I hate to be the one to break it to you, but in the event of an actual zombie apocalypse, you will more than likely die. The virus-slash-pathogen-slash-alien-brain-slugs would spread at an alarming rate, and your pasty, out-of-shape backside would make for an even more appealing morsel than your tired old brain. They say that gamers and film fans might last that little bit longer, conditioned as we undoubtedly are to facing extreme odds with nothing but a crowbar and an Asda-bought medikit. This, however, is likely untrue, and we would eventually find ourselves staggering through the streets, leaking fluids and looking for brains with the rest of the horde.
And yet, despite the fact that our chances of surviving an actual zombie apocalypse are about 1 in 500,000 (I pulled that statistic clean out of my shorts, by the way), movies and games continue to turn the blood-soaked terror and social nightmare of such an event into gung-ho catharsis like Housemarque’s Dead Nation. If you missed it first time around (it was released a while back on PS3), it’s a Super Smash TV-style top-down shooter that tasks you with doing very little other than killing lots of zombies. Piles of zombies. Heaps of zombies. Mountains of zombies. Put this on after a few hours spent rage-quitting an online shooter or pulling your hair our over a taxing puzzle game and I swear you’ll be pushing it forward for Game of the Year.
The campaign is set a year after a zombie outbreak decimated humanity, and takes place across ten stages ranging from ruined cityscapes and corpse-strewn parks to dark-lit, blood-stained corridors. You can play alone or in co-op after choosing one of the two protagonists, Jack and Scarlett. Both play identically besides the colour of their laser sights and the pitch of their desperate grunts and screams. The story is told in static cutscenes and voice-overs between stages, but it’s largely unnecessary: your job here is to get from A to B, racking up a score multiplayer to earn insane points, end-of-level bonuses and leaderboard kudos.
Movement and aiming is mapped to the analogues as per a twin-stick shooter, although you will need trigger-fingers to shoot, dash, lob explosives and mash faces. Movement is pretty slick, and exploration is rewarded with cash, multiplier boosts, armour pieces and collectible Mementos. The action is always fun as you frantically back-pedal from advancing hordes, trigger-finger going ten to the dozen. It’s never just about survival, as the faster you kill, the more points you earn, and the more chance you have of earning sweet points bonuses when you finish a stage.
The zombies come in a large variety of flavours from gas-filled bombers to leaping nightmares with blades for hands, not to mention the vanilla zeds who can appear at any moment and come from any direction, dropping off roofs, scrambling out of drains or smashing through shop windows. Flares and flashing grenades will buy you seconds, as will setting off car alarms before a few extra bullets causes them to explode – and seconds in Dead Nation are a valuable commodity at times, as is light. Some levels are almost pitch black, so your trusty flashlight is essential even if it does attract the occasional zombie.
Weapon upgrades are bought with cash earned in-level and tick the usual boxes for clip-size, power and rate of fire. Some of the weapons are interesting, though, with one gun that fires circular saw-blades and one that electrifies groups of enemies. If anything, the devs could have taken this further and been a little more creative, but the arsenal available is adequate enough. It’s a theme that runs through Dead Nation, sadly: it’s a fun game as it stands, but you get the feeling it could have been much more if the developers had wanted to push the boat out.
One way they’ve attempted (successfully) to enhance the experience is the addition of extra game modes. You can choose to play any level you’ve already completed as a Single Mission, during which you can set goals for your friends to try to surpass in Challenge Mode. It’s not as deep as, say, Hitman Absolution’s customisable multiplayer, but it’s good fun to pit yourself directly against your mates.
The Arcade Mode, on the other hand, is an endless endurance challenge that sees you choosing optional routes that will lead to either Cash and Health, Armour and Score, or Guns and Supplies. Reaching the end of each path will see you handsomely rewarded with kill-per-minute bonuses, and you’ll be able to upgrade your gear or restock your supplies ready for the next round. It’s a purer experience than the campaign and becomes incredibly challenging once you get beyond Round 5. You get unlimited checkpoint continues, which seems odd in an endurance mode and robs some of the tension. It would be much more interesting if you simply had one life to lose and had to survive for the longest time possible. In fact, some time trial-style challenges would have been welcome.
The final mode is one that’s been added purely for the PS4 release. Dubbed Broadcast+, this mode lets you broadcast your game so that your friends can vote on what to throw at you, from enemy types, obstacles and bosses to pick-ups and weapon drops. The more sadistic your friends, the better this mode becomes as you frantically try to survive the machinations of the giggling idiots currently holding your fate in their hands. Something about the very concept of Broadcast+ mode makes you feel like it could be the way to go with simple games like this, adding an element of competitiveness and amicable sadism to proceedings.
Graphically, Dead Nation is very dark throughout, the detailed environments blanketed in thick, obscuring shadow only pierced by the odd neon sign, small patches of fire, a flickering floodlight here and there and your flashlight. The zombie models are interesting and varies, but the collectible armour pieces you can find and wear look bloody awful on either character model. It can be hard at times to spot the zombies in the gloom, which is the whole point and acceptable, but it’s also occasionally hard to see where the hell you are and that just isn’t good.
VERDICT: Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition is like the utter antithesis of The Last of Us, a top-down Left 4 Dead-alike that ignores pansy ideas like human emotion or common sense in favour of stuff that explodes and makes other stuff explode. It’s colourful and loud and a ton of fun either alone or with friends, and is probably one of the best zombie blasters released in recent years. A guaranteed hit for anyone with an itchy trigger finger that needs scratching.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.