Impressions – Dead Nation (PSN)

Honestly, I was a bit underwhelmed when I learned that Housemarque’s new game was a “zombie shooter.” With ‘Burn Zombie, Burn,’ ‘Zombie Apocalypse,” and a couple of others already available, I quickly dismissed ‘Dead Nation’ as just another one to throw on the pile. Imagine the smile on my face when I finally got to play it at E3 though.

You’ll quickly learn that this isn’t your average twin-stick zombie shooter, and instead holds more to the mechanics of a game like Super Stardust HD, but with Zombies and Shotguns and Grenades (oh my!) So let’s back up. You start out with a basic rifle and a flashlight (that thankfully has an everlasting battery.) Your world has been overrun by zombies, and for some reason, the infection doesn’t affect you. The view is all from above, but that doesn’t mean that you can see everything. Light, or actually the lack of it, is a huge component to the gameplay. Your flashlight is integral to your survival, and you’re going to be very happy that you can see all around. So, at its core, this game is all about killing zombies and grabbing cash, and this is where the similarities to a SHMUP come into play, as your score relies on your skills at building the multiplier as high as you can.

Basic controls include moving with the left stick, aiming with the right. You fire your weapon with R1, and if you hold R1 down on the default rifle, your laser sight gets bigger and allows for a super shot for tougher enemies. You’ve also got a dual-purpose melee attack with R2 which also doubles as a way to check chests and car trunks for extra cash, cash that will be used to upgrade existing weapons and items, and to buy new ones when they’re available. L1 will deploy your secondary items such as grenades, flares, mines, and Molotov cocktails (to name a few.) Flares are harmless, but can be used to bait the zombies closer to a large fuel tank that doesn’t react nicely to bullets. There will also be situations where an item like a mine will help greatly, especially in those areas that you can just tell that you’re about to be surrounded by the undead. The mines are proximity activated, and like the grenades, attract more zombies by beeping a few times before detonation. Lastly, L2 is used as a Dash, which actually works very well when you’re being overwhelmed by crowds of brain-starved monsters.

One of my favorite mechanics in the game though, is the fact that you can blow almost any car up by firing at it a few times. You’ll see fire engulf the wheel wells, and then to signify eminent danger, a red ring appears to signify the blast radius. As a bonus, certain vehicles will have a blinking red light on the dashboard, which tells the player that it has an alarm system, which when activated, will attract hoards of your enemies, all banging and scraping the vehicle, which crescendos in a huge blast of zombie parts all over the area. I still laugh every time I set that chain of events off, and the fact that they all die in different ways is another one of those touches that makes this game so addictive.

Some of you may still be thinking “so, after reading this, it still just seems like another zombie shooter.” In essence, you’re right. That is until you realize everything that’s going-on behind the scenes. Not only are you trying to boost your multiplier and your overall score for the online leaderboards, but your also adding to your country’s total amount of infection eradication. That’s right, whichever country that your PS3 is connected, every zombie that you kill goes toward the infection ratio of your country in the game. So, at last viewing, the US was still at around a 44% infection rate, and if you sit at that screen, you’ll see realtime updates as to number of enemies killed and how it affects your and other countries. It really is a great motivator to keep playing as much and as thorough as possible.

Cooperative play is included, both on the same couch and online, which is simply awesome! I’m very thankful personally that they took the extra time to add the online component, as this game really changes with 2 players. I haven’t had a lot of time with the multiplayer yet, but it does add so much to the package, and for me, limiting it to 2 people is perfect for the way that the game plays.

What really sets ‘Dead Nation’ apart from the other similar games out there is how they handle the mood, and particularly managing the player’s tension levels. The pacing is dead-on (see what I did there?) with a good mix of exploration and battling seemingly never-ending waves of enemies. The tension definitely reaches its peaks during the “quiet” times, when you’re walking the streets looking through car trunks and chests for money. You’re wildly moving your flashlight all around you since you can hear groans in your rear speakers, and the occasional kicked can on the ground startles you just as your flashlight catches a motionless zombie up against a wall, waiting for the right time to pounce on you. The music reacts to everything happening in the game, and the overall sound design is truly outstanding. If you have gaming headphones with surround, this is the game you’ll want to use them with.

Dead Nation is slated for a “Fall 2010” release for $14.99 (thanks Bug42). No specific date has been announced yet.

These impressions are based on review code provided by SCEA, and not on the final game.

Written by Glenn Percival

Glenn Percival

Just a guy that loves games, movies, Golf, Football, and Baseball.

Editor-in-Chief, Video Producer, and whipping-boy

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