The last decade or so has seen a resurgence in the zombie genre to popular culture when, truth be told, it’s never really taken a hiatus from the video gaming scene at all. But regardless, Climax Studios have decided to flesh out PlayStation 4’s slightly sparse launch store with a touched up re-release of Housemarque’s 2010 twin stick undead shooter, Dead Nation, and we take a look if it’s still got a little life in it yet.
Game: Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition
Developer: Housemarque and Climax Studios
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
For those not already initiated with the PlayStation 3 version of Dead Nation, you’ll quickly deduce that narrative isn’t really on the agenda here. It’s a familiar tale of world wide oblivion fueled by virus outbreaks, of which our two protagonists are immune to for seemingly unexplained reasons. To begin, unless you’re playing co-op, you’ll choose one of the two lead characters and then set out from your shelter to find supplies, inevitably leading to a discovery of a radio signal which sets you on your path forward.
Anyone familiar with games such as Far Cry 3: Blood Dragons’ consciously exaggerated narrative will find similarities here in attempted execution, but Dead Nation unfortunately feels more lethargic than tongue-in-cheek, resulting in dialogue and static image cutscenes that act as little more than fodder alongside the actual shooting.
The design itself hasn’t really been tampered with too much for this ‘Apocalypse edition’ of the game. Apart from some minor visual upgrades including textures, the linear level layouts remain identical. As per the original, you’ll find the odd deviation here and there but they’ll only lead to pick-ups and collectables and will never lead to alternate routes away from the primary path. Presentation is disappointing in some respects due to the fact that it neither feels or looks next-gen, at least considerably less so than other similar titles currently available on the PlayStation Store. So during your whole time in game spraying bullets and jacking car boots for loot, Dead Nation will only ever feel like padding to neutralise a thin PSN line-up than anything genuinely worth shouting about.
In all honesty Dead Nation doesn’t really set the world a light on any level, however, the gunplay does have its merits in regards to initial enjoyment and fluidity. From a slightly tilted top down view you’ll use the pads left stick to move and the right stick to aim your weapon, whilst shoulder buttons allow dash movements, grenades and of course, your trigger. It’s a basic twin stick mechanic that feels intuitive and has been well implemented, allowing the player to focus on shooting than getting bogged down in too many fine details – ideal for this kind of downloadable, pick-up-and-play title.
The pacing also feels good by allowing you to clear areas of undead in your own time early on in game, whilst further down the line clever placement of enemies will catch you off guard when you’re feeling your most comfortable; there’s a decent variety of them to be found, too. Gangly fast monsters will prop themselves against walls to pounce on you when close, whilst fat ugly Bombies will trudge towards you and eventually explode after a few seconds. Lighting is another mechanic that’s been implemented to good effect, which when combined with the fog (one of the few noticeable improvements in the Apocalypse edition) helps create a slightly more tense atmosphere than Dead Nation might have had without it.
There’s far from a plethora of weapons to choose from but the ability to upgrade them at checkpoints was a wise inclusion. It can’t be understated just how much the game is improved by this small sense of progression, and that includes a choice of armour, all of which really gives the game an extra jolt of incentive. There’s times you’ll need it, too. Shooting does verge on the monotonous during a lengthy sitting with only a few gameplay approaches to numb the dullness. For example, setting off car alarms attracts zombies before exploding and killing everything close by. You’ll find yourself purposely trying to set these set pieces off at unnecesary times just to mix things up, and whilst those moments can feel rewarding they’re sadly few and far between.
Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition holds the original ten levels of the game plus the Road of Devastation DLC which adds an entertaining survival mode. Perhaps the biggest, certainly most interesting, addition is the game’s Broadcast+ mechanic which allows viewers watching your next-gen streams to type keywords and affect your game by spawning items and baddies. It’s a really clever way to engage people watching, especially when it can involve making the game almost ruinously hard for the player; let’s be honest, there’s a little bit of that kind of devil inside all of us.
For those that have PlayStation Plus the choice to grab this game or not has been made particularly easy, although the rest might have a harder choice to make. There’s nothing here that warrants replay if you’ve played the PlayStation 3 version, whilst there’s simply much better games on the store at the moment (namely Resogun and Outlast) – both of which feel far more at home on the new tech than Dead Nation: Apocalypse edition ever will.
Saying that, it does offer some solid and gleeful blasting action that does hold a decent amount of replayability through leaderboards and bundled DLC. So with that in mind, if you’re willing to approach the game without too many expectations and need a fresh reason to power up your new hardware, then Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition might just be the zombie romp you’re looking for.