The great zombie game outbreak of the 21st century began with a single byte. It spread quickly, digitally infecting games with unprecedented numbers of undead. Before long, you couldn’t click an executable without launching an outbreak. And then the fightback came. Nation Red is a Diablo-ish take on the battle against the undead. Top-down battles against relentless hordes of pick-up dropping zombies. It’s very mouse-clicky, rhythmically pleasing and appallingly difficult.
It’s set in a dusty unnamed US town. Every level is a small, samey arena, beginning with you in the centre and the zombies flowing in. Initially, it feels like a tactics-free button basher. You’re limited to one weapon (always the one you’ve just picked up), and the backdrops have no effect on the flow of the zombies. You can’t hide, you can only run and shoot, and then run some more.
But you can plan ahead. The weapon limitations are reason enough to consider how you’ll fight for the next few seconds: dare you swap over your shotgun for the nailgun or flamethrower when it means a change in the rate of fire and damage? Can you make it to that perk, or are you too low on health to consider a mad dash?
There are two forms of drops. The guns vary from pistols to flamethrowers, and all of them chew through ammo – which is infinite, but all too quickly you’re forced to back off and reload. Again, it’s necessary to think about this if you can, so that you’re backing off into an empty corner or through a hole in the undead. The other drops are more varied: pickups that drop mines, or a doppelganger, or slow-motion buffs – varying effects that regularly swap provide needed respite. Our favourite is the self-guided turret.
All through this you’re gaining experience, building up points to buy another buff that you select from a menu. The selections are always random. Sometimes they’re not entirely helpful for the situation at hand. You may need to recuperate health, when all you’re given is a choice of different bombs. It seems unfair, but the games are short and the action is satisfying - all things considered, Nation Red ends up being a surprisingly entertaining zom-bomber.
Oct 12, 2009