ach5

'Stubbs the Zombie' is Back, But Nothing Has Changed 2021

ach5

Key Takeaways

Stubbs the Zombie is a window into a particular era of game design. We've come a long way from 2005.If all you want is unfocused mayhem, you've come to the right place.It's still pretty fun to be a zombie master, though.

Aspyr Media

There isn't a lot of substance to Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without A Pulse, but you do get to turn a bunch of people into your personal zombie army, and that's worth a few laughs.

Stubbs, which re-released last week for modern consoles, is a 2005 action game built on the same engine as the first Halo. It puts you in the middle of a zombie apocalypse but flips the script by making you the one who starts it.

As Stubbs, a mostly-mute but surprisingly smart zombie, your job/passion is to zombify everyone you can reach in the retro-futuristic science-fiction city of Punchbowl.

Stubbs is an entertaining but poorly-aged splatterpunk comedy that takes many cheap shots at 1950s science fiction.

It's unchallenging but weirdly cathartic, and I admit I got some dark mad-scientist laughs out of commanding my zombie army. To my mind, however, the real question is why Stubbs is back at all.

"It's not bad, especially when you've got a nice big zombie army at your beck and call, but there's a lot about Stubbs the Zombie that's aged poorly."

The Inexplicable Return of the Dead Green Dope

Until this week, Stubbs the Zombie was one of the forgotten games of its generation. It was made by Bungie co-founder Alex Seropian's Wideload Games as an exclusive for the original Xbox in 2005, where it sold decently and got decent reviews. There were plans for a sequel in 2008, but they were interrupted when Disney bought Wideload in 2009.

Since then, Stubbs has had a bad run. Its 2007 Steam port got delisted, and it was quietly pulled off of Xbox Live in 2012. That left Stubbs out in the cold for close to a decade, out of print and hard to find.

Stubbs' original publisher Aspyr Media suddenly announced earlier this year, on February 17, that it would re-release the game for modern consoles and Steam on March 16. We went from Stubbslessness to a Stubbs renaissance in under a month.

"Since the original game's release in 2005, everyone at Aspyr has carried a special fondness for Stubbs," said Ted Staloch, executive VP at Aspyr, in an email to Ach5. "We've watched the continuous support shown by fans as to how much they loved the game. We felt the time was right to bring Stubbs back."

I might argue with that.

Food Is Thought

Unusually for a 2021 retro rerelease, Stubbs the Zombie isn't a remake or remaster. It's straight-up the original 2005 version, no gimmicks.

"It is the same game that many fans know and love," said Staloch.

"However, we developed the new game as a native port to ensure the highest-quality gameplay experience possible on today's modern consoles and PCs. That allowed us to improve various texture resolutions, but even then, it still feels true to the original."

That means Stubbs, like many games were in 2005, is ugly, very brown, and surprisingly unfocused. It often leaves you in the dark about what you should do to progress through a level, and is primarily set in a procession of dull hallways.

It's also weirdly easy. Most of the humans you fight in Stubbs are too dumb to live by design, and like zombies, are only dangerous in crowds. They're there to be pinatas, and more importantly, fresh recruits.

Any human that Stubbs beats reanimates as a zombie under your command shortly afterward, and any human they kill also gets zombified. Once you've got a few other zombies for backup, Stubbs gets a lot more interesting, as you can deploy them as distractions, human shields, and cannon fodder. If Stubbs wasn't playing its main gimmick for laughs, it'd be terrifying.

As it is, outside of a few good moments, Stubbs just feels sort of quaint. It's an artifact from a specific time period, in that post-Grand Theft Auto III era where video games were in love with big cathartic destruction sprees. Stubbs isn't as explosive as Destroy All Humans or Hulk: Ultimate Destruction but makes up for it with dumb laughs.

It's not bad, especially when you've got a nice big zombie army at your beck and call, but there's a lot about Stubbs the Zombie that's aged poorly. In the end, I'm more interested in it as a historical snapshot than as a game, but I'm genuinely hoping Stubbs finally gets his sequel. Zombies never fell out of fashion, after all.