When it comes to being a typical top-down shooter, Dead Nation gets most of the basics right. And when it comes to zombie infestation games, Dead Nation also nails the basics. However, in a sub-genre that is becoming more saturated by the week, I think a little bit more is required of a game than just hitting the basics. And that is where Dead Nation unfortunately falls a little flat.
The game’s premise is simple and familiar to fans of zombie games. You play as a male or female lead that has found himself in the middle of the zombie apocalypse and is strangely immune to the bites of the undead. Sure, it’s a contrived plot, but games like Left 4 Dead prove that you don’t necessarily need an epic plotline to move along a great zombie game. And much like the aforementioned L4D, the plot in Zombie Nation never really moves anywhere exciting, and still-frame plot scenes are barely interesting. Still, at least they aren’t long, which is a good thing.
The gameplay in Dead Nation suffers from being too simple, which is more of a problem. You can tell from the time that you fire your first bullet that the developers were trying to create a unique arcade-style experience. The top-down shooting levels are short, with frequent checkpoints and few areas to explore. And while this isn’t enough to completely discredit the entire experience, the format of Dead Nation feels a bit too quick to be suited to a console gameplay experience. As I blasted through checkpoints, I felt like I would have gotten more out of the game if there was a little bit more meat on its bones. Though there are certain item drop areas you can check out, they are predictably placed, and the format of the game lends itself to some simple run-and-gun gameplay, especially if you are going it alone.
Another issue that comes up fairly quickly is the quality of the shooting mechanic. Though precision isn’t exactly necessary in the top-down shooter genre, the shooting in Dead Nation just feels a little too broad. Making any slight movement on the aiming stick causes your character to flail about wildly, which can cause issues when the zombie horde is right on top of you. After a little while you learn to manage the flailing, but the learning curve is a bit steep, and this problem could have been easily rectified if the game included an adjustable aiming sensitivity mechanic, like so many other top-down shooters.
The shooting itself, however, is pretty good. The game gives you a good mix of unlockable weapons, and your ability to swap between weapons will be critical to your success. Although there isn’t any depth to the weapons system, the progression of the weapons (and items) works perfectly. The game also includes a melee function that works well when you are in a tight situation, though sometimes using it leaves you a bit too open to attacks, so I found that more often than not it was just better to sprint through it.
Unfortunately, that basically sums up my entire experience with Dead Nation. Though there are opportunities for great gameplay, the best way to get through the game is often to just run through, which represents quite a missed opportunity. Though there are areas where you will be “locked in” until you defeat enemies, these areas weren’t prevalent and didn’t really satisfy, as the old “run in a circle and shoot” mechanic works a little too well in these cases.
The only real time where you are forced to play strategically is if you play the game online or with local co-op. The game’s dynamic really changes when you have multiple players, and I have to say that it is much more enjoyable as such. There isn’t as much pressure to stay alive through the run-and-gun mechanic, and being able to tackle a zombie horde from multiple sides certainly works to make the game more interesting.
Technically speaking, Dead Nation looks pretty good. The game puts an astonishing number of zombies on-screen at a time, and even though there are only a handful of zombie models, they come at you in such impressive numbers that it’s hard to take notice of individual members of the walking dead. The animations are also good, although when the horde gets really thick it does seem that several zombies glide towards your hapless hero (or heroine). The biggest qualm I have with the visuals is the environments. As I mentioned before, there really isn’t much to explore in the environments and the same thing goes for the aesthetics of the level design. We all know that the zombie apocalypse will bring rundown buildings and random fires, but it would be nice to see some new elements dotting the landscape every now and again.
Dead Nation is a good arcade-style game for fans of the zombie franchise. Though the controls take a little getting used to and the gameplay suffers from being bland at times, the game makes for a very good online or local multiplayer title if you can find a friend to play with you. I wouldn’t recommend this title to fans of the single-player experience, but if you like playing with others, you’ll definitely have some fun shooting the hundreds of zombies that come rushing at you level after level.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.9 Graphics
Though the environments are bland, the amount of zombies that can be displayed on-screen is impressive 3.6 Control
Aiming controls could be a bit more precise, and an adjustable aiming speed mechanism would have been a nice touch. 2.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Music and sound effects are bland, but inoffensive overall. 3.9 Play Value
The game makes for a great pick-up-and-play multiplayer experience. Though there’s no real reason to play more than once if you are going solo, playing with friends over and over is where the real replay value lies. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|