and animated, the vast majority of them use an attacking system that is implemented so poorly, that it probably should have gone back to the drawing board. When the undead does manage to attack, they can only do so one at a time, before launching into two very generous QTEs – a timed press and a rapid press QTE. Fail in the first and the zombie will chow down on you in the second assuming you don’t press the button fast enough.
Succeed, on the other hand, and it will push the zombie away and reset their attacking process, which essentially means that unless you fall asleep in front of the TV – or forget where the triangle button is – you could go the entire game without losing health as it’s so easy to counter.
That’s until one of the very few, but more aggressive zombies swipes at you in a normal fashion. Imagine a man both very confused man and with a mouth wide open in disbelief and you might come close to how I felt when discovering this. Why the QTE system even needed to be there at all is really quite unbelievable.
It’s one thing to make a bad game, but it’s another to make a game badly. Gameplay or aesthetic limitations aren’t so bad if all the basic mechanics and interactions work as expected, but when things go against all standard logic, it’s hard to cut it any slack.
In an underground map, there’s a zombie in a white dress that screams at you while following you room to room and is annoying enough to hope that she might be a boss of some kind, but she just walks off for no reason – and that’s the end of it. The same map has zombies just hanging out/sleeping, making you wonder if you just walked into some weird zombie hotel and that zombie in a dress was actually the concierge.
Even the basics are implemented poorly – like the camera, for example, which will revert to the previous camera angle that you had from before you started aiming, regardless of how long ago that was. This means that you have to almost aim the free camera before even aiming your weapon if you don’t want to be completely disorientated during the action.
Based on how the above, I should have been expecting what comes next – but what can I say, I like to be surprised.
Rounding off the game is a highly memorable ending that blindsides you with zero build-up in tension or logic. I would normally preface this by saying *spoilers*, but the story would need to be comprehensible for that.
First, a truck blows up for no good reason after two characters declare their mutual admiration for each other, and then, after you whittle down the health of a huge guy in a Nazi costume – who turns out to be the main and only boss in the game – the game cuts to a ‘fin’ screen – even though I hadn’t even defeated him yet.
Sadly, this isn’t a wacky comedy, but if you weren’t reading the subtitles, you might think it was one.
Something that could have been a plus for MalnaZidos is the fact you can – theoretically – play the game through 7 different characters’ perspectives in a New Game+ feature. I say theoretically because the game provides zero explanation that this is possible and in the very first scene the 2nd character is met with an invisible wall that you can’t progress beyond.
Not only is MalnaZidos an awful and poorly performing title, but it’s also incomplete and should never have been released in its current state. When a AAA developer releases a game this undercooked, they can at least take solace in the fact that they might have the resources to rectify it, but you’ve got to wonder if the same can be said here, or if it’s even worth it considering all its fundamental issues. With that in mind, the only reason to plunge into this title would be out of morbid curiosity – or to experience an ending that has to be seen to be believed.