Everyone loves a good Zombie theme, whether it be a Book, Film, TV Show or Game, it’s something that grips the geek nation like almost nothing else, women with/without sharp knees being the only exception I can think of. There are always the folk that proclaim their readiness to withstand the onslaught of the undead by meticulous preparation and having a plan in their head of what they would do to survive. Most people entertain the thought only briefly, some of us more often, I’m sure at least one ButtonMasher out there already has a Zombie Protocol Preparation Plan laminated and attached to the fridge along side the Soviet/China/Korea/Iran Nuclear Attack Scenario sheets.
I allow myself this slightly over worded introduction as the topic is one nearing over utilisation in the gaming world. We know the types of games that exist, the various Zombie renditions that feature in the likes of Resident Evil and Left 4 Dead. We haven’t reached the fever pitch that you see in film (a new zombie flick every quarter it seems) but we are definitely heading in that direction, and when you see the likes of the popular (and deservedly so) Plants vs Zombies, you know that we have started broaching on the ridiculous for subject matter.
Dead Nation tries not to create a new sub genre but rather acts as an amalgam of ideas already approached in previous releases broaching all mediums. The large pharmaceutical company, the various mutations of zombies, the immune person, and guns, lots and lots of guns. When you are releasing a downloadable title like Dead Nation you aren’t afforded the luxury of highly detailed full motion video to expand on emotion and character interactions and development, instead you get a more comic book style combined with a rugged narration by the protagonist.
What we do have in Dead Nation is the surprising adaptation of Super Star Dust’s top down point and spray shooting mechanics combined with a pleasingly rich post infection environment. The view often alternating between vertical and isometric means that you don’t see the faces of each and every zombie, in fact most are minimally rendered, but a more tactical approach to displaying where you stand and where the zombies are.
At the initiation of the action you are set along your way with a simple rifle. Your arsenal is expanded on with new weapon purchases and upgrades of clip capacity, power and speed ratings and increased ammunition payload. Things start getting very interesting when you start playing around with the potency of weapons only to have this met with larger swarms of enemies.
The path set for you is linear and the story guides this, exploration to an extent is possible and sometimes rewarded with caches of money/armour. But for the most part you are getting from point A to B while keeping your brains safe. There are no invisible walls but litter piles, wrecked vehicles and buildings act as the confines of the world. Verticality does come into play, as the world is rendered in full 3D, but only really makes its presence felt when ascending a building or ramps.
As is the trend, Zombies will often come in waves. There are accordingly some excellent set pieces were you are set upon by the hoard. One of my favourite parts saw you trapped in a recess needing to start an elevation platform to progress by firing up a generator. The interesting part being that the Zombies, which happen to be attracted by light and sound where more than happy to investigate the commotion caused by your attempts to achieve your goal.
There are a range of enemies in both cosmetic design and functionality, many of the quasi boss zombies seemed an homage to creatures already portrayed elsewhere. Other more plebic attackers seemed to have adopted abilities from their previous lives, firemen for example were immune to a particular element.
The timing of the release coinciding more or less with the commencement of AMC’s Walking Dead means that there is more than a little relevance and increased incentive to get into some fresh Zombie slaying. It’s almost perfect for what it is, a small amount of slow down occasionally. My only problem with unabashedly recommending it as a must download, is that I don’t know how much it is going to cost.