I recently snagged Dead Nation, a top-down zombie shooter for the PS3, via the Playstation Network. I got a chance to play through it and here’s what I thought.

Dead Nation is a top-down action game that is what Diablo would look and play like with modern graphics and twin stick controls. It boasts single player, local co-op, and multiplayer co-op modes, global leaderboards by player and by country, and about 10 levels of action. It’s relatively fast-paced, even under a veil of darkness, rain, and fog, and it’s utterly loaded with weapons and zombies so there’s no shortage of shooting. Here’s what stood out to me:

What I Liked

+ The game plays with a great degree of accuracy. Shooting is precise, movement is smooth, and hit detection is right on. The twin stick design is perfect for Dead Nation and it really facilitates a fluid experience. I never had problems moving, shooting, aiming, or remembering what buttons did what. If you’ve played many action games, you know that controls can make or break the experience and the controls in Dead Nation are spot on.

+ There’s a high level of detail in Dead Nation, both visual and mechanically, that is easy to overlook during the tense combat. Bodies fly realistically from explosions, fires smolder in the distance, and billboards flicker with faint advertisements that are actually entertaining if you take the time to read them. One nuance I found intriguing is that your character moves slower when walking backwards, as you’d expect in real life but as is rarely the case in twin stick action shooters. It’s the attention to detail that impressed me.

+ Dead bodies. I know; it’s a zombie game so why do I care about bodies? In Dead Nation, and unlike any other zombie game I’ve played, the bodies don’t disappear. If you kill a hundred zombies in the same place, there will be a pile of a hundred corpses in that spot and it won’t vanish. You wouldn’t think that this would matter much, but it adds a huge sense of connection to the world. It’s like a big trail of markers that says, “Yeah, I was here,” in the font of hundreds of dead bodies.

+ The sense of scale in Dead Nation is impressive. It’s not like Resident Evil where you have several or maybe a dozen zombies at once; in Dead Nation it isn’t uncommon to face 50-100 zombies at the same time. In some missions, you’ll find that you’ve killed over 2,000 zombies in about 20 minutes. You do the math on that one and you’ll see just how much zombie killing you get in this game.

+ The selection of weapons, while not enormous, is just enough to keep the arsenal interesting without ever feeling redundant or overwhelming. From the trusty laser sight default rifle to the iconic shotgun and flamethrower to the exotic Shocker (har har…), there are just enough weapons to be satisfying. Add to that a support arsenal of grenades, mines, and molotovs and the fact that everything is fully upgradeable and you have a winning combination.

+ Local co-op is a big selling point for me with Dead Nation. I love playing same screen cooperative games with my girlfriend and Dead Nation gave me the chance to do that. It ends up being a super fair experience, too, as you mutually but independently get cash and only have to share health (e.g. if one player picks up $3,000 then both players get $3,000 but health is consumed by whoever gets it). I thoroughly enjoyed local co-op and I’m glad they included it.

 

What I Didn’t Like

– Some of the non-zombie monsters are just stupidly unfair. Not unfair as in, “Wow, this enemy is really challenging,” but unfair as in, “I neither saw nor heard that monster and it just leapt out of nowhere to take off half of my health bar.” Late in the game, you fight these jumpers, as I call them, up to several at a time. It’s incredibly aggravating at times.

– Length. Dead Nation is maybe 5-8 hours long, tops, for a single play through. It’s certainly worth doing more than once, but I would have liked a few more levels and maybe more diversity in those levels. For such good play mechanics, it would have been nice to have more to do with them.

– The storyline in Dead Nation is garbage. Everyone’s a zombie, you’re mysteriously immune to the virus, and you have to kill your way to patient zero and then to a shadowy underground lab. That’s it. Also, the ending is predictable and lame. Snore.

– Why does the entire game take place at night? The developers joke about this in the scrolling hint text between missions, but I don’t understand why there couldn’t have been a few daytime levels. Sometimes the perpetual darkness gets old.

 

The Bottom Line

Dead Nation is a straightforward, simple, precise and polished zombie shooter. It boasts killer gameplay, local co-op, online co-op, and about 5-8 hours per play through of zombie-killing goodness. If you can contend with a few annoyingly unfair monsters, a blasé storyline, and the entire game taking place at night, Dead Nation is easily worth your money. Just make sure to leave the light on and bring lots of ammo; you’re going to need it.

I purchased this game and completed all of it in co-op and half of the game in single player before reviewing it. Dead Nation is available now for the PS3 via the Playstation Network for $14.99, $12.99 for Playstation Plus subscribers.

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