With a great opening video that really sets the scene for the game, Dead Nation takes place a year after the outbreak of a virus that has left the world decimated. You play through the game as either Jack McReady or Scarlett Blake (both if played in co-op mode). Your character sets out from shelter to find supplies when they come across a radio that is transmitting static. This radio transmission could be vital to the protagonist’s survival, so they decide to set out to find a way to boost the signal and hopefully find a cure for the disease.
To do this you must battle through ten levels, either single handedly or with a friend, taking on the hordes of the undead that roam the environments of the game’s fictional world. Each zombie that you kill earns you money and a score multiplier, which you can use to upgrade your weapons and earn as high a score as possible in the aim to be top of the game’s leaderboards. If you allow a zombie to get close enough to deal out damage to your character you will lose both health and a part of your score multiplier. So if you want to achieve a good score, you need to be quick with that trigger finger!
Dead Nation is a great action packed shooter that is good fun to play. The game throws new enemy types at you when you least expect it, meaning that you have to be constantly thinking about what your next move will be in order to survive. Zombies range from the slow, stumbling types that are a staple of the zombie genre to fast running zombies and giant mutant creatures that have blades for arms.
Luckily, Dead Nation gives you plenty of weaponry to mow down the hordes of the undead that flood your Vita’s touchscreen. You start with a rifle that has unlimited ammo, and can purchase new weapons such as a shotgun, a SMG and a blade launcher to name but a few. All these weapons can be purchased at shops that are placed at each checkpoint. Each weapon is upgradeable, but you cannot purchase all upgrades during the one playthrough. This is meant to make you consider how you spend your in-game cash, but I found myself sticking to the trusty rifle for most of the game and only switching to a more powerful weapon when the on-screen action became a little overwhelming.
For a game that is all about killing hordes of zombies and frenetic on-screen action, Dead Nation doesn’t perform too well when a lot of enemies are on screen at once. When faced with a lot of undead at once, Dead Nation’s framerate does noticeably drop and the audio stutters also. The main issue I had with this was that when the audio did cut out, you could not hear the sound of your weapon – making it difficult to know whether you were actually firing any bullets.
The other problem that I had with the game was how dark the areas are. The game is set at night, with the only lighting coming from nearby streetlights and a cone-shaped beam of light that emanates from a torch strapped to your character’s head. This does add to the tension of the game, but when there are so many enemies attacking from all sides, not being able to see what side you are getting attacked from adds an extra level of difficulty to what is already a challenging game.
Those gripes aside, I did enjoy playing through Dead Nation. The game encourages you to explore each of the well designed, beautifully detailed levels – with hidden crates containing gold, multiplier boosts and armour upgrades to reward those that do. The way that the in-game scenery can be used to your advantage is also well thought out, with bullets setting off car alarms that attract zombies to the source of the noise. A few more bullets to the car will cause the gas tank to explode, killing all those that came to inspect the noise. This use of the scenery is essential when playing Dead Nation, as at times you will need all the help you can get to get past the seemingly never-ending waves of the undead.
Dead Nation also features a co-op mode, which you can play either locally using an ad-hoc connection or over the PlayStation Network. Having an additional player to help deal with all of the havoc is great fun, and if you play the game strategically, each player can unlock and upgrade different weapons. This gives you the opportunity to be best equipped for the later stages where the difficulty does ramp up. It can take up to five minutes to find a game online, so patience is required if you wish to take on the walkers with a friend.
Dead Nation also has an excellent leaderboard system in place. The leaderboards rank countries by how many ‘Virus Cycles’ they have cleared (or zombies killed) and also rank you individually compared to other players from your country. The presentation of the game’s leaderboards is brilliant, with great detail given and even a rolling news ticker across the bottom of the screen that gives updates and details of recent happenings both in the game world and also of any changes in the leaderboard rankings.
For a genre that is often described as overdone, I give kudos to Housemarque for adding their unique take to the zombie genre. Where most zombie games are all about survival and offer shocks and scares designed to make you jump, Dead Nation tears this rulebook up and goes out guns ablaze. The fact that Dead Nation is Cross-Buy with the PS3 version will also come as a bonus to many gamers, due to the fact that Sony gave Dead Nation away as a freebie after the PSN hack back in April 2011. For those that missed out on this, I would still recommend that you give Dead Nation a play. The game offers hours of fun and an action-arcade experience with replayability both in single player and with a partner as you attempt to tackle the harder difficulty levels and boost your position on the leaderboard.