PSN Review – Dead Nation

Dead Nation is the latest title from Housemarque games, the developers of the spectacular Super Stardust HD. Will this zombie apocalypse stand out amongst the hordes or will it sink in the braindead crowd?

It seems that zombie games are all the rage these days, with Call of Duty: Black Ops having a zombie mode, Dead Rising being exclusively zombie-ridden, and even a new Yakuza game in Japan to be festered by the undead. Finnish developer Housemarque however has taken the traditional zombie genre and flipped it on its head. Rather than going the Survivor-Horror route and make players conserve ammo, health, and hide as much as possible, Dead Nation takes a more action-horror approach. Giving players a pleathora of powerful and upgradable weapons, tons of different armor loadouts, and easy-to-pick-up twin-stick shooter controls, the game definitely feels familiar yet fresh. If you’re a fan of Housemarque’s previous PSN title Super Stardust HD, you’ll definitely see and feel the resemblances and be right at home.

Dead Nation centers around one of two main characters, Jack McReady or Scarlett Black. While the game is told through some wonderfully drawn still panels between chapters, the story is identical for both characters. Even in co-op campaign mode, the “I”s are changed to “we.” While the game could have benefited by flushing out the story more between the two protagonists, merely having a story at all in this type of game is definitely a treat. Jack and Scarlett have been fighting for a year after the apocalypse hit and they are finally running low on supplies. Our heroes have the statistical anomaly of being immune to the Zombie Virus. They decide to take a chance and find other survivors or possibly even salvation rather than sit tight and wait to die. Standard fair, but it still gets good as you progress.

One of the best things about Dead Nation has definitely got to be the atmosphere. Not only the graphics, the sound, and the environment, but all of these things and how they meld together. The graphics are some of the best on the PlayStation Network. Even though the game is played from a top-down isometric point of view, there is an unbelievable amount of detail in everything. The garbage littered through the streets clinks and clatters as you walk by. From each individual car, to the clothes that tear off of the zombies, to the zombie parts that lie in the streets that do not disappear, so much attention has been paid to the little things in this game that it’s exciting to just see what will happen next.

The lighting effects in this PSN exclusive are some of the best seen in video games. No one knows why the heroes only travel at night but it greatly adds to the game. Street lamps light the ways through the cities and explosions give you a burst of light but the only light that is omnipresent is the trusty flashlight. But even that isn’t as helpful as it sounds when the sinister fog is coming up and hiding the multitudes of zombies within its cold silent grasp.  And oh boy, there are a lot of zombies in this game.

Dead Nation was said to have the “most on-screen zombies in history.” While Dead Rising 2 is thought to have claimed that award, Housemarque says their game tops it all. While a more scientific study will be done before, it’s undeniable that there are a lot of undead in this game. As the difficulty increases, not only does the strength of the walking dead increase, but more and more appear to take you on. If you are playing through Dead Nation and you don’t feel a sense of despair and anxiety, you aren’t playing right. While I only died a handful of times in the entire game on normal difficulty, I could feel my heart beginning to pound out of my chest several times during a level and I was worried if I’d make it. It delicately balances the magical line of grueling difficulty without getting too frustrating.

While there are tons and tons of zombies all the time, they don’t feel repeated at all, and there are definitely specific classes of zombies; the actually enemy type varies a lot. For example, the standard zombie has a myriad of forms. You find the normal zombies of pink flesh, along with office workers, football players, police men, soldiers, firemen, and soccer moms. All of the zombies, while being considered “neutral,” have unique attributes specific to them. The police officers have handguns that sporadically go off, the football players have helmets that provide extra protection, and so on. There are so many zombies all the time that you have to be conscious of what kind they are, not just if it’s a normal one, a Jumper, a Mouth, a Bombie, or anything else separated by a simple class differentiation.

A unique aspect of Dead Nation that isn’t strictly “gameplay” oriented is the social metagame that exists across the PlayStation Network. As more and more people play the game, more zombies are killed. Every zombie is tracked and noted in a database and are all logged by country. Every country that has access to the PSN has their own statistics and it shows the world’s progress across each infestation. There are leaderboards that track your personal progress in your country as well as with your friends and it’s definitely a satisfying feeling to work with everyone in your entire “dead nation” to fight the hordes. Across every campaign and individual mission you complete your zombie kills dynamically add up so you can watch your kill count get higher and higher. It’s a good thing too, because it’d be nearly impossible to kill 53,596 zombies for the Gold Trophy if the kills didn’t stack.

Especially after titles like Scott Pilgrim and Shank, if there is one thing that gamers have been pandering for, it’s online and offline co-op. Sometimes it’s great to sit down with a buddy and go after a mission or two, but as the PlayStation Network connects so many gamers across the world, sometimes you want to get with a friend across the country to play games. While gamers are quick to complain, I don’t think they really understand the amount of time and effort that go into creating this kind of capability. But don’t worry, Dead Nation delivers. While I must say that I did have voice-chat issues with the game, the online co-op works without a hitch. It’s a good thing too, since there is a trophy for completing a co-op campaign. The strategy element when playing with another person increases the tension ten-fold as you divvy responsibilities for the coming waves of zombies.

Dead Nation is more than just your average run-of-the-mill zombie shooter. With endless replay value, a Platinum trophy, and offline and online co-op, it puts together everything that gamers, not just shooter, zombie, or horror fans, will love. But even as a hardcore gamer, be prepared for a game that is hard. Nowhere near impossible (except maybe on the highest difficulty), but the game definitely makes you sweat. While you are one of the few survivors still left in the world, the gamespace feels alive as you are only one part of a worldwide resistance against the undead. Dead Nation has the full retail quality for a digital price. While the game never made it in time for Halloween, everyone should still pick up this title and experience a beautifully crafted zombie-infested world.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+This game’s $15 price has more value than some retail packages.

+Finally, online co-op that works and works well.

+The difficulty is high, but never frustrating.

10 out of 10