Dead Nation is a new zombie game by Housemarque and while a new zombie game is hardly noteworthy the developer is. Their other big game was Super Stardust HD, an excellent title and my first purchase on my PS3. It is a game I still play years later and they have brought the same addictive magic to the excellent Dead Nation.
The game starts with an interesting opening cinematic that sets the tone of the zombie apocolypse and then you are given a choice to select a male or female hero. Their names are laughably bad (Jack McReady and Scarlett Blake) but they have an interesting twist when it is revealed that they are immune to the virus. Both characters have the same story path which is to find survivors a safe haven and if possible a cure. The story is told through well done images and voiceovers, and while the story is thin, it is engaging enough to advance you from scenario to scenario.
Putting the story aside, Dead Nation is a game all about killing hordes of zombies as you move from area to area. Thankfully Housemarque has taken their established control scheme from Super Stardust HD to this game to great effect. You move with the left stick, aim with the right and shoot with the L1 shoulder button. Other moves like a quick run, melee and throw items of mayhem are mapped to the other shoulder buttons. The controls work very well and once you really get used to looking in a different direction then you are moving you will be killing and evading zombies on a grand scale.
The game is presented in an isometric overhead view, pulled out quite far making this a game that needs to be played on a decent sized HD television to be appreciated. The graphics are amazing with light used in a very effective manner. Your hero has a flashlight that is always on and the permanently darkened areas have sporadic lighting that at times gutters out. The constant panning of light and noises coming from all around add a very intense feeling of danger at all times. No matter how tough my armor or powerful my weapons I always felt nervous if a light blinked out or if a loud growl was heard.
The maps you find yourself on are varied, while they are obviously designed with specific choke points and zombie spewing triggers, they are still well realized and fun to explore. The maps are always littered with refuse, wrecked vehicles and stores that are gutted and often boarded up with signage proclaiming that survivors used to be there. There was obvious care taken in making these environments look destroyed, abandoned and lifeless are incredibly effective in drawing you into the game.
The zombies themselves look amazing moving and even better being blown apart. There are many types from the easy kill older zombies to the hazmat and soldier zombies that are harder to kill and finally to the ‘boss’ type zombies that echo the boomer, tank and spitter types from Left 4 Dead. The varied zombies all move and act in typical zombie fashion. The obviously manufactured super zombies single mindedly search you out, the other types alternate between ignoring you and rushing in a blind frenzy. The engine Housemarque used for this game is amazing and the zombies look, move and die with amazing results. At times there are literally hordes of zombies on screen with nary a slowdown.
The game gives you plenty of weapons to deal with the zombie enemies. You start with an automatic rifle with unlimited clips but as you kill and explore you earn money that can be used to buy new weapons. There is everything from rocket launchers to SMG’s, and fantastical weapons like blade launchers and shock blasters. All of the weapons are upgradable and serve a purpose in the fight. There are also explosives like mines and grenades you can throw or plant. The environment also helps, car alarms can be triggered to lure zombies and then explode, fuel tanks and cans are also scattered adding some traps to trigger.
Dead Nation has a pretty meaty 5-6 hour campaign that can be played solo, in local co-op or online co-op. While Housemarque failed to add voice chat at launch (it is being patched in) the inclusion of online co-op is a great one. The online is not perfect, there is some lag and slowdown, but it plays just fine and is a great way to get through the higher difficulty levels. Dead Nation also has leaderboards that track which country is doing the best to combat the zombie apocalypse and tracks your progress as compared to other players.
I have heaped a lot of praise on the game but it is not quite perfect. The game uses light very well but in some cases it can simply be too dark. There are times you start getting damaged because the lower tier zombies are a darker color and blend in. The camera is pulled out a little too far in my opinion (just a little) and the fixed camera does cause some issues with visibility. The game is a blast to play but once you complete the campaign and restart you lose all your weapons and upgrades, although in multiplayer I still had my armor available. I understand there is a need for balancing, but try playing the Grim, or the crazy Undead difficulty level in Solo with base weapons, it is not for the faint of heart that is for sure.
These minor (and they are all minor) issues aside Dead Nation is a terrific game and well worth the price tag of 15 dollars. It is a great looking game with varied weapons, zombies and environments that are truly fun to experience. The fact that online co-op is available eases the transition to the higher, and brutal, difficulty levels making this a game you can play over and over and still have fun. Zombie games may be cliché, but Dead Nation is a terrific game that succeeds because of how great it is, not just because of the zombies.
Dead Nation is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Violence.