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Dead Nation (PlayStation 3) artwork

Dead Nation (PlayStation 3) review

"I'm starting to get tired of twin stick shooters. I find myself not so interested in some of the new ones that come out even if they look kind of cool because I know the gameplay will be end up involving the same kinds of tactics and situations as all its genre brethren. Miraculously, it breaks with standard twin stick tropes in a few interesting ways that made it really enjoyable."

I'm starting to get tired of twin stick shooters. I find myself not so interested in some of the new ones that come out even if they look kind of cool because I know the gameplay will be end up involving the same kinds of tactics and situations as all its genre brethren. But Dead Nation has a cool look to it, so when it went on sale on PSN for $2, I decided to give it a shot. Miraculously, it breaks with standard twin stick tropes in a few interesting ways that made it really enjoyable.

First off, the visuals. Many twin stick shooters are abstract games, like Geometry Wars or Everyday Shooter. Others feature recognizable humans and creatures but have pixel or non-detailed graphics, like Dracula: Undead Awakening and Crimsonland. Dead Nation features fully 3D detailed character models. The action is still from an overhead view, but the way every character is a 3D model gives the game a really interesting look. It's much more realistic looking than most twin stick shooters. The game is also running a 3D engine (it uses Havok) that models stuff like limbs and bodies rolling around if you walk over them, just like an FPS or 3rd person shooter would. The use of 3D also allows for the thing you will probably notice immediately if you watch a video of the game: beautiful dynamic shadows. The game takes place exclusively at night, and the flashlight on your gun, the muzzle flash, and environmental light sources all make the enemy character models cast these great realistic shadows. This is really impressive and terrifying when a huge mob of zombies charges you and you point your light at them and suddenly a dozen huge running shadows appear on the ground ahead of you, or when you see zombie shadows before you see the zombies themselves. It's a very striking effect.

The mechanics also set themselves apart in a few interesting ways. First off, you move your character with the left stick and aim with the right like usual, but you have to press R1 to fire, whether you are pumping it over and over to fire a rifle or holding it down to spray with the SMG. You also have to reload by clicking R3 (which I really, really like as a reload button). L2 causes you to sprint forward for a second, which allows you to push through crowds of zombies unharmed. This is essential as once a zombie grabs onto you you start to slow down, which lets more zombies catch up to you. The only way to shake free is to kill them all or dash through the crowd. This move has a cool down of several seconds, so although you have to rely on it a lot you can't spam it at all. The other shoulder buttons round out what sounds like standard 3rd person shooter controls: L1 throws grenades and other bomb-like weapons, and R2 is your melee attack. These commands really give the game the feel of an FPS or 3rd person shooter as you have to balance your use of reloading, melee attacks, and grenades.

The situations that come up in Dead Nation are pretty compelling. You often get suddenly attacked by a huge swarm of zombies as you travel through the large levels. Often just as you get rushed by a huge mob, another mob will jump out and flank you, causing you to panic about the first mob and then really feel the pressure as you get caught in the pincer maneuver. In order to conserve ammo for your big guns for when things get really sticky, you need to rely on your single-shot rifle as much as possible. But inevitably you will be caught by a mob so big or on such bad footing that you'll have to whip out the SMG or shotgun or the more exotic weaponry in order to survive. You buy ammo and upgrades for these weapons at checkpoints with the money you get for killing each zombie. Upgrading a weapon can make drastically change its usability. Both the shotgun and SMG start off ok but become extremely powerful when you upgrade their rate of fire, clip size, and power.

Beyond mobs of normal zombies, you also get attacked by special types, such as gigantic bloated zombies that explode, weird little ones that spit acid, and a very creepy design called a “mouth” that screams. This summons in about ten very weird zombies that run straight for you.

Dashing through crowds of zombies to get into a good position to fire into the crowd, dropping grenades if you get stuck, and luring mobs to choke points are all good strategies, but there are also environmental interactions you can use to your advantage. Shooting certain cars will activate their alarms, causing all nearby zombies to ignore you and attack the car. When the car takes too much damage, it will explode, taking a lot of enemies with it. Even cars without alarms will explode if they take enough damage, so shooting them a few times just as a mob gets near them is a good strategy. Anything that is about to explode gets a red ring around it showing the explosion radius, which really helps you in your timing and positioning estimations.

The game's story is mediocre. It isn't bad really, there's just nothing that interesting to it. Your character is a survivor in the zombie apocalypse trying to get to high ground to hear a radio signal more clearly. From there, more stuff happens, but nothing all that great. It is told through some really beautiful painted artwork, though.

The music and sound effects are pretty good. The music does a good job of highlighting the scary moments where you are suddenly mobbed by dozens of zombies.

I really enjoyed Dead Nation, but once I beat it on normal mode, I felt no desire to play it more on harder difficulties, as the other playable character (who plays identical to the other character), or to explore the levels more to find extra money or to get a high score (the game seems to have an intricate score and multiplier system with leaderboards, but I mostly ignored it as I didn't care about my score). I really liked my one run through, which was probably 5+ hours, but I really felt like I was done with it after that. Typically, I want a game to have re-play value, and I fault Dead Nation for not inspiring additional play, but the campaign is really satisfying, so I still feel really positive about it in the end.

Dead Nation is very solid and fun and gave me a compelling experience in a genre that is in many ways played out. Its 3D engine, visual design, and the identity crisis it has with thinking it is a 3rd person shooter give it a really nice feel, and it scales up nicely from large to truly epic hordes of fully modeled zombies and monstrosities. It's a 7 out of 10.


Robotic_Attack's avatar
Community review by Robotic_Attack (March 28, 2015)

Robotic Attack reviews every game he plays... almost.

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