Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition uses the format of almost every zombie game out, featuring special infected types and blaring car alarms reminiscent of Left 4 Dead.
There are also heavy traces of Diablo about with scattered loot and dark level designs.
The female voice that announces healing item pick-ups through the PS4 controller speaker reminds me of Housemarque’s last PS4 game, Resogun.
But there’s something lacking in the structure of this game that struggles to hit those fun notes.
You play a survivor as Jack McReady or Scarlett Blake (or both in co-op play). One of the better touches of Dead Nation is that the story instantly adapts to the character you choose, or features both if you’re playing with a friend.
The two protagonists are immune to the zombie infection, and after surviving for a while decide to set out into the world and see what they can do.
That amounts to a whole lot of zombie killing in a series of dark, urban environments.
Housemarque delivers with what they know works, with twin-stick shooter controls and dozens of enemies onscreen. However some effort was made to give Dead Nation a bit more nuance than Super Stardust and Resogun.
Rather than spraying bullets endlessly, Jack and Scarlett’s default weapon is a semi-automatic rifle that can be charged for more powerful shots.
In the game’s slower moments you’ll spend more time carefully aiming a single bullet through the heads of a half-dozen zombies rather than spraying bullets everywhere. It’s a satisfying mechanic early on, but becomes far less practical as the game progresses into a bloodbath.
There are melee attacks at your disposal too, but the problem is that early on, getting close to enemies is too punishing and later on, there are too many zombies to ever let off the fire trigger.
This balance left me wishing for a better approximation of Left 4 Dead’s melee/damage model, where wading into the undead wasn’t an instant death sentence.
Unlockable armour allows you to spec toward a melee warrior in theory, but I found myself nudging towards the extra health and speed bonuses instead. You can find armour pieces tucked away in the nooks and crannies of the environment, and you’ll definitely want to seek them out.
In addition, money from killing enemies and finding hidden crates can be used to buy and upgrade weapons at a shop.
You’ll hit a shop checkpoint multiple times in each of the game’s 10 chapters, allowing you to restock ammo and deck out your guns with better firepower and larger ammo clips.
The upgrade system gets the job done, but it never pushed me to find more loot through the game. It’s unfortunate too, because the level design has a very similar feel to a Diablo, with dark environments and rewards for going off of the beaten path.
It made me wish the game had a traditional coloured loot system in place, because I was exploring the dark corners of the world more out of obligation than a thirst for a +2 armour bonus.
As the game wears on it quickly runs out of fresh ideas.
Bigger monsters are copy-pasted straight out of Left 4 Dead, and the challenge is only amplified by vomiting more zombies into smaller areas.
While not a bad experience by any stretch, I was glad to see it over by the end of my three to four hour run.
This is an extension to Dead Nation, hence the Apocalypse part added to the end, so I think I should mention what the extra pieces are.
The game includes the DLC content from the PS3 version out of the box, giving you access to a round-based arcade mode with a branching path scoring system, and an endless wave mode.
Even playing it till I was completely over it, I found the new environment and branching upgrades added a nice wrinkle to the game.
One unique technology that the game embraces is the PS4’s Broadcast+ mode, which allows Twitch or Ustream commenters to post on your stream of the game and vote on whether you should receive help or extra challenge.
After Twitch Plays Pokémon blew up, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this kind of thing in more games going forward.
Housemarque has crafted a mechanically sound game with solid level design and gameplay that’s a touch more thoughtful than the typical twin-stick shooter.
But what damned it for me was the feeling I got anytime I died.
It was fun enough to run through and kill zombies, but as soon as I died and lost a few minutes of progress - I was furious. It was enjoyable enough to play through a level, but I never wanted to see that level again.
That doesn’t exactly speak volumes for the game’s replay value either.
Dead Nation offers several difficulty levels, but the way the combat is tuned doesn’t make a challenge very inviting.
Sometimes an unpredictable enemy wave just rushes you, sometimes a powerful special infected catches you reloading your weapon, and sometimes you just throw a grenade at your own feet.
Most twin-stick shooters have a lot more predictability that you can account for, and most zombie games give you a lot more leeway to make mistakes.
This leaves me wishing Dead Nation built more depth into its upgrade system.
I wish developing your character in an RPG-style was a bigger part of the game. I wish the levels emphasised that, with more dynamics, exploration, and down-time. I wish it had these things because then I’d want to replay the game on harder difficulties.
It makes me wish for a co-op zombie action RPG - a blend of Left 4 Dead and Diablo with twin-stick shooting. Ultimately, while Dead Nation is a decent game, its biggest issue is that it always left me wanting something more.
As far as my last word goes, this is the best version of Dead Nation you can get. It isn’t much different from the PS3 game though, so if you already played that you’ve seen most of what there is to see.
The bigger issue is with the foundation of the game itself.
I always found it to be falling short in one way or another.
As a zombie twin-stick shooter it gets the job done, but its qualities are lessened by lost potential.
Nothing jumps out at you, and everything seems to have been done better in other games.
Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition
From: Housemarque/Climax Studios