All the interesting elements of this Dead Nation reheat are being done better elsewhere on the PS4, says Matt Martin.
– Broadcast+ brings Twitch viewers into the game.
– It’s the original game plus DLC.
– Free to PS Plus subscribers.
– No significant improvements over PS3 version.
– It feels like a game from 2010.
– The weakest PS Plus freebie yet.
It’s difficult not to compare Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition to other games in Sony’s PlayStation Plus store and come away feeling disappointed – maybe even a little concerned for the future of the service.
The game itself is a fairly standard shooter reheated for a new console; an enjoyable single-minded romp through a land of the dead, a well-constructed and entertaining time-waster. Compare it to the small-but-expanding collection of games on Sony’s new home console, however, and it looks like it’s the first title that’s acceptable purely because it’s a freebie, not because it’s a great game in its own right.
Originally developed by Resogun creator Housemarque and released in 2010, this version of Dead Nation has been built by UK porting house Climax. Not to take anything away from the hard work that’s been done by the Climax team, but this re-released Dead Nation will benefit most from the association with Resogun – perhaps the best PS4 launch title – and that previous game from the team, Super Stardust HD.
“It’s the first PS Plus title on PS4 that’s acceptable purely because it’s a freebie, not because it’s a great game in its own right.”
But Dead Nation is no Resogun. It’s a twin-stick shooter with a slower pace – not necessarily a bad thing – but its pedestrian nature becomes tiring only a few levels in. Players are funneled through the apocalypse, gunning down the undead as they trundle forward, arms outstretched. You’ve seen this before – the initially overwhelming hordes, the fat exploding zombie, the upgradable weapons – it’s all well-produced but it comes with zero surprises.
There are a few nice touches that give the game some zing and ramp the action up, but gameplay soon falls back down to a slog. Set off car alarms to attract zombies and pump the vehicle full of lead until it explodes taking hordes of the undead with it, or chain car explosions together in a parking lot and it feels as if you’re setting traps rather than just walking backwards and spitting bullet after bullet into a decomposing sponge. But these moments are fleeting. Too much of the game is a slow shuffle forward, like that cliched zombie in horror movies with the wonky leg, dragging his axe behind him.
To sweeten the deal Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition has been bundled with the Road of Devastation DLC and a little visual upgrade, although nothing that will make your eyes pop. The most interesting addition (especially in light of Twitch Plays Pokemon) for the PS4 remake is Broadcast+, a feature whereby viewers watching the game via Twitch can spawn items, perks and waves of zombies by typing in keywords.
It gives the viewer a role similar to the Sponsors and the Gamer Makers in The Hunger Games, but without all that pesky fascism, starvation and subtext on high school social cliques. I doubt it’s going to be a game-selling feature, but it’s neat and encouraging to see developers embracing game broadcasting with a creative spin to take it further than passive entertainment for the viewer.
But a slick feature like Broadcast+ is only as entertaining as the game itself, and Dead Nation is only ever going to be 6-out-of-ten material. All of the reasons to like Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition are being done better elsewhere. There are certainly lots of better zombie games whatever your choice of format. Compare it to other twin-stick shooters on the PS4 and it’s completely outclassed by Housemarque’s Resogun, no matter if you prefer zombie carnage to hyperspace battles.
“It feels as if this is the first game on the system to cannibalise the working parts of others and stitch them together to create something… functional.”
Look at the other titles available through PS Plus and Dead Nation has neither the unique gameplay or high production values of Don’t Starve or Outlast. It’s even a little flat compared to the clunky Contrast, which at least had an interesting shadow mechanic to keep the mind ticking over even if you spent half the game stuck on scenery.
All of those titles still feel unique to a next-gen home console, where Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition is clearly a PS3 game with a slap of paint and an added game mechanic – but it still feels last-gen. It’s great that Dead Nation is part of the PS Plus free deal, but I’m guessing you’ll download it because it doesn’t cost you a penny, not because it’s a game you’re itching to play. In some ways that’s not Dead Nation’s fault, it’s just going up against a high bar when compared to the rest of the service.
It’s neither the best free game, the best shooter, the best horror game, nor the best release from Housemarque on the PlayStation 4. In that sense it feels as if this is the first game on the system to cannibalise the working parts of others and stitch them together to create something… functional. It’s less zombie and more Frankenstein’s monster.