Dead Block Review (XBLA)

Game Review: Dead Block
Release: 7/6/2011
Genre: Action / Strategy
Developer: Candygun Games
Available Platforms: Xbox 360 (XBLA), PlayStation 3 (PSN), PC
Players: 1-4
MSRP: 800 MSP ($10)
ESRB Rating: T

Zombie games are all the rage these days.  You know this is fact when Tim Schafer takes time to poke a little fun at the zombie game concept.  Dead Block tries to take a unique spin on the genre in a few ways.  First, these zombies love music, specifically rock ‘n roll.  You’ll see them jam out when the jukebox is playing, and it’s entertaining to watch them flail about.  You will be doing battle against these rockin’ zombies in various houses, running from room to room to find musical gear so that you can rock out and stop the zombies from eating your tasty flesh.  Next up is how combat is handled; you can certainly whack away at the zombies with your weaponry, but you will do far more damage by setting up traps in the various areas you will be in.  Finally, you’ll be able to play as up to 3 different characters at the same time, each with their own strengths.  The whole thing plays out like a hybrid FPS and Spy vs. Spy, and at times it plays quite well.

The game is spread across 10 single player missions (with an additional 8 local co-op missions to boot), with the objective in most being to find 3 pieces of an amplified guitar kit hidden in various items in the house.  Some of these items are already present in the map, while others will be uncovered by destroying existing fixtures (beds, chairs, tables, etc).  Of course, this is a zombie game, so you’ll be splitting your time between destroying everything you can in the house, and tending to the constant flow of zombies.  Each of the 3 characters can build barricades on windows and doorways that will slow the zombies down, and each character also has 3 unique traps they can put up to help make fighting the zombies easier.  These traps range from an ice-beam that freezes the zombie and makes it a one shot kill, to a nuke that hangs on a blockaded pathway, letting zombies cluster up in front of it before exploding, and taking all the nearby critters with it.  The traps are all well done, and while I did find myself favoring a few, they all had their uses.  You can also engage the zombies in melee combat, but this style of combat will be difficult later if you don’t manage the flow of zombies by controlling the access points.  Of course, resources are finite; you can only build barricades if you have wood, which you can only get if you destroy furniture, which you can only do if you don’t have a hundred zombies breathing down your neck.  Traps are built using bolts that you find when searching objects, so the circle continues; you need to build smart in order to have the time to find more resources to build more.

It’s precisely this mechanic that Dead Block nails, and the game really shines as a result.  You will go through phases of frantic building to seal off a room, and then have a few moments to collect yourself, bash all the furniture and collect all the items.  Of course, zombies are still clawing away at the barricades, so you’ll have to contend with that once you’re ready to move to the next room.  The game’s controls work well for this, which is important since you’ll sometimes need to make some quick changes on the fly.  Once you get a handle of the flow of the game, it is not too difficult to clear the levels; the hook is in clearing the levels completely (destroying every piece of furniture, finding every item, killing a certain number of zombies, and not dying).

There are a few spots where Dead Block missed the mark, however, that really detract from the experience.  The first, and most glaring, is the lack of online multiplayer; it just isn’t acceptable for a game today to release with local only multiplayer.  The game also tries a little too hard to be funny, and ends up falling flat.  The premise is that you’re acting out a character’s actions on a TV show from the 50s, with cheesy horror buildup including large impact words flashing on the screen (“INTENSE,” “ZOMBIES”, “ROCK ‘N ROLL!” etc).  It came off to me as a poor man’s Half Life: Full Life Consequences (not to mention that the music, which is great in the first level, is unfortunately repeated throughout the game).  The actual action of destroying furniture and searching items can be a little monotonous.  There’s usually over 200 things to either search or destroy in each level, and it sometimes devolves into mashing your controller buttons over and over to find the things you need.  I would have also liked to have seen certain gameplay changes in the game.  For example, if the power goes off in the house, traps should stop working, or the amplified guitar that you play to end the level shouldn’t work, which would force you back into the danger areas to try and turn the power back on.  While we’re on the subject, bigger enemies should be taking more energy out of traps; it seems silly that a weak grandpa zombie and a SpecOps zombie both get frozen with the same ease and energy.  (These last two points are observations that don’t affect my overall rating, but it does make me think that this game might have been rushed a bit before being fully playtested).

vttym’s take: Despite the quirks, the game is a mostly fun, if not brief, playthrough.  The traps and abilities of the different characters are nicely varied, and work well.  The rush of each level, especially once all access points are being overrun with zombies, is intense through the first half of the game (though it wanes as you get accustomed to controlling the flow). And the overall animation and style of the game is clean and distinct.  Lack of online multiplayer is a real deal breaker on this, though; 10 levels in a short (3 hour) single player campaign is probably all most people will see, and at $10, that’s a hard sell.  It is certainly worth experiencing, I would just recommend purchasing it when it’s on sale.

+ Traps are varied and unique

+ Pace of the zombie rush is well done

– Melee combat is anemic

– No online multiplayer

– Clearing levels can get repetitive

Final Score: 6 out of 10

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