The premise of Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse is great. It’s just a shame that an hour so into it you’ve witnessed all that it truly has to offer.
It’s 1959, and in the idyllic city of Punchbowl, Pennsylvania, things are about to get interesting. Murdered many years earlier, Edward “Stubbs” Stubblefield has risen from his burial place; the site on which Punchbowl has been built. Reanimated, there’s now only one thing on Stubbs’ mind: brains. Or at least initially, anyway. There is, thankfully, more to Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse‘s narrative than just mindless brain eating. You see, Stubbs is reminded early on why he was murdered all those years ago: it was because of love. And so on he shambles, embarking on a mission to be reunited with his long-lost love, Maggie, and maybe get revenge on his murderer, her father, along the way.
Being a zombie, Stubbs doesn’t move all that fast. He’s also not that bright. His undead status, however, means he can take quite a beating, which is handy because the citizens of Punchbowl obviously don’t take too kindly to him stinking up the place. There’s also the fact that, given the opportunity to get close enough, he’ll eat their brains.
Eating brains in Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse has multiple benefits. The biggest, of course, is that eating a human’s brain makes then undead, just like you. After a brief moment of rest, they’ll rise up and seek out brains of their own to eat. Play your cards right, and you can soon have your own little army of the dead. You can whistle at them to draw their attention, useful when going up against a mob of soldiers or scientists equipped with futuristic weapons, and you can even shove them if you want to be more direct with your intentions.
As useful as it is having control over an army of zombies, however, it’s Stubbs himself that generally has to get stuff done. Aside from eating brains, he can swing his arms around with some force, killing or at least stunning his enemies. In fact, enemies such as soldiers need to be stunned before you can feast on their juicy brains. And as you progress through Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse, Stubbs gains multiple new tricks to combat his human adversaries as well. Eating brains generally powers them.
The ability to produce a putrid fart is the first ability you obtain. Letting rip, a gas cloud surrounds you, dazing any enemies caught in its suffocating aroma. Then you gain the ability to throw your internal organs like grenades. Somehow, you can even control when they explode. Next up you learn how to detach your arm and control it remotely. Even better, it can be used to possess enemies, making them do your bidding. And finally, you can detach your head and roll it like a bowling bowl. Once again, you can detonate it remotely, making it a great way to eradicate a group of hostiles at range.
With your full arsenal unlocked, a bit of strategy comes into play in Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse. You might be able to charge headfirst into a combat encounter, for example, or hold back until you’ve built up an army of zombies and use them for cover. Though charging in headfirst is rarely a good idea anyway. The challenge your enemies provides ramps up fairly quickly, often forcing you to thin out their numbers before moving in to eat their tasty brains, or at least spread them out.
Unfortunately, just a couple of hours into Stubbs’ adventure, the fun starts wearing thin. Throwing your head like a bowling bowl takes too long to get going, making it useless in many circumstances. Throwing your arm is better, but is still an opportunity so easily wasted. And as fun as eating brains initially is, its charm is wearing wearing thin the 20th you do it, never mind the 300th. After an entertaining start, Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse begins to feel like a slog.
The fact that little has been done to bring Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse into the modern age is also disappointing. It originally released back in 2005 on PC and the original Xbox, and other than a higher resolution not much has changed. You’re likely to take more offense at the game’s audio quality to be honest – and be annoyed by the repetitive quips of your adversaries. Playing the game on PS5 for review, I also encountered my fair share of crashes. Thankfully the game’s checkpoint system meant I never lost much progress.
Despite not enjoying playing Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse much past the two or so hour mark though, it did keep drawing me back. I wanted to see Stubbs’ journey to the end, as he’s quite a likeable fellow despite being, y’know, undead. It’s also got some nice visual gags that might make you chuckle, and there’s the occasional section where you get to drive a vehicle, which always makes slaughtering the citizen’s of punchbowl a little more fun. My favourite is a tractor with spikes welded to its front – if only for the fact that it makes killing chainsaw-wielding lunatics a breeze.
Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse isn’t a terrible game by any stretch of the imagination, but once the novelty of playing as a zombie has worn off, it’s rarely fun. It’s dated in just about every way imaginable, and while those who fondly remember it from many years ago might get a kick out of taking control of Stubbs once again, newcomers are probably just going to left wondering why his corpse has been reanimated once more. With some fresh ideas I’d like to encounter Stubbs again one day, but his original outing now just carries the stench of decay.
Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse Review: GameSpew’s Score