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Touch the Dead (DS) artwork

Touch the Dead (DS) review

"Zombies have had quite the resurgence in popularity lately. And why not? You can beat them mercilessly, chop off their limbs, set them on fire, and generally vent all your frustrations about humanity without feeling a shred of guilt."

No, Touch the Dead is not a perverted remake of Michael Jacksonís Thriller. It does feature hordes of lumbering zombies though, and that goes a long way in my book. Zombies have had quite the resurgence in popularity lately, and why not? You can beat them mercilessly, chop off their limbs, set them on fire, and generally vent all your frustrations without feeling a shred of guilt.

The hero in this latest tale of the undead is Rob Steiner, inmate at the Ashdown Hole military prison. It was supposed to be a peaceful night of sleep before transferring to a new facility, but Steinerís about to have a real-life nightmare. He wakes up to find his cell door wide open, but not a single guard standing outside. A pistol rests on the floor as though it were left just for him. Where did everyone go? Is this his lucky day? Then, three figures emerge from a darkened corner, hobbling on stiff legs, skin-torn arms swinging madly, and bloody teeth grinding in anticipation. The questions will have to wait.

There is no time to rest and collect your thoughts in Touch the Dead. Itís a rail-based shooter where the only things standing between you and the undead are speed, reflexes, and of course, firepower. The zombies may be your classic slow variety, but that doesnít mean much when they are packed from wall to wall in tight quarters. You can tap their heads and go straight for the brain, but thatís easier said than done when theyíre stumbling like a cluster of rotting bobbleheads. Itís far easier to empty a clip in the chest, but then you waste precious time reloading, and the undead donít stop for anything.

Guns donít reload themselves, so youíll have to drag a fresh clip to the other side of the touchscreen and wait half a second. Itís not a long time, but itís enough to quickly get overwhelmed by a dozen clawing hands. Strategizing your reloads is important, but Touch the Dead suffers from a few mathematical issues. Itís a little unfair when you only have nine bullets, and ten diseased rats drop from the rafters. You canít kill two with one shot, and since the game does the moving for you, retreating is never an option. Just do your best to keep your gun loaded, your stylus sharp, and settle in for the long haul. The really, really long haul.

Ashdown Hole is a mammoth military facility filled with countless whitewashed rooms, miles of unmarked corridors, and rows of sterile rooms that Steiner is hell-bent on exploring. Toss in a few hundred infected inmates, guards, medical personnel, and you can see why this might take a while. Itís not uncommon to spend two minutes or more circling inside the same room as the undead quite literally appear out of nowhere. The most ridiculous example happened in an empty storage closet. The lights flickered for a fraction of a second, and suddenly six zombies were staring me in the face. Weíll chalk that one up to dramatic effect, but explain to me how ten zombies can sneak up behind me on a rooftop.

Iím glad there are plenty of zombies for the killing, but there is so much ground to cover that whatever potential Touch the Dead had for action-packed tension is completely lost to monotony. Occasionally you can select your path, but choosing between long, empty hallway #1 and long, empty hallway #2 is hardly a thrilling moment. Through these forced explorations you will uncover three additional weapons, including a shotgun, semi-machinegun, and a crowbar. The shotgun and semi-machinegun are pretty cool, but seriously, a crowbar? That should be the starting weapon, not a supposed upgrade.

Thatís the trouble with Touch the Dead. I never felt like I was being rewarded for my efforts, or even challenged for that matter. After you get the hang of things in the first level, everything becomes routine. Even the boss-fights are cakewalk encounters barely worth mentioning. Touch the Dead really needs some sort of new gimmick, a semblance of a story, or more variety in enemies. At the very least, let me maim the undead in some interesting ways. Touch the Dead is such a tragedy, because one thing that killing zombies should never be, is boring.

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Staff review by Brian Rowe (June 25, 2007)

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