With the monthly swarm of titles introduced through PS Plus, it’s often easy to feel overwhelmed and forget about your collection. Games you’ve forgotten the existence of will crop up in your downloads list. While working through this backlog, you’ll find atrocious, average, and even surprisingly brilliant games. The Hungry Horde fell somewhere in the middle for me when I finally gave it a chance one year on from its release.
Developed by Nosebleed Interactive, The Hungry Horde is a manic race against the clock to infect as many humans as possible to survive the night. If time runs out, the entire area is nuked resulting in a bitter end of your game. While tearing down barriers, pushing back military forces and overcoming obstacles, the idea is to make up as much time as possible. Otherwise you’ll never see each level to its end. This is done through passing checkpoints, playing mini-games and recruiting humans. The latter is achieved by simply walking into passing people. As well as joining your undead army, each human also adds 1.5 seconds to your timer. Think Katamari with more rotting flesh.
Upon starting your first game, you’re introduced to some these basic mechanics. From manoeuvring your horde within the top-down perspective to splitting them into groups – controllable with the left and right stick respectively. Pushing the two sticks toward each other will reunite your putrid pals. The way this mechanic is integrated into the game’s puzzles is quite clever. It also adds depth and strategy to gameplay which seems simple on the surface. Zombies move faster in split hordes, making multi-tasking a worthwhile tactic due to its time efficiency. You could be chasing down victims with one half, while the other half busts down a gate.
You’ll also find mortals aren’t the only things to watch out for during your rampage. Coloured brains line the streets, each one corresponding to a special ability. Picking up enough of each type allows you to activate a temporary power ranging from a short burst of speed to a humourous rave which stuns surrounding enemies. The blue presents scattered around can either reward you with a selection of these goodies, or surprise you with a bomb. Stand too close and a portion of your horde will be wiped out. Learning to make the most of these resources is challenging, but vital in surviving the brutally fiendish levels.
Should you be fortunate enough to encounter a white present, you’ll be warped to a random mini-game. These are easily the highlights in The Hungry Horde‘s gameplay. Dotted around the map, these fun and frantic slices of arcade gaming do a wonderful job of breaking up the action. The most notable is “Conga Zombies,” which is essentially a disco-themed, fast-paced version of mobile classic Snake. Then you have Zombat, a twin-stick shooter which puts you in control of another famous Snake to push back crowds of the undead. I also thoroughly enjoyed “Infection” which tells the story of the zombie pandemic through its gameplay. Each stage takes place inside a vital organ, and you control a zombie virus cell in an attempt to take over the body by absorbing red cells while avoiding the white cells. The variation in these games alone kept me hooked for hours – and there are even more I haven’t listed above!
As expected, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows – certainly not during the apocalypse. The game itself is infected by awfully slow loading times and a choppy frame-rate which often makes the experience feel rotten. Granted, the latter has been vastly improved through the latest patch. It’s still not perfect, but at least it no longer borders on slideshow levels of poorness; your giant horde will be much more stable when tumbling through action-packed stages.
At certain points, your undead gang will be stopped in its tracks when faced with an obstacle. Switches are self-explanatory; these require to be stepped on in order to open gates. Unfortunately, it’s not all that simple – the tutorial doesn’t do its job of making it clear to the player how to overcome anything more. Would I have assumed it’d take a swipe of the touch screen to break a padlocked gate? No. Off the bat, should I have realised you need to smash tucked away military transmitters in an area in order to unlock its gate? Maybe.
You could argue that part of the fun is in discovering and overcoming these hurdles by yourself. But when you’re literally faced with a ticking time-bomb, the last thing you want to do is waste the little time you have trying to work out vague puzzles. If you don’t know what you’re doing in that exact moment, chances are you will run out of time. You will have to start the run all over again. It’s unnecessary frustration which could easily be avoided with a few pointers thrown in if you remain idle in-game. Though I must applaud the dev’s ability to embrace feedback, as a hints screen has been patched into game, accessible from the options menu.
That all being said, if you are patient and welcome this sort of challenge with open arms, there’s a lot of content to squeeze out of The Hungry Horde. There are 150 unique objectives to complete – some cumulative over your various attempts, others which must be completed in a single run. These provide additional goals to work through if you find yourself tired of plodding mindlessly through the maps. I say this because most of the “one attempt” missions will usually result in a substantial loss of time, meaning the sacrifice of your run. For better or worse, multi-tasking is a huge part of the challenge here. If you’re willing to put in the time to practice, you’re golden (well, green).
The game also includes a sticker book, home to over 150 collectibles. With each packet containing three, stickers can be obtained by killing a specific number of humans, completing objectives, or scoring high in spawned mini-games. Shiny stickers unlock the standalone version of the mini-games as well as a whole host of additional features, such as model viewers and even a charming character creator. The stickerbook was easily the standout feature for myself, having adored collecting them physically in my youth. But now I can earn stickers for a virtual book by playing a video game? Awesome. Best of all, you actually tear open each packet with the touch screen before tapping your spoils to flip them around and reveal. It fills me with suspense and nostalgia just writing about it. Oh, and the dread and resulting frustration of receiving duplicates.
It doesn’t take a whole bunch of brains to work out the inspiration for game’s blocky character models. They do well in representing AI and the player, making them stand out against the bleak visuals, but that’s all there is to be said about looks. It isn’t ugly by any means, but it doesn’t spew any sort of unique charm to write home about either.
Despite its technical stumbles, The Hungry Horde still has the potential to fulfil. With a wealth of content including a Platinum trophy – spanning over 30 hours of gameplay depending on skill level – there’s a lot here to keep players coming back for more. Unfortunately, the high difficulty coupled with the insufficient amount of guidance will be more than enough to ward some players off. If you’re willing to put in the time to learn the best strategies, the game can actually be very fun and rewarding. For those less dedicated, it could well end up a dull, tedious slog which you’re better off avoiding. However, if you are like me and already have the game tucked away in your PS+ collection, it’s definitely worth a punt. You never know, it could end up grabbing you in a way you weren’t expecting.