Developers: Housemarque (Original version), Climax Studios (Ps4 port)
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Dates: November 30th, 2010 (Ps3), March 4th, 2014 (Ps4)
Available on: Playstation 3, Playstation 4
Reviewer’s note: I played the Playstation 4 version of this game. There may be differences between versions.
A lot of independent games are getting ported to the Playstation 4, which is starting to see itself become a home for them. This is good of course, many of these games are of high quality. I can just safely say that I didn’t expect 2010’s Dead Nation to be among the batch. Mostly forgotten about or only remembered as “One of the games given away for the PSN outage”, now this twin stick shooter is getting a second chance as one of the Ps4’s launch window titles.
The game’s story follows either Jack McReady or Scarlett Blake (or possibly both if you’re playing co-op) depending on who you play, but doesn’t change in any major way. It’s not a very deep story, told through concept art cut scenes and mostly just serving as justification to get you from one level to the next. The character you play as is one of very few people who are immune to the zombie virus, and decides to leave their safe house to find supplies. Along the way they come across a radio signal and discover a doctor who wants to make a cure with their immunity, but he needs them to collect the body of patient zero first. That’s about as deep as the plot gets, mostly sticking to little cut scenes between missions.
Dead Nation is a top-down twin stick shooter, having you move with the left stick and aim with the right. At the beginning of the game you only start out with a semi-automatic rifle, and the game does let you buy a few more weapons like a sub-machine gun and shotgun. Later it starts to introduce some more exotic weapons, like a flamethrower, blade launcher, and the appropriately named “shocker” which fires electricity. While all good, I eventually found myself moving back to the rifle time and time again because it’s just simply the most effective weapon in the game. Zombies appear in large swarms and are fast, but they’re still pretty easy to take on with the basic zombies rarely proving to be a problem. The real challenge comes from the special zombies. They start out simple enough: the runners use their long limbs to quickly close the distance to you while the bombies explode when they get close enough to you. Later on you’ll find acid spitting leeches and the highly mobile jumpers getting in your way. While the variety is nice I still found that the rifle was almost too effective against even the toughest of special infected. About half way through the game it stops introducing new enemies and the game mostly becomes a slog at that point, not really bothering to mix up its elements much past that.
The game has about 10 levels that are about 20 – 30 minutes each. You’ll spend some time exploring each level looking for hidden chests so you can find better armor along with money to upgrade your weapons. You can also find mementos that provide a little dark humor, but do nothing else. The Ps4 version of the game comes with the Road of Devastation DLC, which mostly just adds a survival mode for those interested in testing their ability to outlast waves of zombies. A more interesting addition to the Ps4 version comes from the new Broadcaster+ difficulty setting. In this difficulty you have to be broadcasting your game to Twitch or Uplay. Then while you’re playing the people watching your stream can vote on the kind of special zombies or items you’ll find. It’s the closest the game comes to a competitive multiplayer, and is actually a kind of interesting concept. Since you don’t need to own Dead Nation to vote it means anyone who wants to can jump into a stream and attempt to bump up the challenge for the person playing. Of course, the downside is that they have to go to a stream of the game and without any way to just be thrown into a random stream it can be tough to get a following. Still, the idea itself is neat and hopefully we’ll see more games utilizing it in the future.
Dead Nation is an average twin stick shooter at best. As a Ps+ game it was a nice thing to be given, but I find it difficult to justify the asking price. Fans of twin stick shooters may find something for themselves here, but overall I find it difficult to recommend Dead Nation.