A few years ago I never thought I’d see the day when a zombie game would be a “tough sell.” But zombie games are the new WWII, and in a market increasingly saturated by these titles, standing out from the competition isn’t something easily accomplished. Enter Dead Nation from developer Housemarque, makers of Super Stardust HD. Not venturing far from what they know best in the twin stick shooter genre, Dead Nation brings us into a dark, violent, and zombie filled future where surviving the horde is as much an exercise in dexterity as it is strategy and patience.
The story of Dead Nation is all too familiar - the world has been stricken by some strange virus that has mutated and is turning everyone into the undead. The twist comes from our heroes - Jack McReady and Scarlett Blake who seem to be immune to the virus. This makes them very valuable and so they must make their way through the zombie menace to a science lab for research purposes.
Gameplay is straightforward, you’ll move with the left stick, aim with the right stick, and shoot with the trigger. While you start off with a rifle - you’ll earn and unlock weapons along the way like a shotgun, SMG, flamethrower and even an electric gun. Secondary items are also at your disposal, including the likes of trip mines, grenades, flares and molotov cocktails. These weapons and items unlock as you progress through the story - and they both can be upgraded in numerous areas like power, clip size, and speed.
The gold to upgrade these weapons and items come from killing the zombies themselves or by finding it hidden in cars, crates, and other locales throughout the game. This pseudo RPG type element really comes into play for two players as one player can focus on a certain set of weapons while another player focuses on the other bringing good balance to your attack. For instance we found having one person use the SMG to slow the horde down while the other uses the shotgun to clear them away works quite well. On top of the gold you'll collect a multiplier token, which is shared between players, and is used to increase your score. Take a hit, the multiplier ticks down.
I think what will be surprising to a lot of people in Dead Nation is the depth of the game. Most twin stick shooters can be played through in a single sitting, but Dead Nation features a solid six or seven hours of content - and that’s not counting all the times you are going to die. While the most impressive feature of Dead Nation is its graphics and lighting, bringing a eerily dark and realistic world to life with some fantastic level design and little details, its also its greatest problem. Through all that chaos its sometimes impossible to see your character or the zombies attacking them and because most zombies aren’t a single shot kill you canl be quickly over run. Thankfully there are methods to break out of this - a melee attack and a limited dash move where you become invulnerable for a few seconds help, though you’ll still find yourself frustrated.