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Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for iPhone: Fun, but faulty

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a franchise in possession of a large fanbase must be in want of a video game adaptation. However hasty or flawed the execution of said game may be, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of media conglomerates that a video game is considered the rightful final step in a multimedia enterprise.

"My dear gamers," said Freeverse to us one day, "have you heard that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is available for the iPhone at last?" We replied that we had not heard so, but, being great admirers of the zombie-slaying genre in general and Seth Grahame-Smith's ingenious adaptation of the Jane Austen classic in particular, we resolved to examine said game with alacrity.

With a heavy heart, dearest readers, I must tell you that although the wry concept of the game is beyond reproach, its execution is wanting in many respects. Most grievous of all, I have been unable to carry the game to its proper conclusion; not because I did not wish to do so, for the game is in most regards diverting and congenial, but rather owing to a game-halting fault for which I was unable to find resolution.

Read on to discover not only the merits of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for the iPhone (US$2.99), but also the inauspicious traits it possesses which, to my sorrow, render it unworthy of either praise or recommendation unless resolved with haste.
(I'll abandon my mimicry of Jane Austen's voice for the rest of this review so those of you who aren't English majors can follow along with greater ease.)

If you haven't heard already, in 2009 Seth Grahame-Smith wrote an adaptation of Jane Austen's English Lit 101 mainstay, Pride and Prejudice. Austen's 1813 novel has seen a surge of interest in recent decades, with a celebrated TV adaptation on the BBC in the mid-90s and a 2005 film version... and those are just the most well-known recent adaptations. Mark Twain did not share the respect modern scholars have for Austen's novel; in 1898 he wrote of Austen, "Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone."

Perhaps in the spirit of that quote, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies does very nearly that. It takes Austen's classic, using about 85% of the original text, and inserts all the conventions of a zombie apocalypse. Early 19th century England has been overrun with "dreadfuls" or "stricken" (polite society's terms for the teeming undead), with fascinating consequences. Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters, "proper" girls useful only for their marriage prospects in Austen's original, are now all deadly martial artists trained to dispatch the zombie hordes with kung fu moves and katana strikes straight out of a pulp martial arts classic. It's like mixing Night of the Living Dead with Kill Bill, only set in early 19th century England. The results are hilarious, particularly because the original spirit of Austen's novel remains almost entirely intact even in a world full of zombies and ninjas.


Yes. Ninjas.

All of that may sound like an unlikely premise for a video game, but the iPhone version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies manages to capture the novel's atmosphere quite well. Cut scenes introduce each "chapter" (level) of the game with well-done graphics and dialog drawn directly from the novel. Fortunately, if you want to skip straight to the action, you can do so by hitting a "fast-forward" icon in the upper left of the screen. I thank Freeverse for this merciful feature, because some stages in the game, particularly the introductory chapter, can be quite difficult and may require multiple playthroughs before you can move on.


Cutscene artwork, while not animated, is very well-done

The gameplay itself is highly reminiscent of classic beat 'em up side scrollers like Final Fight or Double Dragon. Depending on your personal tastes, that's either the game's greatest strength or its biggest weakness. Although the combat is entertaining at first, it can get very repetitive; you're essentially doing the same thing every level, moving from left to right as you slice and dice your way through hundreds of zombies, ninjas, and zombie ninjas. It's fun in small doses, but it can get a bit brain numbing (braaaainnnsss) after twenty minutes or so.

The animation is 2-D, well-executed, and runs with almost no slowdown on an iPhone 3G. As you might guess from the premise, the level of gore is almost silly in its excess. As you wade through the hordes with your katana, blood will gush and body parts will fly across the screen like confetti. This probably isn't a game you want your seven-year-old to play.


This is one of the milder examples of gore in this game

The game's controls had a lot of thought put into them, but the execution is a bit lackluster. I found the directional control stick on the bottom left of the screen very finicky; it often steered me right into the middle of a crowd of zombies when I was trying to flank them instead. As for the "special moves" the game encourages you to execute, they're often difficult to pull off on the iPhone's small screen. You're supposed to be able to swipe in eight directions to execute Elizabeth Bennet's repertoire of kung fu techniques, but the game (or the iPhone's touchscreen) often has a hard time distinguishing between different moves. As you play, you may find the most powerful enemy in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is the control scheme itself.

Some of the game's smaller touches do show Freeverse put a lot of attention into the game, however. The zombie that greets you at the game's title page fades to black when you tap "Begin," with its glowing red eyes briefly visible in the ensuing darkness. Your health meter is a major artery stemming from the top of a beating heart, and that heart beats ever more frantically as your life depletes. Once you defeat a wave of zombies, a disembodied hand with bones protruding from its wrists will point you in the right direction. The game's harpsichord-heavy soundtrack is both pleasant and appropriate to the period of the game's setting. Small details like this go a long way toward enhancing the humorous/horrific atmosphere of the game.

Cutscene models have many different poses and expressions

During chapters you collect money from both your enemies and demolished bits of scenery, and in between chapters you're able to use that money to upgrade your life, technique meter, and the power of your special moves. The game is very generous in the amount of money it gives out, so you'll likely find that you can max out all of your stats in only a single playthrough. The game's replay value comes primarily from the post-level ratings you can get (bronze, silver, gold, and platinum) and from Plus+ gaming network integration, complete with achievements and leaderboards.


Teatime at the dojo

Playing all the way through Pride and Prejudice and Zombies should theoretically take about three or four hours for the first playthrough. I say "theoretically" because I wasn't able to progress beyond Chapter 10 (out of 12). Trying to launch the chapter immediately causes the game to crash on my iPhone 3G, and as of this writing I haven't found an acceptable resolution to the issue. I sent the following to Freeverse support (with some points bolded for emphasis):

"I'm currently testing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for a weekend review on The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW.com). I've reached Chapter 10 (Pemberley), but I'm unable to progress beyond that; the game immediately crashes upon tapping the chapter's "page" to start it. I've tried restarting my iPhone to see if that helps, but it didn't resolve the issue. I'd rather not have to delete and reinstall the game, thus having to start it over from the beginning, so I hope you have another solution.

"I'm running the game on a 16 GB iPhone 3G with the latest firmware. Thanks for any feedback you may have."

The response I got back from Freeverse was discouraging. It reads as though they didn't even read the content of my message:

"Please try rebooting your iPhone by holding the Hold button on the top of the iPhone. This should fix your issue as it appears to come from memory being taken by other applications. If this doesn't help, please try removing the application and resyncing through iTunes. It is also recommended that you restore if your continue to experience difficulties."

If Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' only flaws were somewhat repetitive gameplay and mildly frustrating controls, I'd still be able to recommend the game because of its amusing premise and surprisingly lush graphics. However, having encountered both a game-halting bug and a form-letter response from Freeverse tech support, I'm unable to give this game my full endorsement for now. I'd be happy to pay more than the $2.99 they're asking for if I could play all the way through the game, but until or unless the bugs are ironed out, I'd recommend holding off on buying Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for the iPhone and reading the book instead.

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a franchise in possession of a large fanbase must be in want of a video game adaptation....