We've put more hours into Super Stardust HD than we care to imagine, so it was with lofty expectations we checked out the studio's latest zombie driven PSN endeavour - Dead Nation.
The first thing you notice about the PSN download - due later this year - is how stunning the lighting looks. The level we played placed us in a stormy urban environment. The glow of street-lamps accentuates the splash of rain-droplets in puddles. The gloomy, noir aesthetics give the game a distinctly different mood to Super Stardust. Dead Nation's all about what you don't see, rather than what you do.
The game plays from an isometric perspective. Gameplay-wise it's akin to something like Smash TV. You control your character with the left-stick, while rotating your shooting position with the right stick. A torch helps to determine the direction of your shot, and also ensure the objects directly in front of you are lit. The level we played was teeming with the undead. The zombies will try to group together and close in on you, so you'll need to stay on the move, picking them off as you traverse the environment. When the zombies get too close, you can perform a melee attack with the R2 button — this is surprisingly powerful and is designed with intent of giving you some breathing space when you're surrounded.
You can use the zombies' AI patterns to your advantage. Luring a horde of chasing zombies into a carefully placed land-mine is incredibly satisfying, as is setting fire to a nearby car and watching the explosion send hordes of undead into the air. That's not to say the enemies' are predictable however; a large, exploding zombie took us by surprise on multiple occasions during our hands-on with the game.
As you clear the screen of zombies, you pick up monetary rewards. From what we could gather, this money can be collected and spent on weapon upgrades. We didn't get to try out many of the weapons, but the shotgun felt super satisfying, providing a rewarding kick when fired.
Dead Nation's likely to be the PSN's stand-out title this year. The formula's familiar, but the execution's stunning. The lighting some of the best we've ever seen on the PlayStation 3 (download or retail), and the shooting is incredibly tight. We just hope there's some variation to the game's levels, as we only got to experience urban environments in the demo.