In the age of reboots, remasters and remakes, Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse is certainly an interesting example. Brought back for modern consoles and PCs by Aspyr, we played it on a PlayStation 4 Pro.
When it comes to remasters and remakes, there are generally two categories: games that are fondly remembered and brought back, and games that the mainstream audience more or less forgot about or didn’t know existed. Stubbs the Zombie fits into that latter category, and for most gamers this is the first chance they’re getting at playing it.
Part of that is that the launch of the original game was for the first Xbox console, but came out so late in its lifecycle that the Xbox 360 launched just a month later, overshadowing what was a fun game in a period where a bunch of other quirky titles like Stubbs and Dead Head Fred came out. For that reason alone the Stubbs remaster is very welcome, but does it also hold up?
Technically, the game certainly shows its age. Although it’s “only” 15 years old, it’s a first generation Xbox title and besides your basic widescreen support (this one’s from the 4:3 era of screen) it essentially looks the same at it did before. Character models are lacking in details and the animations certainly aren’t fluid – but obviously if there’s any game genre that’s going to get away with that it’s going to involve zombies.
Protagonist Stubbs, who looks like a film noir detective who’s been zombified, still finds himself stuck in the town of Punchbowl as a zombie, and realizes he has a longing for brains. Lots of brains. Your ultimate goal is to figure out how you ended up in this state and return to the land of the living, and it’s a relatively short journey – clocking in at the equivalent of about two zombie movies watched back to back.
Although the visuals look dated, the gameplay and level design survive the test of time much better. You start off with simple attacks and the ability to eat brains and obviously Stubbs is never going to be a parkours kind of guy, but you gradually unlock attacks that include the chance to sever your hand and use it to take over an enemy’s weapons, or toss your head at people as if it were a wrecking ball.
If you hadn’t guessed from the above – Stubbs the Zombie has definite comedic undertones, and a lot of jokes – another sign of the times – aren’t subtle. They certainly bring character and personality to the experience though, and are part of the fun. The audio partially falls flat though, because a lot of the original music was stripped (for licensing reasons, we assume), making portions of your adventure more silent than they should be.
One especially useful and fun dynamic is the ability to turn enemies into your personal army of the undead – something that’s not just fun in the short term but can also sway the tide of battle when you’re faced with overwhelming numbers in certain scenes. The only issue is that this process repeats itself a few times over the course of the story, but that’s where the relatively short runtime actually helps Stubbs the Zombie – the game wraps up just before its mechanics overstay their welcome.
Stubbs’ adventure is short, linear, and doesn’t offer a ton of replay value, but it’s fun while it lasts and offers a budget-priced look at a forgotten cult classic, dated though it may be – but aren’t most cult classics?