Zombies, having never entirely gone out of fashion, have featured strongly in video games over the past few decades, and it's easy to see why.
The concept of an undead, shuffling creature used for target practise by a human player suited the rudimentary technical capabilities of early gaming platforms perfectly, allowing developers creative license to hoist all sorts of rubbish on an unsuspecting public. From 1984's Zombie Zombie to the firmly B-movie inspired Zombie Revenge, hordes of bored teenagers felt duly cheated after offering twenty cents to the Arcade Gods and receiving in return an enormous dollop of disappointment.
Fortunately, times have changed, and after spending hundreds of dollars on your preferred console you can now be disappointed in the privacy of your own home. To be fair, The Last Guy isn't all bad, but there's only so much you can rave about when a game exudes the same level of complexity as a Soviet-era washing machine.
The Last Guy is a PSN exclusive title (due 29th August) that places you in control of a hero-type character in sole charge of rescuing thousands of hapless civilians trapped indoors following the outbreak of a zombie infestation. Those expecting an equally light-weight storyline will not be disappointed; it seems that a "mysterious purple ray" has impacted Earth at some stage, conveniently enslaving any outdoor dwellers into the ranks of the zombie army. As far as top-down rescue games go, this is pretty much all you really need to know, and having accidentally skipped the instructions prior to first playing The Last Guy I wasn't at any disadvantage.
I think the main concept the developers have tried to express here is the novelty of having maps lifted directly from satellite images. They haven't actually confirmed which company has provided these - not that it matters - although I can't help but conclude that Microsoft's Virtual Earth is unlikely to be among the contributors.
The goal of each of the fourteen levels is again fairly simple, you need to rescue a set number of civilians (typically 1000) within a set time period (usually between 3-7 minutes). You do this by walking past civilians who have usually gathered in or around buildings on the map, at which point they form a line behind your character in what appears to be a slightly more inspired version of the popular game Snake. The more civilians, the longer the line, and the more stamina points you gain, allowing you repeated use of the "sprint" button to avoid all the nasty critters on the level seeking to jump you and your horde of nervous, shrieking plebs.
Stamina also allows you to regroup the civilians, reducing the length of the line and therefore preventing those at the end from becoming unwitting victims of whatever Diablo-esque critter happens to come marching around the next corner. If a monster hits the middle of your line, a bunch of your civilians will be killed and the half that are no longer attached will retreat to the nearest structure. Unfortunately, it's not always beneficial to have a short line, as if you can manage to encircle an entire building with your line it will empty instantly, thus saving you a considerable period of time that would otherwise be devoted to accumulating the civilians one by one.
The actual rescue process involves either marching your line back to the nominated rescue zone, which is usually a park or a stadium of some description, or you can locate one of the instant rescue icons on the map. There are several such bonus icons offering either a stamina boost, temporary invisibility, temporary respite from all creature attacks, or the aforementioned instant teleport back to the rescue zone. They've also managed to throw in a few road blocks which can't be passed until your line reaches a certain number, which can be as high as a thousand.
Guiding you in this monster mish-mash is the ever-present thermal imaging camera your hero is equipped with. Enabling it allows you to see clusters of civilians huddling inside buildings, denoted by blobs of green that vary in size according to population. The catch? Once you turn it on, you can't see the very critters that are hunting you. You'll learn pretty quickly to flick it on and off simply as a guide once the difficulty starts ramping up.
But will you want to stick around to see how tricky it all gets? It's hard to say. What is certain is that the satellite imaging used to create each level is hardly conducive to the kind of quick-paced action this game just oozes in bucketloads. Even using the thermal camera it's easy to get stuck in a cul-de-sac with a tail of people longer than a well-planned Hikoi whilst a ghoulish zombie slashes away at the stragglers, reducing your rescue count and rapidly diminishing your chances of getting out of San Francisco alive. (Now there's a sentence I never thought I'd write.)
In all, The Last Guy ultimately fails to really hit the mark. I like the pace, I like the cheesy techno music, I like the top-down silliness and I've always lamented the passing of the genre into obscurity over the past decade, but ironically, if they'd generated their own terrain that was wildly inaccurate yet allowed less cumbersome movement it'd be a better game. In the meantime it's a one-hour-wonder, and simply introducing additional levels as further DLC won't alter the cumbersome nature of what could otherwise have been a real favourite.