Voyage of the Dead is one of those machine scene-like setups with an on-rails experience I didn’t know I needed. And in my own home, too, with the MARS system. To be fair it has been a very long time since I’ve played games like House of the Dead and Time Crisis at an arcade. Like, I’m talking middle school and early high school age. These types of experiences were always enjoyable, but your favorite Pure PlayStation team member [Ed: That’s debateable…] spent most of his time at the sports and fighting games or the ones that gave out the most tickets. Not to mention that we as gamers are surrounded by virtual reality headsets, fleshed-out mobile games and some of the best video game hardware to ever exist nowadays. So, a light gun game involving zombies had no business being this good.
This cartoony zombie game follows four characters who only have titles describing them. No need for names and getting attached when death lurks around every deck. As you can probably guess by that nautical term, this vacation-turned-horror show takes place on a luxury cruise ship. Something or someone has caused the crew and guests to spontaneously transform into the living dead. The different characters then go about surviving the best they can by scavenging for weapons and trying to discover the source of the chaos. If you’re expecting a typical zombie outing, you’ll be in for a nice surprise as the likes of magic, aliens, B-movie level cheese, and mini-games all make an appearance.
If you didn’t catch it in the opening paragraph, Voyage of the Dead is an on-rails experience. Character movement and the camera are taken care of so you can shoot the undead monstrosities without distraction. The screen will pan around to different areas of a level as zombies lumber towards you or spawn in the direction you’re looking. You then need to take them out with your own aiming thanks to the MARS peripheral firearm in your hand. Where you’re going to shoot is indicated by a crosshair icon or a small light on the tv that corresponds to the color player you are. Yes, there are multiple colors because you can play this with up to three friends for a limit total of four players. However, you’ll need to have a MARS LIGHTCON controller (the plastic gun) for each player and the dialogue will only come from the character that Player 1 chose.
There will, of course, be plenty of zombies to shoot that infest the ship from all angles. There is a decent variety to the normal zombies with different sized bodies, outfits, and models. Naturally, these fiends will be best dispatched with a well-placed shot to the head. Some special enemies need to be handled differently, such as the acid spitter, the enemy that fires magic balls, another that raises barriers, and many more. Bosses are nicely designed too as you’ll need to do more than just spray and pray. At times you’ll be required to shoot projectiles or parts of an enemy’s body to prevent them from attacking or lower their defenses. At no point in your first couple of playthroughs will enemy variety get stale or things start to feel repetitive. Which is saying a lot for Voyage of the Dead due to you restarting the story over again if you die or quit back to the main menu.
Now enemies alone don’t make an on-rails experience work. You need some nice environments, set pieces, and quick camera angle changes to entertain whoever is holding those LIGHTCON gun peripherals. Voyage of the Dead shines in this regard. Quick cuts will show more zombies around you than previously thought and level traversal will range from blockaded stairways, elevator hallways, swinging on a disco ball, and even alternate magical dimensions. The settings and level design will definitely keep you on your toes. There are also powerups to scattered throughout the ship. As one would expect, sometimes killing a zombie will cause a weapon, ammo, health, etc. to drop, and shooting it will net you the gameplay benefits. Although only for the player that shoots it first as it doesn’t stack between characters. Some objects can also be shot to cause small explosions and such, but it wasn’t a terribly big part of the mechanics.
In terms of vibing with the MARS IR system and LIGHTCON, Voyage of the Dead does more than meet expectations. Obviously, pulling the trigger on the gun will shoot bullets, pressing the moderately sized button on the back of the gun will swap weapons, and pulling back on the barrel of the LIGHTCON will reload your equipped weapon. However, to pause the game you’ll need to push the options button on the DualShock 4 controller. So do have that near. Additionally, there was an occasional drift to the accuracy of your shooting marker. Every single instance was fixed when recalibrating the MARS or the controllers, but still annoying all the same. All and all button mapping and convenience were comfortable and implemented extremely well.
What doesn’t jive well is the simple nature of gravity when it comes to light gun titles. Voyage of the Dead’s story mode will generally last about two to three hours unless you’re going for that trophy where you beat the game within ninety minutes. Past the halfway point, I start to feel sore in the arms even if | was sitting down with my elbows against my body. It doesn’t help that multiple instances you’ll be required to rapid-fire that trigger and my pointer finger even got cramped. I had to switch to my middle one too a few times. Then the much lesser technical problem it seemed like every other area a dead enemy sunk into the ground or wall.
Now besides the trophies and secrets, you can find in the story mode, there is a lot of entertaining replayability here in the extra game modes. The prototypical horde modes make an appearance where you just try to survive against wave after wave of zombies as long as you can. Surprisingly this mode is only one player. Next, is a giant version of pinball with zombies. Here you must shoot and aim the aforementioned balls into a makeshift version of the classic arcade game. You’ll also be able to wield a Gatling gun from a helicopter that is circling above three lifeboats. Some humans have tried to escape the zombie cruise but are stranded in open waters with hordes of sharks underneath them. It will be your job to shoot the underwater predators from the moving chopper. This mode will probably frustrate the most as the physics here aren’t quite on point. Then a mode where you are given a different group of zombies that have specific instructions to them. For example, kill a certain one, kill them all, take out a specific pair, and other “I Spy” type shenanigans. Lastly, there’s a driving range on the ocean with a zombie’s head acting as a golf ball. Landing on certain pads will reward more points and fun. My personal favorite, if I do say so myself.
Voyage of the Dead PS4/MARS Review
Overall - Fantastic - 8/10
Voyage of the Dead is easily the best MARS launch title for the majority of gamers. It has a familiar premise with familiar mechanics and as a game pulls it off near flawlessly. The real issues come courtesy of endurance waning to gravity and no save points for the story. Luckily, any frustration experienced, both inside and out of the digital title, from the story can be relieved in the extra modes. Which are quite fun, and I’m surprised weren’t in more light gun arcade games of old. If you need any convincing to actually pick up the MARS system, Voyage of the Dead will most likely be it.
- Familiar setup yet pleasantly different story mode
- Extra modes are fun and will enjoy equal playtime
- As a launch light gun game, excels any doubts I had
- Reticle drift can happen from time to time
- Gravity eventually spoils the fun due to the game’s presentation and mechanics
- No story savepoints
Reviewed using PS4 Pro.