A crowd of flesh-eating zombies and a shotgun go together like strawberries and cream. And just as sturdy English picnicers have come to revel in their rainy treat, so gamers remain in thrall to the joys of depriving the undead of their undeadness.
Shooting zombies has become an inherent part of our psyche – we're doing them a favour, after all, and if a game also happens to let us know the number of headshots we've racked up, that's an added benefit.
Such deep-seated Pavlovian twitches get their latest outing on DS in Touch The Dead (which will be released in Europe this autumn as Dead 'n' Furious).
Like the typical B-movie opening – photogenic couple break down on lonely road and head for nearest rundown gothic house – the game wastes little time on pleasantries. There's no rambling Resident Evil-style plot in evidence – you wake up a prison with an open cell door. Heck, you don't even move yourself around. The game uses the on-rails approach of arcade light gun shooters such as House of the Dead and Time Crisis, so you feel like you're standing on an escalator moving through an all-you-can-shoot zombie buffet.
The gun aspect is a bit more involved, however. You use your stylus to tap on the screen where you want to shoot, while reloading involves a sliding motion from the bottom right corner (where the ammo icon is located) to your gun's magazine icon in the bottom left. It's relatively easy to do, but with speed being of the essence, there will be occasions when you won't do it correctly. It's frustrating, but it brings some uncertainty into a game that could otherwise be chalked up as a zombie-themed Whack-A-Mole
Touch The Dead isn't a long game. There are four chapters, each of which is broken down into three sections. These see you fighting your way through various part of the prison – cells, sewers, medical centre – before making your way through the Louisiana wetlands in one of those air-blown swamp boats from Gentle Ben.
Each chapter is populated by its own special denizens. Zombies dominate throughout, but they change from one-time cops to one-time medical staff, while non-human beasts such as face huggers, bats, rats and alligators also get a nose in. There are exotic bosses, too, who provide the climax for each chapter, as well as forcing you into developing the modicum of tactics you'll need to work out their weak spots and attack patterns. In the main, however, the only thing you must do to survive Touch The Dead is tap the screen quickly and work out when you want to reload (usually once you've run out of bullets).
Admittedly, some skill is required in terms of aiming. As you'd expect, headshots are best for a quick dispatch, but at the end of each section your shooting is broken down in terms of how many zombies you've killed by head, arms, body and leg shots, and you need a decent rank in each to get the maximum health upgrades for the next section.
Surprisingly this is one area where the game's difficulty curve comes into play. Because the auto-save works between sections, you have to perform well throughout to make it to the game's end. The sheer number of enemies you're faced with means you'll end up losing some health along the way, so it's always worth replaying sections. In addition, for completists there are formal difficulty modes, ranging from Easy and Furious to God.
Like a classic zombie B-movie, Touch the Dead wears its heart and brains over the screen. Graphically, it does as well as you can expect from 3D on DS – you can shoot off limbs and blow holes in the zombies' chests – and pacing-wise there are some nice shifts between mass attacks and more edgy, 'It's Behind You!' moments.
The range of denizens is well done, too, with the zombies, who throw their heads at you and then die, remaining our firm favourites. There's even a two player co-op mode.
What Touch the Dead is not is a sophisticated experience. It's too short, and there are some steep hikes in the difficulty early on, while the second half of the game is too easy. But ultimately it's all about zombies, and like the smell of wet grass at the end of a rainy summer's day, sometimes a headshot rating of 90 per cent is good enough.