Let’s get this out of the way, this is basically the zombie mode from Treyach’s Call of Duty games. Now let me explain why this is so much better…
Dead Block is a downloadable 3rd person tower-defence action game, made by Candy Gun Games, where you must complete objectives and survive the shuffling undead’s advances. Set in 1950′s America, the cause of the outbreak of cannibal corpses is that new fangled craze “Rock ‘n’ Roll”. That’s pretty much it in terms of plot, but then what more do you want?
“I’ve never seen police academy”
You take control of one of three characters; Jack Foster a builder who is far too reminiscent of David Hodo from the village people and Tony Soprano, Foxy Jones a meter maid who when holding her gun brings back memories of Laverne Hooks from “Police Academy”, and finally a chubby little boy scout called Mike Bacon who is somewhere between the kid from “Up” and Üter from “The Simpsons”.
I got a couple of friends over, Adam and Will (AKA Butch_Fistcrunch and Freewill7), and we jumped straight into the Co-op multiplayer. This is Candy Gun’s 1st game and to be fair to them we didn’t look at the tutorial. This was a mistake, the game does pop up with hints every so often but we died a lot at first whilst trying to work out what the hell was going on.
At the start of each level you are given an objective, the 1st level asks you to kill 100 zombies in a garage; this is the go-to objective for this game, apart from two levels which asked the player to find a guitar, amp and speaker to initiate an oddly placed but fun Guitar Hero rip off sequence. The player begins the level with a couple of planks of wood and your default weapon in hand, this is where the game in my mind breaks away from Call of Duty, as the game requires more than just a fast trigger finger. Planks of wood are used to board up door ways and window frames, giving valuable minutes of peace from the onslaught. To gain more wood you must send your character over to furniture in the room and start smashing it to pieces, each piece you break gives you more wood for boarding up the holes.
“Where does the meter-maid get nuke’s from?”
Whilst trashing the establishment like it’s an eviction party at a students house, you get indicators on your screen telling you to search particular items, be it a pillow, box or cactus. Inside these containers you collect nuts and bolts, which when stocked up give the ability to put traps on the entrances to the building or doorways to other rooms. The traps have various abilities, some awesome, some useless. Mike Bacon the boy-scout’s first trap is essentially a toilet suspended above the opening – as a skin chewer emerges the base of the toilet unleashes a torrent of faeces onto the unsuspecting head, in game terms, this produces a ‘damage over time’ effect that at first feels pointless but is actually great in the long run. The builders initial trap is a liquid nitrogen spray that freezes it’s target in place blocking the entrance until the player smashes the creature apart or lets the victim thaw out. Finally the meter maids default trap is what I can only describe as unbalanced, producing a boarded up window with a nuclear bomb attached to it – when enough freaks are stood around it…BOOM! As an initial trap this seemed a little bit easy, I had the fortune of choosing this character and through all 8 of the Co-op levels I used this trap repeatedly..
“Track and field was great training for this game”
Each of the characters has 3 optional traps, which can be unlocked by searching through the rubble of your destruction in each level and completing a mini game. This mini game is the same every time, for the traps it’s a case of pressing the shoulder buttons on your controller and arrange circles into a particular shape. For the bolts you just hammer on the shoulder buttons again to clear bugs and crap off them. These games add a slight challenge to finding items, especially if the room is filling with the infected, however they do become second nature and forgettable after the first couple of encounters. To place the standard boards across the windows and doors you have to hit the a button at an appropriate time as a slider flies around the bottom of your screen.
“This level looks just like the last one”
“No, this is a hotel not a mansion, it’s different”
“Yeah, like Ms.Pacman is different from Pacman”
(Freewill7 and SethThePirate)
The graphics in this game shouldn’t be compared to AAA title games, this is a small downloadable game with it’s own style. With it being set in the 1950′s America the interiors of the buildings are all bright colours and exaggerated furniture, all of which are accentuated by the cartoon and caricature nature of the whole design. The characters fit into the world well and they’re distinctive enough so that in multiplayer, there’s never any confusion about which co-op partner you’re following. Ignoring a bit of texture pop-in at the start of the levels, the stylistic approach is charming and works well. It would have been nice to see some different textures later in the game but on the whole the design adds to the experience. The level design comes and goes in terms of grandeur, each level is based somewhere on a housing block; one takes you to a school; another a hotel and finally a record company, the source of the outbreak. One or two of the levels are a bit too similar, the only real changes between one and another is how many floors the building has and how many entrances the zombies can break through. If Candy Gun Games go ahead with a sequel to Dead Block, one I hope they do produce, they’re going to have to make some tough choices. My initial want would be larger levels, this isn’t really feasible though as players have a hard enough time protecting the places they’re in already. So the other option would be variety, perhaps classic zombie film locations; shopping centre, army base or creepy old shack, anything that has different textures or atmosphere.
“I’m upstairs dealing with zombies and Will’s throwing faeces around!”
The multiplayer itself is a joy, this is the kind of game that doesn’t require hours of set up or explanation to new players. Gamers and non-gamers alike should be able to get both the hang of the controls and the drive of the game within just a few minutes. These first few minutes are essential to push through – certain players, like Will and Adam, hate the game at first. However with perseverance and a true understanding of how the game works and, what it wants from the player, this experience turns into a great example of pushing a team together to form strategy.
Type of strategy is what separates this game from Call of Duty. Obviously they each go for different styles of animation but on a slightly higher level they require a different execution style from the player. Call of Duty actively tells you to charge the unliving and mow them down, and maybe as an after thought block up the hole they’ve created. Dead Block asks you to do the opposite, taking the zombies head-on is not a good idea until you’ve picked up a couple of upgrades for your melee weapon, and even then it’s inadvisable as it’s easy to get swarmed. Call of Duty is a shooter first and a tower defence game second, you’re given the weapons to take out the undead with the only issue being ammo, with Dead Block only the traps do real damage requiring you to run more than you attack. Our strategy with Dead Block was to fortify a room, raid it for supplies, make a break for the next room, rinse and repeat. This does get slightly repetitive but as the game progresses bigger and stronger zombies appear, making light work of your planks and nails, and this is where putting a trap up becomes essential.
In co-op you can put your trap up and replace another player’s if it’s in the same spot leading to quite a few arguments. The game on the whole can in fact be quite a brutal griefing experience – Will especially took pleasure from boarding team mates into rooms filled with zombies and laughing as he ran off to find more supplies. Playing with Adam and Will we very quickly found our roles within the party. Whilst the characters do have strengths and weaknesses in terms of how fast they search, destroy furniture or kill enemies, we didn’t really notice this come into effect during our time on the game. Being the meter maid, I went and put up my nuclear traps and left Adam and Will to destroy the rooms and find me supplies I could use to continue my defensive plans. Players get unlimited revives in co-op, as long as a team mate can make it to you, you won’t be joining the moaning masses on the other side of the planks.
“My camera is crap, makes my character look short and fat”
“YOUR CHARACTER IS SHORT AND FAT!”
(Freewill7 & SethThePirate)
The game has its flaws, a rather odd decision to have three characters but an option to have four player split-screen is just bizarre, as one of you will have to double up as the same model (but without a hat!). The game’s only true shortcoming is the lack of reward for playing. Players are put through 20 minute slog-fests and only barely come out the other end, just to be thrown some meaningless points. When the next level starts you’ve lost all your upgrades from the previous dance with the dead and are expected to start over. This doesn’t encourage the player to progress, other than to see where the next level is set.
Eight levels of co-op took about two and a half hours of non stop game play, we did this in one sitting. This is both positive and negative, the game kept our attentions for this length of time and we knew could just jump straight into a level and rarely die but this did mean some of the shine had worn off the game by the last two levels. The repetitive nature and re-using of the same strategy made it slightly more of a process than an evolving challenge.
Dead Block is split screen only, it’s missing online multiplayer, but this is a great choice by Candy Gun games. Quite simply, to play this game you need your friends sat in the same room as you – this game is fun, but it’s hard, you need people you know you can work with and won’t run off to lone-wolf the level. The players need to know what they’re doing and when – having someone on the other side of the world playing without a headset just wouldn’t work. You’ll want someone to take control with trap suggestions and plans of action. Players will permanently be calling out which entrances have been breached, without headsets or constant communication players should expect to die, a lot.
Having people in the room with you also means that the inevitable zombie conversations arise – “Zombie Audrey Hepburn”; “Weapon of Choice”; “Zombie Prostitution” and the evergreen “Cost of extracting zombie teeth to stop infection if you choose to employ them as bin men”.
“Tricky for single player, made for multiplayer”
This game is a pick up and play game without a doubt, and a great one at that. Play the game with someone who has played it before to hold your hand for the first level and this game rewards you with a great stylised experience that makes you think rather than just fall back on the classic “aim for the head”.