Date: 11-29-2010 01:02
Author: Jesse Dietderich

PDC profile: Jesse

I wasn't terribly excited when I heard about Dead Nation coming out to the PSN, but after experiencing the game, it has become one of my favorite PSN games to date. Allow me to share where Dead Nation succeeds and where it stumbles.

The Dead

If this is your first time ever hearing about zombies, then allow me to fill you in on a little a secret. All zombie stories are not only very similar, they are nearly identical. An otherwise peaceful world is suddenly affected by a viral pandemic and is thrown into utter chaos. While some of the zombies in Dead Nation are the same run-of-the-mill zombies that are created when an infected host bites a healthy human being, there are others that are biological weapons made by the military. This variety of the walking dead in the game is both invigorating and horrifyingly scary. The larger, stronger, scarier zombies all have their own distinct sounds that clue you in to their presence, but you rarely know what direction they are coming from because all of the zombies can rush at you from any direction on a moments notice. Seriously, the zombies fall from the sky, jump out of man holes, bust out of buildings, or could just be hiding around a corner quietly waiting for you. If the dead weren't enough, I found that the transformed world to be nearly as terrifying as the undead masses that were out to eat my brains. You could be walking in a fairly well lit park when all the lights decide to blow out at the same time, leaving the flashlight strapped to your gun as the only dependable source of light. When it gets really bad you can attempt to use explosions to cast a little light on your dark situations, but I wouldn't call this a very dependable tactic. This desperate atmosphere remains consistent throughout every stage. So it doesn't matter if you are in the streets or at an amusement park or in a graveyard, the eeriness starts when you start the game up and doesn't go away even after you beat the game.

The Living
Unless you are playing cooperative, you won't be seeing any other living thing during the game-play portion of the game. The feeling of being alone to take on an undead army can make you feel pretty helpless. It is a good thing they give you an extensive arsenal to dispatch your would-be dispatchers. You start out with a fairly weak standard rifle that has unlimited ammo, but once you make it to a shop you can purchase and upgrade your weapons. The shop's selection increases as you progress through the game with the likes of submachine guns, shotguns, flame throwers, blade cannons, rocket launchers, and electric zappers. Each weapon is specialized for certain conditions and/or enemies. Yet when your ammo runs low, you will more than likely be relying on your items to save your rear. The items, like the weapons, unlock as the game progresses until you have all of the following; flares, grenades, mines, Molotov cocktails, and dynamite. The name of the game is to be the most efficient with your weapons and items as possible, because money is limited and the most you spend on restocking your armaments the less you have to spend on upgrading them. However, there were many times that no matter how well armed I was, there were just too many zombies coming at me too fast for me to react. Luckily I had both the dash move and melee attack as a last line of defense when the zombies got a little too close for comfort. The dash move can get you past any zombie and even prevents you from catching fire, but there is a stamina bar that drains when you use it and it needs to recharge to full before you can use it again. Your hero does get one last bit of help in the form of armor that can be mixed and matched between different types that have different stat boosts. You start out with some low grade stuff but collect better equipment through the stages.

The Style

Unbeknownst to me, this title was made by Housemarque, the developer of my very first favorite PSN title, Super Stardust HD. After finding that out I found many similarities between the two in terms of game play, such as when you have enemies crowding all around you that you can dash to safety or when you know enemies are coming but you don't know from which direction. However, the style of the two games are radically different and you are reminded this constantly throughout the game. This title actually starts with a live action intro that doesn't necessarily fit with the rest of the game yet is fairly well done and doesn't really detract from the game. The cut-scenes are narrated by your hero and have a painted layered look to them with some visual effects such as lights or flames being animated. There is a choice at the beginning of the game to pick which gender you would like your hero to be, and although it doesn't affect the game play, it will change who narrates the cut-scenes between stages. The narration's script is identical between the male and female character, so the only difference is hearing the story read by a female or male voice. The audio is masterfully done with great squashing and splattering sounds as you mow down and trample your foes. Whenever there is a huge wave about to converge on your position, the background music changes from a somewhat ambient calm to a racing ominous terror. Lastly, but definitely not least, the art style is what makes this game bring you in and make you feel that the 10 stages are real. The zombies are so detailed and their deaths so gruesome, that you find yourself really feeling triumphant when the top half of their bodies detach and fly into the air as their bottom halves squirt some blood and crumple to the ground. The only gripe I have with the artistic scenery is that it is so terribly dark that you simply can't see everything in the greatest detail at all times. There were many times in which I unloaded in a direction because I thought a zombie was coming for me, only to realize that it was a hanging street lamp that was elevated above my position and looked different from the surroundings below. This made me jump so often that I began to curse it, but you could also argue that it simply added to the stress and fear of the game.

The Teamwork
As terrifying as this game is by yourself, you don't feel that much safer when you have a buddy with you. I played through a few stages of online co-op with Jetup and have a few comments about what worked and what didn't. First off, we played through a few stages with moderate success, until near the end of one stage the connection dropped, and we essentially had to start over from the beginning of that stage. Since some stages can take 30+ minutes to complete, this was very unpleasant. Also, the game save in the Save Data Utility prevents you from copying it to any external device. So, when I loaded the game on the new hard drive and attempted to continue playing with Jetup, the game refused to let us continue claiming that we weren't on the same stage. Finally, after many attempts, we remedied the situation and proceeded to play for a few hours, blazing through many of the stages we've already beat, and enjoying it again a second time around. It was very annoying that this game doesn't support any sort of in-game voice chat, leaving us to communicate by sending messages through the XMB. Lastly, there was one last bit of teamwork that wasn't part of the cooperative play, and that was the online score boards. The game is constantly tallying the number of zombie kills and the percent of the game that is completed for each country that this game is being played in. So, not only are you competing for high scores all over the world, but you and your countrymen are out there working to kill the most zombies you can.

The Bottom Line
There were a few things that I never got around to trying such as single stage play or offline co-op. Yet I've been able to put in enough with this game that no matter what those have to offer this game is solid enough without them. Also, I started playing this game without doing any preliminary research on it, and so I was attempting to guess the price of the game. It floored me to find out that this game that has a platinum trophy and so much value. I was guessing a price that was double for what it will be going for when it is released in the PlayStation Store. For anyone looking for a really well made game that you will seriously get your money's worth from, you should consider putting the purchase of this game at the top of your list.

Dead Nation was developed by Housemarque and will be available this week on the North American and European PlayStation Network. The announced price for NA is $14.99 USD but they will be offering a 20% discount for PlayStation Plus members, resulting in a $11.99 USD price tag. This title has brought me over 20 hours of enjoyment and there isn't any signs that I will be stopping until I claim that platinum trophy. I have beat all 10 stages in single player on Normal difficulty, and will be doing the same in multi-player when I find the time. I hope everybody that reads this review will join in the fight to crush the zombie menace.

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