I’ve never played Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse before, I’ve seen it on Steam and I think I owned it for the original Xbox, but I don’t recall ever playing it. So, last night I played it for the first time on the PS5 (via PS4 BC), I avoided looking up any hints or guides and simply sat down and played it all the way through in one sitting. As this is a 2005 game at heart, with a few modernisations to make it more playable on modern consoles, was the simplistic nature of the game enough to keep me entertained or did I become as braindead as one of Stubbs’ victims?
Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse was originally released back in 2005 on PC and Xbox, subsequently being removed from both platforms due to technical issues which were never fixed. The original game was published by Aspyr, the team who have also enhanced and published this updated re-released on modern consoles. Although some may say that this is a remaster, it’s more of a modernised (and fixed) port, so don’t expect a complete overhaul as we did with the likes of Outcast: Second Contact.
This new edition took me about seven hours to complete blind last night, but I know for a fact I won’t be grabbing the platinum – not because I don’t want to play the game again, but because it sounds so hard to achieve…
Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse (Just Stubbs the Zombie from now on) is a tragic love story at heart. Back in 1933, there was a travelling salesman, a poor fellow who found love at the cost of his life to the father of the girl. His body was dumped in the wild, left to rot for all eternity. Well, it would have if billionaire Andrew Monday hadn’t unknowingly erected the enclosed city of Punchbowl on top of the land where he lay 26 years later, in 1959. Due to the chemicals and nutrients being fed into the grass in order to maintain this beautiful utopia, Stubbs rises from the dead with one goal – find love once more.
Once awoken, Stubbs the Zombie is hungry from his 26-year sleep, with only one item on the menu – brains! Although technically out for love, seeing the face of his dearly beloved in every female he lays his clouded eyes on, he also feels remorse and wants revenge for having his life cut short, so he has no issues with eating the brains of all of the inhabitants of this peaceful city and turning them into his undead horde. His quest for love see’s him basically turn this, once, paradise city into rubble as he takes down all those who stand in his way whether they were involved in his original death or not.
You can play the entire game either on your own or with a friend or family member locally with the two-player split-screen co-op mode (vertical split). If you wish to play online, you can play the game on your PS4 and PS5 via ‘Screen-Share’, the feature which lets one person remote into another’s console and play along with you as if they’re sat next to you. If you have a good connection then the lag will be minimal, you just have to reconnect after an hour as the feature has a 60-minute cut-off.
As I’d not played Stubbs the Zombie before, I wasn’t sure what to expect – from the outside it looked like a funny zombie-enrolment game (I wasn’t too wrong!). It’s a third-person game that does away with levelling up, picking up weapons, and buying new items or accessories, it’s a very simplistic game that emphasises your main ‘power’… you’re a freaking zombie! As such, you won’t pick up guns, obtain magical powers, or put on hats to protect yourself, you use your immortal regeneration powers to overcome the many innocent and hostile icky humans you encounter.
Initially, Stubbs has three abilities, he can hit with his left hand, hit with his right hand, or grab people and ‘num num’ on their brains. Upon killing anyone, whether by feasting on their succulent head-jelly, slicing their head off, or ripping off their arm and beating them to death with it, they will rise a few moments later and become one of your (literally) mindless zombie companions. These can be directed by calling them over and then pushing them into the disgusting living people, as you stand back and watch your babies feed for the first time.
Later on, you’ll unlock new abilities such as throwing your stomach and causing it to explode like a sticky grenade, removing your head and bowling it before also making it explode and regenerate, and you can also unleash all which is unholy; the Atomic Fart! Dropping a massive stink bomb causes those with the ability to smell and taste to instantly become sick and disabled, allowing you to easily break their skull open and grab a snack. So, although the game doesn’t really have any form of progression as we see in games today (such as Destroy All Humans), there is a mild form of progression as you gradually unlock new skills at set points in the story.
Do you want a hand?
One of the best abilities which you obtain around halfway into the game is the ability to take control of the humans. this is performed in a rather fun way – via the use of your detachable arm. Once thrown, you play as the arm, crawling around the floor, walls, and ceiling (yes, hands can walk on walls) as you look for your prey. These moments reminded me of Thing from the Adam’s Family, a disembodied hand with an arm stump running around on its fingers like a human spider with five legs!
Once you have your victim in your sights, you jump on his (or her) face and tap into their brain, giving you full control over their body. If you happen to find someone with a weapon, who isn’t wearing a hard hat, you now have control of them with their gun, allowing you to shoot away at anyone who moves – literally ripping their arms, legs, or torso from the rest of their body. There’s a trophy for becoming each of the hostile humans within the game, which I obtained without thinking about it, but you’ll end up doing it quite often simply because it’s lots of fun to shoot people’s arms off!
The hand, and its soon-to-be victim, has its own health bar which goes down much faster than Stubbs the Zombie‘s. He can regenerate his ‘health’ by standing still but the arm-person will expire when it runs out. If you’re playing on your own, when Stubbs runs out of health then the game will very quickly reload the last checkpoint (they’re very generous), but if you’re in co-op then once the other player gets to the next checkpoint, you’ll be revived. I played the game on Normal and I died quite a few times in certain levels, it’s not a very easy game.
The enemies and levels
Stubbs the Zombie has a decent selection of enemies throughout the game. Sure, there may only be a few ‘types’, but they gradually become trickier as the game progresses. You’ll start with the street-patrol coppers with pistols, and the citizens who are just begging to be eaten, then you’ll find yourself fending off jet-pack wearing barbershop quartet singers with laser guns and scientists with pulse rifles. There’s even a stage where you’re on a farm, slaughtering all the rednecks with their shotguns. The combat never gets stale or boring.
There are a few bosses within the game, some of which were a little tricky. the final boss was a pain but it only took me a few attempts to figure out what I was supposed to do. That’s probably my main complaint with Stubbs the Zombie, figuring out what I’m meant to do. I think we’ve been spoilt with modern games that have tips that appear and let you know what you have to do and where you have to go, but Stubbs the Zombie is from an era where that wasn’t really a thing – developers wanted you to figure it all out by yourself (which isn’t a bad thing).
However, this meant that I got lost on more than a few occasions whilst playing the game, running round and round in circles because I didn’t realise doors only opened when you walked up to them, and not actually knowing what I’m meant to be doing. Stubbs the Zombie felt like a zombie-creating sandbox on a few levels, as there’s no on-screen indication of what your goal is, where to go, or why you’re in this level. It wasn’t a big issue, as I made it to the end credits and only had to look up a single answer (how to beat the tank), but those who rely on modern hints and indicators may be a little lost.
Well, some markers do appear, but I think it’s when you’ve spent far too long in the level, as they only appeared some times and not all the time.
Stubbs the Zombie runs at 60fps on the PS5 (vis PS4 BC), but I believe it’s 60fps on all consoles (not sure about the Switch). In regards to the resolution, I can’t find anything online other than it’s a “modern resolution” – I don’t think it’s a full 4k on the PS5, as I saw a small amount of shimmer, but it does look clean and crisp, so I’d say it’s possibly around the 1440p mark. I could be wrong though, maybe Digital Foundry or another analysis group will test it, but it just didn’t seem like it was a native 2160p.
One of the things which confused me was the cutscenes. The game plays out in 16:9 widescreen with no issues, it looks good and runs perfect (kinda – I’ll come to this), but cutscenes are in 4:3 widescreen. Yes, they play out in 4:3 with black borders on the top and bottom to create a ‘cinematic widescreen’ effect – but, the gameplay IS widescreen, so why didn’t they re-render them in native widescreen? It could be that they didn’t have access to the original cutscene animations, so couldn’t re-render them, but they look nice and sharp so they’ve either managed to get them to run at a higher resolution or the cutscenes are from the original PC version running at a decent resolution.
I’m going for the latter on this because they also have a film-grain look to them, an option which you can turn off in the settings. However, even if you turn it off, the opening area and all cutscenes still have it enabled, making me think they are pre-rendered and not actually in-game. But, as before, I could be wrong. It just ruins the experience a little when the game is super sharp and widescreen, then the cutscenes squish to a 4:3 widescreen. Why they couldn’t just crop them is anyone’s guess…
Why I won’t get the platinum
I really enjoyed my time with Stubbs the Zombie, but there are a few trophies that I know I’ll have issues trying to obtain due to time and skill. First up, the original game released in 2005 so the developers have given us a trophy for eating 2005 brains… There’s no in-game counter for this so I have no idea how many I’ve eaten, but I’m guessing it’s less than 1000 in my first playthrough, a lot less. There’s also a trophy for getting 100% on the dance floor mini-game – this is a Simon-Says game in which you have to mimic combinations of up to eight steps at a time very fast. My reflexes are terrible these days so I can’t see myself getting this.
If you’re a speed-run fan, there’s a trophy for completing the game in under two-hours – again, I don’t think I’ll get this but I imagine it’s doable if you just run past everyone. But, other than these, a few ‘get killed via…’ trophies, and an Otaku one which I can’t figure out, all the other trophies were straight-forward. Plus, considering you have a level select upon completion, you can easily jump back to any point in the game.
I had two issues with Stubbs the Zombie, one may be to do with my console (as it often plays up) and the other is a strange issue with the subtitles.
So, in my ~seven-hours of gameplay, the game crashed to the PS5 home screen three times. It was a full crash with the console asking me to submit an error report. Thankfully, it didn’t crash and shut the PS5 off – as other games have done on my console. So, because it only crashed to the home screen, I believe it may be an issue with the game – just like Ys IX did before the developer patched it. I’ve not tried the game on the PS4, so it could just be a PS5 ‘thing’, but it wasn’t too often and didn’t really screw up my enjoyment. Because the checkpoints are so frequent, even when it did crash, I was pretty much in the same place when I reloaded the game.
The second issue is the rather obstructive subtitles. As you can see from the image above, instead of feeding the subtitles one line at a time, the game displays an entire characters dialogue in one go. At that point, two people started talking and about 60% of the screen is literally text (whilst I’m still playing in the background). I imagine this is because the original game handled subtitles like this, but it would have been nice for the developers to adjust this in the code so we don’t end up with so much text on the screen.
However, the above only happened once and there are only a handful of times where a wall of text is displayed, so it’s not too bad and literally not an issue if you don’t use subtitles.
For the most-part, Stubbs the Zombie runs great. It’s nice and smooth, the loading times are fast, the visuals look surprisingly good despite most likely using the original textures and geometry (it is a bit ‘blocky’), but it’s not without its minor issues. First of all, some of the animations cleary run at a lower framerate than the game. I noticed when grabbing people to devour their brain-juice, the grabbing animation sometimes looks like it’s running at 30fps, as do a few of the death animations for the enemies. Not a big issue but something I noticed.
The audio also has some level issues which resulted in the dialogue being clear at first, then quiet as the camera changes (despite the characters now being closer on-screen). I ended up turning up the audio last night only to then encounter the horde of zombies screaming at the top of their decomposed lungs, causing me to turn it back down because they were too loud. This is probably yet another inconsistency that has been brought over from the original version, but it is noticeable.
Finally, this might just be a personal opinion – the game is too dark. Looking at all of the press shots, the game looks bright and vibrant, allowing you to see all the details. But, outside of the cutscenes, the entire game has a green tint to it – because you’re a zombie I imagine. I did increase the brightness a little in the settings and turned off the film grain, but it still felt dark and dreary. I know that this is the game and it’s intentional, but I would have liked an option to play the game without the tint, so it’s as colourful as it is in the cutscenes.
Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse is a modernised re-release of the 2005 hilarious cult classic, complete with 60fps and a nice sharp resolution. Although the game doesn’t really boast many improvements over the original, the game has a lot of charm within its simplistic gameplay and mindless combat (literally). The co-op mode means you can bring a friend along with you (locally) as well as some very time-consuming and tricky trophies to keep you occupied for a while, ensuring replayability if going for the platinum. I wish it was more colourful and that the cutscenes were actually 16:9, but overall the game reminded me of the games of yesteryear, simplistic yet lots of fun to play.
Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse£15.99
- - Hilariously silly story with lots of comedic moments
- - Stubbs is very lovable, despite being undead
- - The visuals are nice and sharp whilst playing the game, with a solid framerate
- - You can play the entire game in local two-player co-op
- - Decent price for a modernised port
- - The game is very green (yet the cutscenes are colourful)
- - The cutscenes are in 4:3 with widescreen black bars
- - The game was a little unstable on my PS5 (not affected the score)
- - Navigation is tricky at times due to how games used to be