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Dead Nation


Zombies...I think I've played a game like this before.
The originality of releasing a game based of zombie survival has long passed and developers really have to bring something original to the table these days to make their mark on the genre. The developer, Housemarque, released the very well reviewed super Stardust HD a few years, thus I was anxious to see their take on zombies. Dead Nation is a downloadable title on the Playstation Network priced at $14.99 and puts the player into the role of one of two survivors of the zombie outbreak, Jake and Scarlett. The narrative doesnít bring anything new to the table and is somewhat light on presentation value. Just like every other zombie movie you have seen, a virus has covered the world and turned the majority of the population in some pretty nasty creatures. Jack and Scarlett are immune from the virus and have to blast though the zombies looking for survivors. Strangely, it doesnít really matter which character you choose to play as. The storyline is identical, even the spoken lines.

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The concept is simple; blast away at the zombies with a large variety of weapons (rifle, SMG, grenades, mines, machine guns, flamethrowers, Molotov cocktails, etc) and make an attempt to stay alive until the next checkpoint. You are looking at the characters and the map from a third-person overhead view, giving you a wide scope when determining the direction of enemy zombies. The 10 levels are fairly long, typically 20 to 30 minutes each, but they do have checkpoints throughout the levels. At these checkpoints you will be able to stock up on ammo and new weapons to survive the next leg of the mission. You can also upgrade weapons for better accuracy, higher damage levels, greater ammo capacity, etcÖ The weapons are relatively commonplace, but can be very effective with the right upgrades. Personally, I relied mostly on a shotgun / grenade combo for most of the game and it worked pretty brilliantly after upgrading the shotty.

If you are the explorative type, searching cars and other objects typically results in money to purchase guns / ammo / armor. The only caveat is that finding armor typically spawns a new wave of zombies to deal with on the way back to the main path. However, if have the ability to distract hordes of zombies with light. You can toss a road flare in their general direction and they will be drawn to with like moths to a flame. At that point, you can choose to pick them off with the rifle, run away or light Ďem all up at once with the flamethrower. The same goes for noise by setting off a car alarm. One interesting note, the armor that you collect in a playthrough can be used on higher difficulty levels after finishing the campaign at least once.

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Thereís quite a bit of variety in the zombie types, similar to Left 4 Dead. There are some nasty zombies emulating Edward Scissorhands that like to run up to slash you as well as evil bastards that shoot a thick layer of acid spit, Alien style. Thereís also zombies that freak out when they see you, let out a nice screech and a swarm of them comes running. The variety is great, but the developer shows some poor balancing decisions in many levels, often to the point of being too frustrating to play. It also doesnít help that the developer messes with the visual quality of the screen when a zombie takes a bite out of my character. I realize thatís a traumatic experience, but thereís little I can do to recover at that point. Itís also translates over to online play when your partner gets injured, yet your screen also suffers. RidiculousÖ

Regarding the online play, itís restricted to playing with people from your country for the purposes of leaderboard tracking. Thatís kind of interesting for big countries, but Iíd imagine that a country like Portugal gets screwed. I didnít have any problem finding players to run through a few of the levels with and the levels ran just as smoothly in online play. If you are addicted to PS3 trophies, there are 35 to earn in Dead Nation. There are plenty of mission completion trophies as well collection task trophies. The tougher achievements include completing the game on Morbid or killing over 50 thousand zombies.

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Graphics

While the character models and general environment are really quite detailed for a PSN downloadable title, the lighting effects are where the developerís work starts to shine. The game is intentionally dark, thus fire effects and or even just muzzle flashes light up the area around your character. I actually enjoyed the lack of range on the shadowed visuals as it really ups the scare factor. If thereís one serious flaw in the gameís visuals, itís that variety isnít their strong suite. Only slight changes in the level design are evident as the game progresses, but itís difficult to notice due to the fast paced gameplay. The game runs very smoothly, both offline and online, and loading times are generally quick.

Audio

The musical score is poorly implemented and lacks the punch of other zombie titles. Itís a little surprising considering the same composer handled the score for the excellent Super Stardust HD, but perhaps he didnít like the source material. Anyway, the lack of crescendos at the most tense moments in the game didnít help. However, the sound effects are spot on, everything from the guttural moans of bloodthirsty zombies to the loud rat-a-tat-tat of your SMG or machine gun. The voice-overs are simply ok, nothing to get excited about when the snapshot cut scenes start to roll.

Conclusion

In an industry that pumps out tons of zombie games each year, thereís nothing incredibly distinctive about Dead Nation. This is partly due to the lack of development in the narrative and partly due to the general monotony of the level design. Thereís no clear ambition on part of the developer to offer up something unique to the zombie killing genre. On top of that, the game feels a bit overpriced at $15 for the amount of content. If you play through it only once, you are looking at about 3 to 4 hours of playtime. Beyond competing for spots on the leaderboard or playing online co-op at a more challenging difficulty level, thereís little reason to play through the game again. Iíd recommend picking up the game once it goes on sale if you enjoy a decent zombie shooter.



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