The zombie craze / infatuation is one genre that just will not go away. Sure, “zombies” have been around for a long, long time, but the past 10 years or so has resulted in an unprecedented flood of zombie-based media including comics, movies, and games. It is a rare occasion when a zombie-themed title (of any sort) stands out from the pack and sets a standard for the genre. Few titles come to mind in the past decade, aside from Shaun of the Dead, the Left 4 Dead series, and AMC’s recent Walking Dead that stand out as stellar additions to the genre. After spending quite a bit of time with Dead Nation, I think that it is safe to add Housemarque’s latest creation to that short list.
Dead Nation may look like a typical top down, twin stick shooter on the surface, but the game packs quite a punch with all that the developers have packed under the hood. While the story itself may leave a lot to be desired, everything else is truly top notch. The game puts players in the role of one of two characters, both of who are “miraculously” immune to the zombie virus that has devastated the world. The players venture through ten successive missions, following a tale of intrigue and survival in search of an explanation for the curse that has taken down society. Your adventure will take you through beautifully crafted alleys, streets, parks, hospitals, and cemeteries, as well as a few other settings, all of which are completely overrun with the undead. You will be armed with a personal arsenal of guns and a flashlight. Though it sounds simple enough, it is the technical content of the game that makes it truly impressive.
The foundation of the game is rooted in the now traditional dual-stick shooter genre, but Dead Nation incorporates a couple of RPG-style elements. As players destroy zombies and explore the environments, they gold coins, (and score multiplayers) which can be spent at each checkpoint to expand and upgrade their arsenal. Gold is collected by simply mowing down zombies as well as by being found in car trunks and locked chests scattered throughout all of the stages. It pays off for you to take you time in each level and not simply run for the end, even though that will be your first instinct when a mob of about a hundred zombies chases you down the alley. Players will be rewarded for standing their ground and exploring the world of Dead Nation with large stashes of gold that make leveling and increasing your arsenal easy, though you will still want to put some thought into the progression of your equipment. The game starts you off with a simple, yet extremely effective hunting rifle but you will soon gain access to other traditional guns such as an SMG and a shotgun. You can upgrade your weapons in a variety of ways including clip size, power / effectiveness, rate of fire, and even the maximum amount of ammunition that you can carry at any given time. As you progress through the game you weapon shops will begin to offer additional tools and non-traditional guns that can be purchased as well, including flamethrowers and lightning bolt guns, though the entrance fee for these new, exotic weapon is usually pretty steep.
There are also a variety of secondary or support weapons / tools for you to collect as well, all of which can be upgraded just like your firearms. These secondary tools aren’t just for show either, and will be vital to your survival and success in the game. These include items such as land mines, grenades, and flares that attract the attention of the walking undead and give you a chance to “breathe”. Part of the joy in the game is fine-tuning your arsenal to fit your playing style. Do you pour all of your money into raw firepower or broaden your selection with well-rounded selection of weapons? The choice is yours and depending on how you choose to progress and the tactics required to survive can vary along the way based on what you choose to do. Throughout the game you will also uncover armor pieces which can be equipped at no additional charge as well; not all armor is created equal though as players will need to pay attention to how the various pieces affect their character in different stat categories. Each piece of armor will affect their agility and the amount of damage they can sustain, changing the overall feel of your character. Players will also have access to an “endurance” meter which can be spent on burst of energy / speed to escape from the swarm; the various armor pieces have a huge effect on this maneuver and can make or break its effectiveness. Finding the correct balance in one’s armor can be just as important as balancing your weapons and will likely vary from player to player.
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