Review: Dead Nation (PS3)

Title: Dead Nation
Format: PlayStation Network Download
Release Date: November 30, 2010
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Housemarque
Original MSRP: $14.99

While reading the preview that I posted a couple of weeks ago, it quickly became clear that even though it didn’t fit our official reviews format, it actually covers everything quite well. The “preview code” that we’ve had for a while is actually very close to what the final product has become, so many of my opinions are still valid. So, I’m going to use a lot of what was there, and I’ll definitely be adding more to each category.

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.

There are actually different “classes” of enemies as well, from the slow shambler to the larger and much tougher-to-kill, each has it’s own attributes and intelligence. Some of the larger classes include a monster that Screams when you’re in-range. If you can’t kill that guy before he does so, his screams summon a huge wave of enemies. There are others that will try to smash you under their weight, and that have huge blades as arms. It becomes quite obvious that these classes are where they are for a reason, and that Housemarque is being very deliberate in terms of pacing and tension.

In two words, Gruesomely Stunning! The realtime lighting is unmatched in any game that I’ve ever played, with every single object, down to the empty soda can on the ground, reacts in the manner that it should to the surrounding light sources, which are few in number and intensity. The fact that your flashlight is almost exclusively your only lightsource in areas just adds to the tension. I can’t tell you how freaked-out I get when I walk into an area and all of a sudden, all of the lights go out. There are moments when you’ll be almost constantly spinning the right stick because you can’t see where the enemies are coming from, especially when you can hear them! On top of all of this, the level designs are perfect, and the fact that every dismembered body part remains on the ground all the time just adds to the immersion that much more. I never thought that an overhead perspective like this would lend itself to the tension in a game like a first-person perspective does, but coupled with the audio, this is one game that will make you never want to blink.

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. I can’t stress enough as to how perfect the audio design is in ‘Dead Nation.’ It works in a perfect balance with the visuals, level design, and how the characters react.

Housemarque actually delayed the release of ‘Dead Nation’ to add online cooperative play, and it was the right decision. Local coop is available as well, and both play identically. In multiplayer, which is limited to 2 people, I did notice that the difficulty ramped-up a bit as to not allow the players to roll right through, but it never got too tough, and it forces the players to work together to take care of some of the heftier waves of enemies. Online is easy to use, and voice support is excellent. Multiplayer adds a ton to the overall experience, and adds so much replay-ability to the final product. Added to the fact that the enemy formations are different every time also adds a nice touch to playing this over and over.

What can I say, Housemarque has done it again! ‘Dead Nation’ has exceeded every expectation that I had going-in, and I can’t even begin to tell you how great of an experience it really is. Even after mulling things over for a day, I honestly can’t come up with a single complaint or even annoyance with this game, it’s that damned good! Turn off your lights, crank the sound up, and get ready to not blink for a few hours. ‘Dead Nation’ is a must-have for PS3 owners, even if you’re not “into Zombies” (like me.)

One word of advice, max-out your mines right away, they are invaluable when you’re setting a perimeter while waiting for a bridge or elevator.


Gameplay video!

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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