I stopped playing games on my mobile phone a number of years ago now. A mixture of me having to drive to my day job and having various generations of handheld consoles just meant that once the novelty wore off for playing Cut the Rope and Angry Birds I just never went back. All of this means that I have missed out on a slew of releases on iOS and Android from the past half decade. Weirdly the ‘saviour’ of this has been the Switch, a console that seems to have its store filled with ports of iOS games. A screen with many levels and star ratings next to each is often the tell tale sign to what you’re getting into. Now, do not take this as me being dismissive of mobile games, there is clearly a market and I’d still be part of it if I didn’t own a Switch and my commute was public transport based.
For a multitude of reasons we’ve seen the eshop packed with mobile releases and more than anything it’s fascinating to see how each game that was previously free to play has adjusted to the concept of being a one time payment offering. Into The Dead 2 has tackled this greatly in some areas, and in others the classic micro-transaction roots are just buried too deep.
Into The Dead 2 is an endless runner with a difference, there’s an end. By that I mean you’ll be taken through nearly a hundred levels across the main story and side missions, each one sees you auto-running through horde after horde of undead trying to reach the target distance, at which point you’ll get a little bite size piece of story to encourage you to jump straight into the next run.
To help you on your traversal across country you will be loaded up with a couple of guns, grenades and a knife. At the start of each sprint you’ll begin with barely any ammo meaning you’ll be dodging more than gunning down your shambling enemies. As you go however there are flares indicating ammo dumps to refill your supplies.
On completion of each level you have the ability to unlock some bonus perks like armour piercing rounds, manuals with power ups like ‘start the game with more ammo’ or finally gold bars. These gold bars are clearly the currency from the previous iterations of the game. The gold is used to buy new unlocked weapons, upgrade said weapons or buy new companions. The problem is the game’s currency just feels broken. I ended up not upgrading my weapons as they simply doesn’t seem worth it. The 5-15 gold bars I got for completing my run, which I had to take instead of the special ammo etc, just doesn’t accumulate quick enough. The average upgrade is 50 gold bars, weapons start at 120 odd gold and by the time you’ve saved up the gold from 20 odd levels just made me wonder the point of ever setting my hopes on buying a new rifle. By completing challenges within levels you can unlock big bundles of 100 gold bars but these assume a certain level of control that the player just doesn’t have; kill 100 enemies with X weapon is just no feasible with the ammo available for example. With the upgrading of weapons the game feels like it’s tailored more for avoidance rather than the kills so why upgrade something you’re avoiding shooting.
Looking past the negatives that have been dragged across from the mobile games market there is actually a fun game here. The air of desperation produced with each run is actually quite tense at times, knowing that your ammo is incredibly low and zombies can corner you at any time really can be exhilarating. The world is dark and gloomy with a mist obscuring long distance views, planning ahead is a luxury that you just don’t have, instead you must just run and wing it as much as possible.
I learned a few hours in that guns and killing is really a reactive element of the game rather than proactive. Rather than gunning down every undead creature in front of you, the best bet is instead to figuratively dodge, duck and dive your way across the map and only pick off the zombies that are a clear obstruction to you. As you progress through the game you’ll find zombies bulk up requiring more bangs to take out. This adds a nice risk reward element to the game that really forces you to make quick calls on the fly as to the lesser of many evils.
The main story of Into the Dead 2 is revolving around your character desperately trying to make it to his sister and daughter as they run from one unfortunate series of events to another. The end of each level is topped with a bit of walkie-talkie chat between James and Helen that is fine for giving a reason to progress but isn’t exactly a truly compelling arc to run with. Weirdly though the side-missions that are unlocked as you progress through the game have some fascinating stories. The first about a squad of soldiers spread across a bayou like area has some wonderful writing about power struggles and trust issues, it’s not what I expected to enjoy most but it really played out well across the few levels within. It made me wish the whole game played out more like an interwoven anthology story rather than these side-missions being drip fed throughout.
Apart from one or two frame-rate dips the game stays pretty solid throughout and whilst not groundbreaking the graphics and design of the world at large is fun and fitting. The menu’s have some issues with needing to jump between selections being overly arduous, upgrading of weapons for example not being able to be done on the pre-mission weapon select screen.
As a whole package Into The Dead 2 achieves on Switch what it would have on mobile phones; it’s a solid pick up and play experience, not something you’ll get much out of if you try to play for hours at a time on your sofa, but for a lunch time at work play or for filling a train ride it gets your blood pumping and taxes your brain and reflexes in an enjoyable way. Into The Dead 2 is fun at it’s heart, it tests you and pushes you to manage a lot of spinning plates despite the running being taken away from you. The big thing that needs mentioning however is the price. For $35 this is a lot of money for something that you can right now download on your phone for free. Admittedly you don’t have the micro-transactions in the Switch version, but instead you have a quite brutal grind if you want to unlock weapons or companions. This isn’t a deal breaker and hey if you’re one of the people who might have dropped that much in micro-transactions on iOS then you’re probably quids in with this purchase, but at full price this is a hell of an investment for what the game is.