Game: Metal Dead
Developer: Walk Thru Walls Studios
Publisher: Walk Thru Walls Studios
Available on: Windows PC Only
What happens when two Metal-heads find themselves in the middle of a zombie apocalypse? Walk Thru Walls Studios have answered that question with a game drenched in blood and zombie guts; Metal Dead. A game like Metal Dead would never have seen a paid release ten years ago. Games such as this, made by a small team and using a proprietary game engine, would have remained the reserve of freeware. Digital distribution has meant that independent developers can release their games to the masses, but still bring back a little income, by selling the title at an affordable price.
STORY: In the first of a planned series of Heavy Metal-influenced comedy adventure games, set in a post-apocalyptic world, Australian indie developers Walk Thru Walls have crafted a cartoon-affair where the comedy comes thick and fast; and black. Death is, of course, an over-riding theme, as with all zombies games and films, but the game truly revels in the over-the-top violence and gore that is caused by the spread of the zombie menace.
We join the game as Metal-Heads Malcolm and Ronnie are speeding through town in their car. After the onset of the zombie attack, the two friends have been holed up in their apartment, riding out the storm but supplies are getting a bit low, and in a very brave, or extremely stupid move, Ronnie wants to find out what is behind the strange goings-on. Unfortunately things go from bad to worse when the two crash outside MediGeniTech, a medical corporation where the zombies seem to be congregating. This place must have something to do with the epidemic, so we have to find a way inside and try to uncover the truth. Ronnie isn’t as lucky a Malcolm (who walks away from the crash fairly unscathed), so Malcolm must journey forward alone; at least for now.
In the game, as players control Malcolm, he must avoid zombies, locate and help other survivors, and escape from the zombie-infested building. The cast of characters you meet along the way are all quite well fleshed out, with many being typical horror film stereotypes. The jittery, slightly moronic security guard, the militaristic, hard-edged policeman, and the confused doctor, trying to figure out what is behind the outbreak. Most of these are taken straight from a George A. Romero film, but it is in parody and homage that the game shows its charm. The game doesn’t ridicule the conventions of horror, but revels in them, also quoting many memorable film lines, of which you can count Predator, Jaws and Back to the Future, to name a few.
The writing is truly funny, and the sarcastic sense of humour really shines through, from the main cinematics and conversations, all the way down to the throwaway comments you are given when you try to interact with an item incorrectly. The different aspects of the story all tie together nicely, and events throughout the game do logically leave you clues to puzzle solutions later on in the title. It is that type of writing that is so successful in an adventure game, where outright hints aren’t given, but the story and solutions aren’t so obtuse that you become stuck for hours.
GRAPHICS: The entire game is presented in a sketchy, cartoon style, with big heads and exaggerated features. This does a good job of softening the tone of the violence and mayhem, and allows the blood and guts normally associated with zombies to be a matter of comedy. Animations are fairly basic, with limited character cycles, but they remain dynamic and expressive, clearly conveying the action to the player. One interesting graphical idea is the use of different sized font. Most of the speech and labeling in the game is written in the same, small font, however when a loud noise, yell or important point needs some emphasis, the game employs a much larger, more strained-looking text, which helps accentuate the more salient points.
SOUND: As an independent project, the game isn’t as sonically sophisticated as retail ones. Unfortunately voices do not feature, as the writing is so funny that it would have been interesting to hear it read, rather than typed, but perhaps this is a good thing, too many amateur adventure games use voices which are poorly recorded, or badly acted, and this detracts from the title rather than enhances it. Sometimes it is better to read the conversations and imagine in your head how the characters will sound.
Sound effects are very good, but have all been sampled from a sound effect databank, rather than especially recorded for this game, however, the music is a little bit of a stumbling block. There is background music in most of the scenes, and for a game called Metal Dead, one would expect some rocking Heavy Metal music, and some eerie horror themes. The game features both, but all of the music is composed of quite simple, Midi-style recordings that tend to lack any real power or presence. The fact that some pieces of music also repeat in several locations doesn’t help, but the music is unfortunately quite forgettable for a game inspired by Heavy Metal culture.
GAMEPLAY: Written in AGS (the Adventure Game Studio), the game plays in a very familiar way to most traditional adventure games. Utilising a simple left click to interact, right click to cycle through available actions (walk, talk, pick-up, examine) system, the game is easy to pick up and play right off the bat. All of the in-game puzzles can be solved by simply finding items in the game, and then either using them with other items in your inventory, or by interacting with objects in the locations. There are no real complex puzzles, except maybe one about heating and freezing zombies (but even this is relatively simple), so gamers won’t find themselves stuck for long at any point. Most puzzles are also quite logical, and won’t require the kind of out-of-the-box thinking needed in some adventures. The puzzles are fun to solve, and don’t get frustrating, and there also isn’t too much back-tracking; a big problem in some Adventures.
One fun aspect is the fact that early on in the game, Ronnie returns as a kind of in-game hint system. Malcolm carries his severed head around and can choose to talk to it when he is stuck, with Ronnie chiming in with advice or hints as to what you should do next. None of these are outright directions on what to do, but will provide the little push in the right direction that the player requires, if in fact they do come across any problems.
LONGEVITY: Sadly, the game is a pretty short affair, and most likely won’t last you more than a couple of hours. Of course, this game is sold at a minute price, and billed as an episodic series, so if you are of the mindset that you are paying peanuts for a small chunk of a larger series, the shortness is put into proportion somewhat. What is interesting however, is that the game records achievements as you play through. These aren’t all story-based, and whilst half of them may unlock simply by completing the game successfully, other secret ones can only be found by exploring and trying to find secret items and easter eggs spread throughout the game. This does add a little re-playability to the experience, and stretch things out a little, but really this is intended to be part of a larger overall game franchise (if the series takes off).
VERDICT: The title may lack a lot of the production values of a top-tier title, and its independent development shines through the game as you play it, but this isn’t a negative thing. It is a fun game that features an interesting cast of characters and some genuinely funny scripting. The game is severely lacking in the audio department, and is woefully short, but taken as a smaller part of an ongoing series, this is a fine introduction to the world that Walk Thru Walls Studios have lovingly created. It won’t be to the taste of everyone, with a very retro sensibility and no mod-cons, but it’s certainly a lot of fun for fans of the adventure and zombie genres. It will be fun to see if the team do continue the antics of Malcolm, and where they go next.
If I'm not playing on a good Adventure Game - still longing for the long-past Golden Age of the genre, when Lucasarts and Sierra ruled supreme - you might find me searching for a local arcade, in the hopes that it still houses titles such as Sunset Riders or WindJammers.