Developer(s) – Housemarque & Climax Studios
Publisher(s) – Sony Computer Entertainment
Director – Harri Tikkanen
Dead Nation is an arcade shoot ‘em up developed by Housemarque; similar to their PlayStation 4 launch title Resogun, but with a much different twist on gameplay. Having received many positive reviews, and peaking at number 12 in IGN’s top 25 PlayStation Network games in 2013, it was last week ported to the PlayStation 4, where an overwhelming amount of people continue to play the game on a rather regular basis; as shown in the world rankings tables. The way I see it, although Dead Nation presents the opposite imbalance of gameplay coming before horror, I nonetheless found this to be a moderately enjoyable title, but I do want to address my concerns over it.
Graphics – 7/10
I think that even if I’d first played this game on the PlayStation 3 where it was originally ported, I wouldn’t have been overly impressed by it’s graphics. However, what I do like about the visuals is the clever technique that went into its development. This technique involves having the camera a fair distance away from gameplay, thus making everything look less pixelated and thus more sharper. I first found this trope to be used in another one of my all-time favourite games; Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. I remember at the time being dramatically impressed by it. Unfortunately, the difference between Dark Alliance and Dead Nation is in their conceptual styles. Although the still paintings in the cutscenes of Dead Nation may look very stylised and that they add to the game’s atmosphere, the settings of Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance are a lot more diverse than those of Dead Nation, which can become extremely repetitive after a while; and I did end finding a few graphical glitches here and there in addition. However, I think the visual effect that adds most to the game’s feel of horror is it’s extremely effective use of lighting, which was very well done.
Gameplay – 8/10
Most importantly, this was a pretty enjoyable game to play. For a linear shooting game, it also has a very impressive amount of replay value to it as well. Of course, there’s the challenge of trying to post as high a score as possible in the world rankings, but there’s also one side quest present as well as the small RPG element of being able to upgrade weapons and armour, which to me at least, seems wonderfully unique for an arcade game. Also, despite this being in lieu of arcade game tradition, the game also presents quite a lot of variety in different modes to play, including a story mode and an endless mode. It makes me wish that there’d been an endless mode in Resogun, to be quite honest. And as I said, since this is a survival horror, it’s excellent amount of substance in gameplay seems to me that more unexpected, and thus seemed like more of a treat. Not only that, but the game also presents a fair amount of challenge, as there is quite some strategy that can be employed in order to get the highest score possible; and whilst it’s not self explanatory either, it’s all there for players to use their initiative and figure out. Of course, the game lays out the basics during the beginning of the story mode, but after a short time, it’s up to the player and their individual level of skill.
Controls – 10/10
As yet another one of these long-since perfected gameplay formulas, there should never have been a problem with the game’s control scheme, and so there isn’t. Whilst I remember the payer character having to stand still to attack with projectile weaponry in Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, Housemarque seem to have improved on that aspect of the control scheme in Dead Nation, giving the players the ability to aim with the right analogue stick whilst moving around with the left.
Lifespan – 10/10
The main story will last about 3 to 4 hours, which is OK for an arcade game, and the one side quest adds that element of replay value to it as well. However, like with most games of its kind, this is a game that will only last as long as player’s interest, as the endless mode is in my opinion, even more enjoyable to play than the main story mode.
Storyline – 3/10
As I said before, Dead Nation represents an imbalance of gameplay over scare tactics, and as a result, the overall plot of the story has suffered pretty badly. The player has a choice of two characters; Jack McCready and Scarlett Blake. Basically, the story involves either one of these two characters fighting for survival amidst a zombie apocalypse. It does develop into something slightly more than that, but nothing overly exciting or engrossing. The plot is pretty stereotypical of any generic zombie film, and in this respect at least; the game does lack that level of flair or substance. The voice acting is all right for the most part, but there were some lines I had trouble taking seriously. There’s not much I can say about the story other than this, but I guess at least it’s not as much of a catastrophe as House of the Dead 2 was.
Originality – 6/10
I think that although this game has a fair level of uniqueness in terms of both gameplay and controls, it’s pretty unoriginal in both the scare tactics that are employed throughout, involving mostly cheap jump scares and buckets of blood, and it’s lack of innovation in effective storytelling. I think it would have better to ultimately scrap any trace of a story, but the fact of the matter is that there is a story; but it’s just unfortunately not very good the way I see it.
To sum this game up, it’s enjoyable to play, as well as having a surprising amount of replay value, but I felt as if it could have done with a bit of an extra push. But I think if Housemarque continue to improve like they seemingly have done, they could potentially go much further as a development company. The prospects are certainly there.