There are some days that I come home and want nothing more than to boot up my computer and play some video games. After a particularly long shift, I want a game that requires little to no thinking. And after a long, difficult shift I just want to let loose and wreak cartoon havoc. If that's been your day, then ZHEROS is the game for you.
Released in January 2016 for Xbox's Games with Gold, and in February on Steam, ZHEROS is the creation of Rimlight Studios. It's a 3D beat 'em up set in distant galaxies. Players can choose between two members of the ZHEROS squad--Mike or Captain Dorian--to plow through hordes of aliens and cyborgs using an arsenal of moves and combos. Sound fun? It is...if you have a lot of patience.
A few snags right off the bat keep ZHEROS from being the carefree romp you might be hoping for. If you're playing on a PC, one thing becomes apparent immediately: ZHEROS still thinks it's an Xbox game. Everything from the start menu to the combo list expects that the player will be using an Xbox controller, and there's no easy way to translate everything to a keyboard without things feeling awkward. A second, more annoying issue pops up once a level is selected: the loading screen. It's hard to get a quick game fix when the load time ranges between 5 and 10 minutes per level. Plus (if you're like me), it's not unreasonable to assume that the game simply crashed.
But onto gameplay. Once you start a new game and choose your avatar--either Mike (square-jawed and dopey) or Captain Dorian (an acrobatic redhead)--a cut-scene shows us one of the few fragments of plot that ZHEROS throws our way. Dr. Vendetta sits in his volcanic lair, from which he invades planets with the push of a button. It's up to the player character to thwart his plans for galactic domination.
Most levels follow similar paths. As you progress through the level, you can collect tokens alongside your primary goal of destroying as many robots as possible. Through these actions you accumulate points, which in turn earn you "RP," which is used to purchase upgrades. While most of your time is spent running sideways and beating up bad guys, there are also hazards to avoid and minor (yet still tricky) platforming.
The majority of your enemies are mechanic or biomechanic in nature. Their designs are pretty cute, and it's hard not to feel a little bad as you smash them to pieces. Their names, though, are a bit painful. The most common enemy, a little robot with a screen for a face, is called "Screenman." Another, a robotic cow with the most hilariously disturbing gun array I've seen in a game, is named "Space Cow."
Lack of imagination may be what really keeps ZHEROS from being a good game, rather than just silly smashing fun. The level and enemy names are generic. The plot is so plain, it's not even vanilla. We are given no backstory on our main characters: where are they from? Why is Dorian a captain while Mike is unranked? What is their relationship? Who is Dr. Vendetta? Even the levels themselves can be a little baffling, like one that has you racing against an unexplained countdown to finish the level. A little bit of humor would have gone a long way in polishing up this game. However, this seems to be Rimlight's first game, so they'll have plenty of time for learning.
Luckily, games don't necessarily need a plot to be enjoyable. The level design in ZHEROS is clean and colorful. The soundtrack complements the action and infuses gameplay with a solid amount of energy, even after those long load times. And the combat is oh-so-satisfying, whether you feel like using a laser blaster or your choice from a long list of combos. There's even a co-op mode to play with your friends! So go on. Give your brain a break.
You can purchase ZHEROS on Steam for $14.99.