Undead shooters are dime a dozen, and sadly the original Dead Nation did little to differentiate itself from the hordes of decaying flesh already pawing the PlayStation Store. With the release of the PlayStation 4, Finnish studio Housemarque has opted to shine its shaky flashlight on the isometric escapade for a second time – but is this a successful resurrection of the Resogun developer’s middling arcade-inspired affair?
It’s still got post-apocalyptic problems, that’s for sure. The primary issue with this top-down gun-‘em-up is that its fusion of gameplay formats fit together about as sloppily as Frankenstein’s monster when assembled by blindfold. Mixing the swift dual-joystick gunplay of Super Stardust HD with the claustrophobic urban environments of Resident Evil 2, the title isn’t overly successful in its marriage of disparate styles.
The shuffling setback isn’t immediately obvious, but it becomes increasingly irritating the more corpses that you off. While the title likes to surround you with decomposing bodies, the imprecise aiming and emphasis on the single-shot default rifle – which is the only firearm to boast unlimited ammo – mean that you’ll be forced to put your DualShock 4’s questionable build quality to the test over the course of the release’s meaty campaign.
There are other weapons to blitz up your brainless pursuers with, but the title’s survival horror inspirations actively discourage you from using them, as ammo is rare within the world itself. In truth, you’ll rarely run low on shotgun shells and sub-machine gun bullets if you refresh regularly at the in-game store, but the fact that you’re only given three or four opportunities to do this per level will leave you irrationally clutching onto your resources should you need them later down the line.
In most cases, we’d be parading this as brilliant design, but the standard shooter is such a wretched weapon to use that you’ll tap R1 through the four or five hour story with a face more distorted than one of your well-placed projectile’s subjects. There are moments where the gunplay shines, as you dispatch a throng of the undead with a lightning bolt before blowing up a car with a V7 Splicer-esque sawblade, but these occasions are rarer than they arguably should be.
It doesn’t help that the title is oppressively dark either. While the pitch-black environments successfully ratchet up the tension in titles such as Outlast, it’s little more than an irritant here, as you squint at the abyss searching for any signs of movement in your torch’s narrow orange beam. It can be so hard to see at times that we reckon that the release would make a good replacement for those alphabet charts that you find in an optician’s office.
The macabre setting would be acceptable if the title wasn’t so keen to rush you with charging enemies, but this happens more and more often as you amble towards the end of the adventure. Sprinting enemies that resemble armoured iterations of Edward Scissorhands dash up towards you and lop away your health like a harrowing hairdresser, while others leap into the air and pound the ground like an athletic high-jump candidate training for Rio 2016.
Much like in the indie developer’s other games, you can boost out of the way to avoid many of these attacks, and that becomes a key strategy as you work to find space. However, if you don’t equip the right armour, the recharge time attached to this ability can be painfully slow, leaving you open to attacks as you try to negotiate some room. Adding a second player to the experience – either locally or online – negates this issue a little as you’re able to work together to dispatch the encroaching undead armies, but the core combat problems remain.
Despite these glaring issues, though, you’ll still find the release hard to put down. There’s a great progression system hidden in here that allows you to gradually upgrade your weapons as you move through its mysterious environments. Cash can be spent on new gear, which enhances the effectiveness of your artillery, while also allowing you to add new items to your armoury. You’ll still stick with the default rifle most of the time, but it’s always nice to have an enhanced rocket launcher on hand.
Toggling between these items has become easier than outwitting a dead body on the PS4, too, as a new Quick Select option has been implemented, allowing you to assign your four favourite firearms to a single button press. It still can be a bit fiddly trying to toggle through your ever increasing on-body arsenal when you’re under attack, but it at least makes things a little easier assuming that you take the time to tailor the inputs to your personal preferences.
Other more obvious improvements include a fresh lick of visual paint. The original release always had impressive lightning – well, what little there is of it – and it’s enhanced again here, with sharper textures and an overall cleaner image underlining the transition to the new machine. It’s a shame that the title doesn’t run at 60 frames-per-second, but it’s at least silky smooth, with no number of hardware hogging explosions causing the performance to sag.
You’ll be detonating plenty of dead bodies over the course of the full package as well, with the previously released ‘Road to Redemption’ add-on tossed into this ultimate compilation. Essentially a more pick-up-and-play twist on the core campaign, this is split into ‘Arcade’ and ‘Endless’ iterations, and sees you taking different Smash TV-esque routes through the post-apocalyptic world in order to augment your character with various weaponry, equipment, and points-based upgrades.
In truth, it’s a really clever addition that forces you to ponder every decision that you make. For example, taking the score path will allow you to bump up your multiplier, but if you don’t have the right armour or cash to improve your guns, then you’re going to come unstuck once the more challenging enemies arrive. As you’d expect, your choices will be reflected in the online leaderboards, but you can also now send challenges to your friends.
There’s a lot more to the title’s social aspects this time around, too. While the game still keeps track of nationwide kills, allowing you to see which region is the best at slaughtering undead enemies, it also boasts a new Broadcast+ mode which integrates streamers into the action and includes a handful of voting options for onlookers to interact with. These actually affect the difficulty of the release, and while it’s unlikely that you’ll opt to play all of the adventure this way, it’s a neat hint at the power of Sony’s streaming tools.
Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition doesn’t solve the core gunplay issues that plagued the release’s original outing, but this is still a fine upgrade for those merely looking for some rotten flesh to fire at. Once again, the survival horror aspects feel at odds with the arcade-inspired gameplay, but the new social features just about justify a return to this resurrected digital download.