We first gave you word about the PSN twin-stick shooter Dead Nation back in October. During that time we previewed the title. Now, we’ve got the full version of the highly anticipated downloadable game.
Gamers will also be able to get their hands on the new project from Housemarque when it releases at the of the month on PSN. Is this new zombie shooter worth your time? Keep reading.
Housemarque is known for their previous release, Super Stardust HD back in 2008. The game had amazing graphics as well as gameplay – and is still considered one of the best twin-stick shooters out there.
This past year we’ve been inundated with everything relating to zombies, from videogames to TV shows, it seems everyone is jumping on the zombie bandwagon. This may look like an inopportune time to release a zombie game due to oversaturation; however, after playing Dead Nation, I can tell you that Housemarque put a lot of effort into keeping gamers clamoring to kill one more zombie.
Gamers pick from one of two survivors of a zombie virus outbreak. The choice is purely cosmetic and has no bearing on story or gameplay. The developers did an awesome job of making players feel like they’re truly the last humans left alive – as they struggle for survival. There is a story, though it’s not the same gripping narrative you’ll find in a game like Resident Evil or even the make your own fun of Left for Dead 2 – so it’s a good thing the gameplay is fun. The lack of story could be due to a greater emphasis on the fun gameplay – racking up a high score. There’s a multiplier that increases along with the number of zombies killed – taking damage decreases the multiplier, along with your health. If players want the highest score – they must kill more while getting hit less.
Highly competitive gamers will love this aspect of the game – since it’s tied to global leaderboards for their respective country. I found this to be a nice touch and made me not only keep an eye on my health but also on my multiplier – to keep my score up.
Many zombie survival games force the player to be conservative with ammo - Dead Nation takes the opposite approach. You have a huge arsenal at your disposal including a rifle, flamethrower, rocket launcher, grenades, the Blade Cannon that shoots spinning blades, and the Shocker which sends bolts of electricity through several zombies. Every weapon can be upgraded in various stats (range, power, blast radius, etc), with money collected throughout the game.
The spectacle of the Blade Cannon and Shocker is cool to look at, however they aren’t as effective at taking out large groups of enemies as the other weapons. These two weapons aren’t unlocked until later in the game and at that time you’re facing was seems to be insurmountable waves of zombies. Some of the standard weapons are more efficient at taking down large groups and I would’ve preferred something like a chain-gun or grenade launcher in place of these two. Some of the most satisfying and fun times with the game is when you unleash hell with high explosive weapons sending dozens of bodies — and body parts — flying in the air.
Along with weapons, you also have armor sets which can be swapped out to suit your style of play. Players who prefer brute force should focus on endurance and strength. If it’s your style to gun-on-the-run, armor should be tailored to agility. I found this to be a lot better than your standard leveling mechanic, where you have to wait until you’re powerful enough to take on a particular challenge. When you die the game kicks you back to the last checkpoint almost instantly, from here you can figure out what stats you needed and tailor accordingly. This flexibility allows gamers to try out new strategies each level and creates an added level of variety to the game.
The undead also have some tricks up their sleeves. When it comes to variety in zombies, Dead Nation takes the cake. There’s a zombie for every occupation you could think of – and some you wouldn’t think of (such as hobos). From chefs with frying pans to cheerleaders and baseball players, the diversity of the zombie population keeps the game fresh and makes the player wonder what other surprises are around the corner. Some also have special abilities – soldiers are harder to kill due to their body armor and firefighters are immune to fire. the diversity also leaves a lot of room for laughs – when you kill clown zombies you’ll hear horns and balloons deflating – as they fall on top of them. It also leads to some “Holy Crap!” moments when you pull out your flamethrower to take down a huge wave of zombie firefighters, only to realize – halfway through a tank of gas – that you’ve made a huge mistake. This encourages gamers to think before recklessly running into a situation while holding down the trigger.
Dead Nation sports some of the best graphics on a PSN title. The camera may be isometric and a good distance away; however that doesn’t prevent the player from seeing the ridiculous level of detail Housemarque included in the environments. The lighting, as well as shadow effects, are amazing and utilized to create some pretty hair-raising moments. You always have a flashlight and in some cases that’s all you’ll have with no ambient lighting whatsoever. This creates an atmosphere of despair which I was surprised to see coming from a developer whose last title was so bright and colorful.
Dead Nation will be remembered for two things: the physics system – and number of zombies on screen. In the later levels there could be hundreds of zombies onscreen with no slowdown. Dispatching the undead with any of the copious explosives in the game will send zombies and debris flying to the point where it will be literally raining zombies – with rag-doll physics you would normally find in a disc-based game. When the smoke clears the player will be surrounded by so many bodies that it will slow down the character’s movement. The sounds it makes as you trudge through the flesh of the undead is both disgusting and impressive.
After playing through the game, it’s clear you’re not there just to make it through the campaign but to make it to the top of the leaderboards. Dead Nation features a ‘Global Zombie Infection Status Map’. This map shows a percentage of how much of the zombie virus has been eradicated for each country the game is released in, and yes the U.S. is in the lead. On this map you can check for each country: the top player, number of recruits (players), number of zombies killed, and how much of the zombie virus has been eradicated. This adds a new level of competition and re-playability since you’re not only competing to get to the top, but to get your country to the top of the list.
My only gripe with the game is that there are no real boss battles. Instead you’re locked into these areas where you have to fight off wave after wave until a gate opens to the end of the level. Housemarque could have brought in some unique enemies and challenges; instead, the game begins to feel like a grind – with only mild variations in gameplay.
Housemarque has packed a ton of content and replayability into Dead Nation, and what’s even better is that you can experience all of this with a friend with online or local co-op. The player and a friend can each choose one of the two main characters in a campaign nearly identical to the single player – other than the story getting tailored for both characters being alive. Blasting zombies with a friend is fun; however, an alternate storyline would have given gamers more incentive to grab a buddy.
It was amazing to see Housemarque take what they learned from Super Stardust and adapt it to a zombie survival setting, and makes me anxious to see what they come out with next. Dead Nation is highly recommended for fans of Super Stardust HD, twin-stick shooters and those who haven’t grown tired of being bombarded with zombies.
Dead Nation releases exclusively on PSN this Tuesday, November 30th for 14.99.