Dead Nation Hands-On Preview – Do the Monster Mash
Written Sunday, August 08, 2010 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Shooting zombies should be a staple of every gamer's daily diet. Brains should be one of your five a day. Headshots a part of your recommended daily intake. However, Dead Nation is a severe zombie overdose that presents a veritable mosh pit of undead to tear into with assault rifles, shotguns and grenades, and it's not content unless you're being set upon from all directions. You may find that after devouring what Dead Nation has to offer, you won't have room to digest anything else.
A top-down isometric shooter, Dead Nation utilises a dual-analogue stick control system, which involves using the left stick to move and the right to execute about turns and direct your aim more accurately with your flashlight. It's pick up and play simplicity, with the right shoulder button used to fire and melee, and the left shoulders used to drop mines or throw grenades, and perform a very useful dash manoeuvre. Upon first play though, we find that the sheer number of zombies that attack en mass to be extremely overwhelming. Attempt to race through a stage like we foolishly did, and you'll find yourself running headlong into one of Dead Nation's inflated balloon-like monsters, which explode in a messy splash of blood, entrails and viscera.
Once you realise that Dead Nation isn't a speed run though, you'll understand that a slower pace is rewarded with faster progress. It's kind of obvious actually. We're not sure how we ended up being killed so many times by those horrible, pus-filled bloaters. So, after adopting a more considered pace, we found that dealing out zombie death with a combination of shotgun and assault rifle – easily switched at the touch of a button - to be a lot more enjoyable. Still, even taking your time to pick off each wave of undead with the greatest of care doesn't guarantee that you'll manage to avoid being inundated by rotting flesh-bags out to feast on your juicy grey matter, so keeping your wits about you at all times is key.
You can melee the trunks of cars to yield hidden ammo and health pick-ups along the way, and ploughing through a horde of zombies usually leaves behind the odd pick up too. We found that keeping your health replenished was a constant concern as the relentless onslaught invariably caught us off guard, leaving us wide open to attack. Having your face slowly nibbled off understandably slows your character right down, giving the rest of the zombie group an opportunity to zero in on you and quickly gnaw you down into a bloody, gnarled corpse. This is where the melee and dash come in, enabling you to shake off a vicious gang of undead with a swing of your rifle butt and a quick sprint into open ground. Just be careful not to dash into the waiting clutches of an exploding zombie.
Apart from being very much like the XBLA/PSN shooter, Zombie Apocalypse, Dead Nation reminds us of the old-school hardcore challenge of Capcom's 1990 retro shooter Mercs, with the exception of all of the bullets flying around, being attacked by a Harrier jump jet and having a flamethrower to torch straw huts. Apart from that though, the two games share fairly similar DNA, and Dead Nation seems to be almost as stiffly challenging a game that doesn't compromise on the number of enemies it throws at you at any one time. And when you also take into account that we were only playing the opening level, but got killed numerous times before managing to successfully make it to the end, then Dead Nation is bound to delight hardcore gamers looking for something moderately tough to take on.
Like Mercs too, Dead Nation has a co-op mode, which makes fighting the seemingly insurmountable zombie horde that little bit easier. Naturally, we imagine that the game will be far more enjoyable when played with a friend, although we regrettably didn't get the chance to try it out. If it doubles the fun of single-player though – and it certainly is compulsive – then developer Housemarque could be onto a winner. That Dead Nation is also uncompromisingly blood-soaked and violent might also be par for the course, but we wouldn't want it any other way. Simply put, Dead Nation's uncomplicated and its hardcore shooting charm should make it well worth a look when it launches on the PlayStation Network in autumn 2010. Oh, and 'braaaaaiiiiins'... Nearly forgot.