Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Top-Down Shooter/Action
Release Date: PS3
November 30, 2010 (NA)
December 1, 2010 (EU)
With a hoard of zombie games being pushed onto various platforms in substantial quantities, it is easy to get lost among the one’s that are worth playing, and those that are better left for dead. Dead Nation actually sits happily in the middle, falling somewhere between a zombie lover’s fun reprise to an old school top-down shooter, to being a casual gamer’s worst nightmare of boring game play with mediocre graphics. Depending on where you fall on this slider will determine how appealing this games actually sounds.
The story is limited, but still pretty solid for a downloadable game. Jack McReady and Scarlett Blake are the only two humans that are immune to the virus overrunning the city, turning everyone into zombies. While this part of the tale seems familiar, the way it is told through each character’s narrative is very detailed. In between chapters, there is a small chunk of the story revealed as each character makes their way through the city’s shambles and hopefully to freedom. As I stated above, the story is actually quite well told, and isn’t a writer’s worst nightmare. There is no climbing out of one plot hole only to fall into another one. It may not be a story worthy of being the next Resident Evil, but it certainly holds it’s own.
The game play is done a little differently than the last top-down zombie game I played (Zombie Apocalypse). While both joysticks are utilized in this game, the right stick is actually only used for aiming and facing directions while running. All of the actions in the game are performed primarily by the triggers. This includes melee, shooting, sub-weapons, and dashing. The game starts the characters off with a rather slow shooting rifle, that comes complete with infinite ammo. Throughout the course of the game, there are large chests that contain more weapons, as well as money for upgrading them. The D-Pad is used for changing both weapons and sub-weapons, and the R3 is used for reload.
What makes this game unique from other zombie games is that it actually feels like a real zombie outbreak. No longer are the zombies mindless drones that moan and wait for the character to come to them, but rather they are actively looking to kill you mercilessly. When I say mercilessly, I mean it. Running too far forward without ensuring a clear path will almost always mean instant death. Zombies hide everywhere, from inside of dumpsters and trucks to behind cars. Not to mention that the lighting in the game is extremely limited (when played at the proper setting) so if the flashlight attached to the gun is not facing in the proper direction, there are chances that the zombies will not even be seen before they start eating the back of your head. Add this on to the fact that if you shoot and don’t kill the zombie, it is incredibly fast, this adds up to be a very difficult game. Zombies are attracted by noise and bright lights, so there are many ways to keep them off of the player, the only problem is that those options are limited in nature.
There are a wide variety of zombies to kill in this game, adding a bit of mix to the monotony, but there is no denying that if you are a zombie game guru then chances are you have seen something similar to these breeds of zombies in a different game. That doesn’t mean to say that killing them is any easier. The game does not play on a “Contra-style” one hit kill, and in fact, uses a health bar to allow a player to take several hits. Even if the health gets dangerously low, they have incorporated the “rest to heal” some of your health feature that is in many FPS games now. Something I am not a fan of, is that whenever the health bar is low, your screen turns obnoxiously red, which makes for seeing the already difficult to see zombies even harder.
All of the weapons and even sub weapons are customizable via the currency (gold?) that is obtained in the game. Gold is acquired by killing zombies, opening chests and even popping the trunks of cars. Most guns offer upgrades to clip size, firing speed, power and total ammunition. The sub-weapons offer upgrades typically to quantity and power/blast radius. This really doesn’t mean much in single player, but is extremely helpful in coordination when playing co-op. Each player can focus on a particular style so that fighting the zombies can be done in a much more effective fashion. Each player is also equipped with three pieces of armor (body, arms, and legs). These three, when combined in different fashions alter the characters strength, stamina and endurance. These three stats determine how effectively the character can charge through zombies, their speed of movement, and how much damage they can take, respectively.
While this game plays like an action/shooter game in that aspect, it still has arcade style features pinned onto it. A score is constantly kept from the time a game is started until game over. When killing zombies, a multiplier is accumulated at the top of the screen. Continue to kill zombies, and that multiplier will increase, thus giving a higher score per zombie. Get hit, and that multiplier will fall drastically. This is all factored in at the end of each checkpoint, where you are evaluated and given a weapon’s shop to change equipment and such. Scores are not only kept on an individual level, but on an international level as well. This adds a whole new level of competition when trying to keep your specific country at number one. All of this can be done in either single player or up to two player co-op.
Graphically, the game is pretty much what should be expected out of a top down shooter. While there were a few moments when I had to stop and comment that something looked particularly interesting, for the most part, I was neither impressed or disappointed. Some of the explosions can be nice to watch, and the zombie models, albeit small, are detailed as well. The pros to this are that with such a small graphical pull, the developers were able to allow the models to lay on the ground without having to magically disappear so as not to sacrifice frame rate. The con, of course, is that this style of graphics in a game is not what a Playstation 3 owner is looking to see utilized.
Musically, the game sits right where one would expect a zombie game to sit. The ambient sounds and groans from zombies coupled with an eerie track are exactly what is needed to set the mood for this type of game. Unfortunately, with the camera angle being so high, players feel more ‘removed’ from the action, and may not be as responsive to jumpy situations. In other words, even with the lights off, a player can still play this game for a few hours and find peace in their sleep later that evening. As with the graphics, I was neither impressed nor disappointed.
Overall, this game sits right at the halfway mark for me, with a few positives to make it stand out more than most. It is neither a must own, nor something I feel should be shelved for all eternity. The developers did a great job turning what could have been another mindless top-down dual analog game into something that actually required brain cells, and was hard not simply by overwhelming a player with hoards of zombies in a confined space (which this still sort of does), but actually makes the player resort to skill and some small tactics. This is especially true in the multiplayer. The response to this game is going to be varied, depending on who picks it up and plays it, but I would definitely recommend anyone a fan of either zombie games or top downs to at least go to a friend’s house and play it, if nothing else. The experience alone should be enough to appreciate that not all zombies are imagined in the same way by everyone.
Overall: 6.0 / 10.0
+ Co-op gameplay.
+ New approach to zombie ‘personality’.
+ Lighting is gorgeous.
– Another top-down shooter.
– Only ten levels.
– Hard to see at times.
~ Difficulty is acquired by new gameplay.
~ Zombies responses to players and environment.
~Tons of zombies without slightest bit of lag.