Even amid the frenzy of retro remakes, few console gamers were clamoring for a next-gen refresh of Snake, the old PC/cell-phone staple that had players steering a blocky serpent around the screen. That lack of popular demand didn't deter Sony from producing The Last Guy, where the object is to rescue citizens from zombie invaders in a Snake-like parade through city streets.
The 2D, top-down gameplay has been updated (into the early 1980s, at least) with monsters and power-ups, but The Last Guy's main attraction is high-res satellite imagery that provides the setting for each level. Playing the titular "guy," you guide evacuees past scorpion zombies in London, and dodge female buffalo zombies in Sydney. The geography is more than eye candy, as each city's layout shapes the flow of the game. An evacuation strategy that saves lives in the claustrophobic back alleys of Tokyo may end in tragedy if you try it on the Mall in D.C.
Thoughtful level design lets The Last Guy squeeze a surprisingly deep game from its premise. The action does wear thin at points—some of the middle stages offer only feeble twists, and vary wildly in difficulty—yet it's worth fighting toward the upper levels, which build in complexity to a satisfying showdown with the mother of all zombies at Japan's Nagoya Castle.
Beyond the game: Like many offbeat games in the post-Katamari era, The Last Guy pours on the quirkiness to boost its charm, with mixed success. Willfully clumsy translations ("There is an outbreak of Normal Zombies in the city!") impart a fun disaster-movie vibe, but the weird Hindu motif feels tacked on.
Worth playing for: The anti-egalitarian joy of finding each level's hidden "VIPs," who include a basketball star, a nurse, and a "fat dude," among others.
Frustration sets in when: The tiny protagonist and his squint-inducing foes are enough to make you wish you had a bigger TV. The Last Guy has a 2,000,000-pixel HD canvas at its disposal; it's hard to tell why so few of those pixels are spent on critical game elements.
Final judgment: This creative revival of an ancient format proves that zombies aren't the only ones who rise from the dead.