reviews\ Nov 23, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Dead Nation Review


How in the world do you top such an awesome feat? A few years ago, the development team at Housemarque created one of the PlayStation Network's biggest triumphs with the addictive space shooter Super Stardust HD, which is still attracting thousands of players today. Since that time, the only other project we've seen from the team is an Xbox Live Arcade golf game...and that's about it. But at last, the company's true follow-up has arrived in the form of Dead Nation, a splendid zombie shoot-em-up that easily qualifies as one of 2010's best downloadable games.

Like the countless zombie-related products before it, Dead Nation gives you the task of surviving an undead horde while seeking out survivors. The plot is hardly original, yet moves along quickly rather than dwelling on useless tasks like needing to climb up a structure or waiting around for something to occur. You'll play as Jack McReady or Scarlett Black as they fight their way through hundreds of the undead. No, really, they litter the screen in high numbers, almost as high as the count you'll find in Capcom's Dead Rising 2. The best way to respond is through brute force, either with close melee attacks (which aren't recommended, since your health will go bye-bye in no time flat) or a heavy dose of firearms. Along the way, you'll be able to pick up new guns using currency picked up from your kills, while occasionally assaulting a vending machine to keep your energy from fading away.

So the theme's been visited by previous games. So what? Housemarque knows how to make a kinetic shooter click, and everything that worked so well in Super Stardust does so in Dead Nation. It works differently, as you'll aim with the right thumbstick and use the right trigger to fire your weapon, while activating grenades and other incendiary devices to take out the zombies. That doesn't mean it falters, though. The game is sheer fun throughout, especially when you've got hundreds of zombies bearing down on you, leaving you literally running for your life. The intensity continues throughout, but it never gets to the point of frustration. This is a good, heightened style of fun, the kind that really puts your gaming skills to the test -- just like Stardust did before it.

You don't have to go it alone, either. The game supports online co-op play, so you can work alongside a friend (local play is also available) to clean up the streets. It's more fun with a cohort by your side, but there's an even cooler aspect at work. The game supports "Nation" style play, in which your time is measured depending on your location and how many kills you rack up. Once the game hits PlayStation Network next week, you'll be able to monitor your progress by country, racking up the numbers and keeping competitive with players across the world. Direct contests might be better for some of you, but we have to admit, this is very cool.

Housemarque really stepped up its game with Dead Nation. Gone are the simplistic space environments, and in their place are dark, brooding locales where you literally have to keep a light on things to see what's up. Zombies creep up out of nowhere, and there's no shortage of signs that all hell has broken loose. The animation is very impressive, as is the variety of zombies you'll face in the game. Once more, if you kill them, their corpses stay put, so you can stack up dozens of bodies and then trip over them as you work your way through the stage. This is a technically magnificent feat. Other things, like the lighting effects and the "blast zone" effect left by your grenade (so you can get out of harm's way) are very cool.

The sound is equally sharp. Zombie groans pop out all over the place, and the ambient music really keeps the hair standing on the back of your neck as you fight through the city. The voicework is okay, but thankfully brief. The only real complaint here is that the voice chat isn't quite the clearest yet. Hopefully, Sony will clear this up before the game launches.

Even if you think you've had your fill of zombie-shooting games, you should make room for Dead Nation. This is easily one of the most impressive downloadable games we've run across, whether you're tackling it on your own or killing with a friend by your side. The action is exciting, the presentation is a sheer knockout, and the replay value is through the roof, especially with the "Nation" factor and the looming Platinum trophy. It's definitely worth wiping out the undead for.


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