At the time of this writing, America is the leading zombie killing country in the world. USA! USA! With only 45 percent of the undead population in our country totally eradicated, were doing a much better job at winning the war on zombie infestation than many of our neighbors. The UK and France are currently trailing behind slightly at 42 and 26 percent respectively. The rest of the world is doing a pretty crappy job at thinning out their rampaging zombie hordes. Slaughtering massive throngs of slathering zombies of all shapes and sizes happens every time you blink an eye in Dead Nation, even if it never feels like you’re making a real dent.
Just when games about mowing down zombies have begun to lose their thrill, Housemarque manages to roll out a new one that shakes things up and injects some sexiness and excitement back into the genre. A fresh perspective and meticulous attention to fine detail makes this top-down zombie shooting romp through a decimated cityscape super crazy fun. Well, that and the freaking blade-zooka we picked up a third of the way through. Gotta love shooting the heads off of a dozen zombies in one fell swoop.
As the sole person immune to the zombie plague outbreak that rapidly spreads across the globe, you set out to blast through the hordes in order to survive and help figure out a cure. Fortunately, the generic plot doesn’t get in the way of the dead-guy killing. Dead Nation’s dual-stick shooter twist is straightforward, tense, and satisfying. Navigating the darkened streets with a flashlight taped to your gun is pleasantly nerve-wracking, since every second is a struggle to keep from being overrun by the ridiculous number of zombies that come charging at you from all angles. Some of the buggers are slow and plodding, but as you progress they increase in numbers, variety, and deadliness. And it’s not uncommon to wander into an alleyway to pick up a hidden power-up only to practically wet yourself when 50-to-100 of the rabid brain-eaters come suddenly pouring in from all directions.
Each of the game’s 10 stages offers a lengthy trek through undead-infested territory, yet frequent checkpoints offer a brief respite from the zombie dodging craziness. In these moments of calm you can access a weapons wagon to spend coins you pick up on purchasing new death-dealing implements and upgrade your other gear before heading about out into the fray. Basic guns like the assault rifle, shotgun, and SMG get the job done early on, but you’ll need to shell out for the flamethrower, mines, rocket launchers, and the ever-so-delicious blade cannon to take down the tougher zombified foes that sneak up on you further along in the game. Each weapon can be upgraded in multiple areas, including rate-of-fire, damage, clip size, and ammo capacity, which offers great incentive to take down as many of the rotting bastards as you can in each mission.
Shooting the hell out of every zombie that comes charging at you isn’t enough, since you’re often totally outnumbered by several dozen-to-one when the beasts come running, and the simple act of re-loading at the wrong moment can be your undoing. The great thing is the developers worked in a number of fun sneaky tricks you can use to help turn the table to your advantage. Zombies are easily distracted by noise and flashes, so shooting cars can set off their alarms, drawing a bunch of them into the open. Their pounding away at the doomed metal thing will inevitably ignite it and immolate half the screen. Other entertaining tricks include shooting out vending machines to make them spew soda cans and attract a crowd. Gas tanks and other volatile substances also make good incendiary solutions for the huge numbers of zombies that come at you at once. When you get cornered-in, you can get stabby-stabby with melee moves or charge through the horde with a short burst of speed. You’ll need every trick up your sleeve to make it through the game’s tougher stretches, and getting through a particularly intense level by the seat of your pants definitely gets the blood pumping.
Though the bird’s-eye-view makes the teeny little zombies you’re blasting away seem cute and harmless, there’s plenty of deadly variety in the gun-fodder you’ll face. Zombies come in many flavors: slow lurchers, speedy racers, fat meaty blokes, bloated exploders, He-Man size muscle dudes, blade-fisted zombies, and even screeching beasts that call more zombie pals. Furthermore, the visual variety from one zombie to the next is staggering, and we spent many moments leaning in for a close look to confirm that – yes indeed –these zombies are stylish little buggers. We encountered zombies with business suits and briefcases, cop zombies with ill-wielded guns, zombie escaped convicts, military zombies, zombie punks, zombie hookers, a zombie football team, firefighting zombies wearing flame-retardant suits. Hell, there were even zombie circus clowns that emitted whoopee cushion and horn squeaking sounds when we mowed them down. Brilliant.
Despite smooth and perfectly paced action-intensive gameplay, the long levels grow a little too repetitive over time. Settings change up at a regular clip, but many send you through similar poorly lit locales that tend to blend together visually. This dampens some of the excitement over time. Otherwise the lengthy campaign is quite enjoyable, whether played solo or cooperatively. Online leaderboards not only track your own zombie-killing prowess, they also rank the overall number of zombies killed by country. It’s pretty neat, even if it doesn’t seem to have any direct impact on the gameplay itself. Though it’s not perfect, Dead Nation reminds us how much fun it can be sending legions of the dead back to hell.
Nov 18, 2010