Review: Dead Nation
Gruesome, dark, intense… these are all words that perfectly some up what Dead Nation is all about. Housemarque have sought out to create a world where you feel alone and helpless. For the most part, they have succeeded. Just picture swarms and swarms of zombies rushing at you from every angle and you have just used the last flare to distract them; all you have left is your rifle. Do you run and try to get to a safezone and buy ammo, or stand just your ground. These are decisions that you will be making constantly.
The core of the game takes place across ten levels. There is a light narrative between each of them, and it is the same whether you are playing single player or co-op. It gives the game a sort of graphic novel feel. In single player you take the role of either Jack McReady or Scarlett Black both seem to be immune to the cause of this zombie outbreak. Just in case, they are packing a suicide pill if worst comes to worst. Zombies of all types will be coming at you each with a different attack strategy. Some hide against walls or under man holes, only to lunge at you when you get close. While others, when they have you sighted, will call in hordes of zombies if you aren’t quick to get them. Each different type of zombie type a different action. Some are weak and can be mowed down with the smg, while others are too bulky and there is nothing that a good old blast from the shotgun can’t take care of.
The game starts with you on the roof of a building you were shacked up in. There is a brief in-game tutorial that lays out the basic controls. R1 will do your shooting, you move with left stick, and aim with right stick. A game from Housemarque wouldn’t be complete without a dash, which is mapped to L2. All of this can be changed to anything you like in the options menu, which is a plus. If you don’t like reloading to the right stick, change it to whatever makes you feel good man. There is also a “charge” shot with your basic rifle. If you can line up a few zombies with your laser sight, this charge shot will blow through most of them. You will learn you love this; it will be a saving grace at times right next to the melee attack. Zombies when killed, while not gushing blood all over the place, will spawn red and yellow orbs. These are you multiplier and currency respectively. Each red orb will add one point to your multiplier, but you have to be careful. If a zombie attacks you this number decreases. The way to score big is to not get hit, thus letting this multiplier get in the thousands. The yellow orbs are your gold which can be used at weapons trucks. I don’t know why people are still charging money at a time like this, but I guess someone needs to get paid.
The game does a really good job at pacing the action throughout the levels. You can always tell when the shit is about to hit the fan. Each level has that one part where you can go, man did you get to “blank”… it was intense. It is also a plus that you seem to get a checkpoint at most opportune times. I can’t recall how many times I have been on the brink of death, playing on the harder difficulties, only to get full health at a checkpoint. Most of the time these checkpoints will be right after you hit a weapons truck. Like I mentioned before you will use the gold you collect from zombies to upgrade weapons. This is not the only way to get gold though… hidden throughout each level are loot and armor boxes. The loot boxes will flash either red or yellow, as you can guess red gives you multiplier orbs while yellow gives you the gold. Depending on your play-style it is up to you when you collect it. If you want to max your weapons out hit it while yellow, if you are trying for a highscore you better hit it while red. There are also ammo boxes which glow blue. You may even find some gold hidden in the trunks of abandoned cars. If you are going to going for that platinum trophy (like me) you need to make sure you search everywhere for that precious loot. You will also find large boxes that store armor. There are 3 main types each will add to a certain stat. You can try to keep yourself well balanced, or go for pure speed. I liked to be a tank so I kept using the armor that would give me the best strength and defense.
The weapons in the game start of a little bland. You get the rifle with unlimited ammo, which should be maxed out all the way by the start of level two (protip), an smg, and a shotgun by the end of level 3. Then things get crazy, by the time you hit level six all the weapon options will be unlocked including such weapons as a big tazer and “blade gun”. There is nothing more satisfying then launching the blade gun into a pack of about 50 zombies. The crunch sound just brings a smile to my face. Weapons can be upgraded in numerous ways like rate of fire, power, clip size, and you can always top off your ammo. This became quite bothersome for me by the endgame as most my weapons were fully maxed and I was just wasting time buying ammo for all my guns. There is no quick re-up option. Other than guns you also have flares, mines, grenades, and other hand-held weapons. I remember back when we did our preview, Ben, Eric, and I all though mines were pointless. We couldn’t have been more wrong. When you have a wall of zombies running at you, mines are the first thing I lay out. When fully upgraded with 5 explosives per mine, you can take out the whole wave without firing a gun once. You will run out of these secondary weapons fast, so always be on the look out for soda machines and cars with alarms. Both of these can be used like a flare and lure the zombies away from you.
Besides the single player experience Dead Nation also offers both online and local co-op. You will be doing the same campaign from single player in either multiplayer mode, or you can just hope in a level you both have unlocked and try to find all the loot or get a new highscore. The major thing that bugs me with online right now is that as of the time of this review the voice chat was not functioning in online matches. This is a game where you really need to have each other’s full cooperation. Housemarque is aware of the bug and is hoping to have it ironed out soon. While in co-op your movement is restricted to a certain radius from each other. This is so the camera will not have any problems, so make sure you stick together, but I don’t see why you wouldn’t do this to begin with. Even with these flaws in the multiplayer, I still found myself enjoying both the local and online games that I played.
I have seen some complaints that the game is too dark. I just don’t understand what the problem with this is. The tension that is built by illuminating your surroundings with the flashlight makes the game for me. You don’t know when a zombie will fling itself off a wall and come straight for you. If anything, I wish that the levels were a little more distinct. If I were to show screens from a majority of the levels, you probably couldn’t tell me which one they were from. Maybe a level from the interior of a building would have helped this, I don’t know. There is always the chance for some new levels via DLC.
When we got our review copy I was psyched to finally get a finished version. After playing this game for pretty much every day for close to a month I am in no hurry to stop playing. I think that tells you pretty much all you need to know. The game has its flaws but most importantly it is still a blast to play. Now I am off to finish up my loot location spreadsheets and get that platinum.
For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
What I Like:
- Finding new things about levels each time I play.
- The RPG elements found in the weapon upgrading.
- Killing Zombies... lots of them.
What I Dislike:
- All the environments feel the same.
- No quick way to buy max ammo (minor gripe).
- No voice chat in online at the moment.