Dead Nation

It Takes A Dead Nation Army To Hold Me Back

Housemarque's latest creation brings some style to a classic genre.
Author: Aram Lecis
Published: November 18, 2010
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You might remember Housemarque from their last project, Super Stardust HD which was one of the first "must have" PSN titles (and remains a great game to this day, and now even has trophies!). You might remember zombies as those shambling undead that have recently burst their film shackles to flood every form of mainstream media (including classic literature) as the newest hip thing. You might remember twin-stick shooters as one of the oldest genres with classics both old (Robotron 2084 and Super Smash TV) and new (Geometry Wars and the aforementioned Super Stardust HD) that's also been quite popular of late. Well, I guarantee you that you haven't seen all those things combined before, but now you can with Dead Nation. Sure, there have been other zombie twin stick shooters, including a pair on the PSN already (Burn, Zombie, Burn! and Zombie Apocalypse), but can Housemarque render them all moot? Read on, dear friends…

The first thing you will notice about Dead Nation is that it is dark. Not just in the lighting sense (its pretty dark in that way too), but the entire tone is eschewing even the humor you would find in "Dawn of the Dead". For crissakes, the background picture when you stop on the game in the XMB is so disturbing my kids would shriek in horror if I even scrolled near it. The world of Dead Nation has seriously gone to shit, and you'll feel like you fell into a zombified Cormack McCarthy novel most of the time. The game takes place on the streets and in the parks of a burned-out post-zombocalyptic city where the undead outnumber the living by an extremely disheartening ratio. Intrepid Hero Jack McReady and his gal pal Scarlett thankfully are immune to the flesh-rotting disease that has taken over everyone else, and as the (rather light and melodramatic) narrative unfolds through still-frame animations between levels, we learn that they are making their way to a scientist who will extract their DNA to create a cure. Sadly for the zombies, by the time you get to the lab to work out the cure, there will be tens of thousand fewer requiring it.

Housemarque isn't looking to reinvent the wheel in this game, and if you have played a "modern" twin-stick shooter, you are going to feel right at home in Dead Nation. Sticks move and aim, R1 shoots, L1 tosses one of your grenades, and R2/L2 are a Melee and Dash move. Holding down the fire button charges up a super shot, which is the twin-stick equivalent of a headshot. An excellent laser sight projects a solid green line out from your gun, glowing brighter when you charge your shot. The action takes place across 10 sprawling levels that are pretty epic in scale, if not especially diverse in setting. The levels are one massive open area, and while organic barriers delineate sections within the level and make the game pretty linear, there is no tight room-to-room combat at any point. Various simple objectives are scattered throughout the levels, most of which trap you in a tightly confined arena while the game hurls several massive waves of zombies at you. All the action in the game takes place outdoors, and at no point are you ever in a situation with a roof over your head. They are also very two dimensional. You never leave the ground, and although there is the occasional staircase, it is something of a let down that you can't hop on top of any of the dumpsters or vending machines that litter the landscape.

Dead Nation also features the same light RPG elements that other recent genre entries have had. Jack (or Scarlett) has three attributes; Strength, which seems to affect how far you knock back enemies during melee, Agility, that affects movement speed, and Endurance, which determines how much damage the zombies do to you. During your battles you'll come across crates that can unlock new pieces of armor, and these armors affect aforementioned three attributes. You have three armor slots, and you can mix different types of armors in order somewhat customize your protagonist. Around eight guns are available (all very different from one another) and six grenade types (again, they are all well designed and each has its uses), all of which can be upgraded between levels or at stores found at checkpoints. These upgrades can get expensive though, so you'll find yourself needing a lot of cash as you progress.

Thankfully, cash can be found inside crates, in trunks of cars (hurry before they explode!) and, best of all, inside of zombies. While killing the weakest of the zombies doesn't net you anything but points, killing tougher zombies will net you not only some cash, but also increases your multiplier so killing more zombies means more points. Getting hit at all decreases your multiplier VERY quickly, and with the massive swarms of zombies that can attack you in this game, you will get hit, rest assured. An interesting mechanic with both the cash and health packs in this game is that the faster you pick them up, the more cash or health you will get. The amount goes down quickly, so close combat is rewarded by letting you scoop up the earnings immediately. Loot and health never goes away entirely, but it is a neat mechanic that I found intriguing.
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