Bringing the undead apocalypse to the PlayStation Vita, Finnish-based studio Housemarque are back with twin-stick shooter Dead Nation – a port of their PS3 hit that was originally released in 2010.

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
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Charlie Large is the Deputy Editor of The Vita Lounge and has been a part of the site for over 2 years! A fan of all things PlayStation, he spends most of his time playing, writing, talking or thinking about games! You will find him currently splitting his time between his PS4 and Vita trying to work through an ever-rising backlog of brilliant titles!
  • Jonathan Harding-Rathbone

    I echo your thoughts. Shame about the framerate. It’s odd that rather than dropping frames it simply appears to slow down. I actually almost felt like I was playing with a Max Payne style slo-mo when lots of enemies were on screen.

  • ruefrak

    My one gripe about all the versions of Dead Nation was with how dark it was. I understand having it dark to provide some sort of tension for when zombies jump at you, but to make it so you can’t see anything? Not cool man.

    • Dan Smith

      If its too dark just go to options and pump up the brightness.

      • Jonathan Harding-Rathbone

        Yeah, I can play it ok with the Vita’s brightness set to max, but then again I play at home.so charging is never an issue.

      • Rodolfo Ferreira

        Oh well. In my case, pumping up the brightness is not good enough; I’ll make sure to turn off the lights of my environment to spot every single moving pixel of this bloody game. That framerate issue though…that’s what has been keeping me from buying it.

  • Rodolfo Ferreira

    To drop frames or not to drop frames…that’s the issue.
    I failed to find a Vita game that has chosen to drop the frames so it keeps running smoothly rather than keep the frames solid, no matter what. And I cannot tell you that if I’d developed this game, I would have made it otherwise. Frame-drop makes it ugly, it consistently keeps the processor busier with in-game elements and frame redrawing – or re-rendering EVERY single in-game element. That hurts the gameplay and sound just like it’d happen should the developer had chosen not to drop it – which he did, and the output is still the same.
    That’s one big Developer’s dilemma. Now for those of you wondering, “but what about the resolution? can he fix it or work around the slow-mo keeping up the number of zombies and effects?” the answer is this: He is a developer, not magician.

  • Buckybuckster

    Framerate issues be damned. Sounds like a great game and I will have to pick it up. Having gamed for over 30 years, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen alot worse. As long as the impact on the flow of gameplay is minimal, I can let it slide. Great review Charlie!

    • Charlie Large

      Thanks for the kind words! If you do pick it up, let me know what you think!