I love a good zombie apocalypse. The idea of the empty remains of our modern civilisation being picked over by hordes of mindless, ever-hungering former people fascinates and intrigues me. So when a game promises more of that zombie apocalypse action, I’m pretty much one hundred percent on board.
Most recent treatments of the zombie apocalypse tend to play down the action side of things, focusing on the personal drama and general need to survive in such an incredibly hostile world. This can most likely be blamed on the success of The Walking Dead, which focused on the idea of “what happens after the end of the zombie film? How do these people go on with their lives?”.
That’s not really a question posed by Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition, the PS4 update of the 2010 PS3 title that’s perhaps best known for having been given away for free after the 2011 PSN shutdown. The Apocalypse Edition combines the original title with its Road of Devastation expansion, giving players access to an endless mode that is just hordes of zombies one after the other.
The game uses stock twin-stick controls, although it uses a separate fire button on R1, which led me to discover that my PS4 controller’s R1 button has an alarming tendency to stick. This didn’t impede my ability to shoot zombies, thankfully, and shouldn’t be considered a mark against the game at all.
The real standout feature of Dead Nation is its visuals. The dynamic lighting is one of those features that makes the game feel like it’s running on a next-generation platform, and the environment detail is really good. More than this, though, is the game’s ability to throw hundreds of zombies at you at once, all without every dropping frames or compromising the visual experience.
These moments are when the game is at its most tense. Usually you’re working through dimly-lit streets with your trusty torch and rifle, and a few zombies here and there will walk out at you. Suddenly, a door will fly open and a massive horde will be upon you, forcing you to deal with it as best you can.
There’s a good variety of weapons in Dead Nation, although a number of them aren’t all that useful. The best weapon is the default rifle, which has an endless ammo supply and upgrades into a weapon that can take down most small to medium enemies in one or two hits. The downside, of course, is that it only fires as fast as you can press the fire button. Other weapons include the SMG, which is designed for those “zombie horde bursting through a door” moments. The shotgun is okay but suffers from the problem all video game shotguns suffer from: too short a range to be useful.
The worst weapon, I found, was the flamethrower. Being able to shoot streams of burning death at zombies looked cool, but every time I did it, I ended up setting myself on fire due to the way flame effects work in the game. Other powerful weapons include the blade cannon, rocket launcher and a lightning gun. None of them are especially effective due in part to limited ammo supplies and the fact that the rifle and SMG are generally much more versatile and useful throughout the game.
Each stage in Dead Nation is broken up into a series of checkpoints, which are small gated areas that offer a weapons shop and a full health recovery. Sometimes making it to these checkpoints is the easiest option, as once you’re there, you’re safe from the zombie horde. Doing this won’t exactly put you high on the leaderboards, however, so it’s generally a better idea to shoot everything you can to get the best score.
The scoring system is fairly simplistic, but engaging. Collecting small red orbs increases a multiplier that increases the points you get for killing zombies. Taking damage reduces the multiplier, so there’s a definite penalty to your score if you’re not able to keep yourself safe. Bonuses are awarded for completion time and kills, among other things. While I tend to prefer more complexity to a scoring system, there was enough here to keep me interested.
Dead Nation’s story is perhaps its biggest letdown. I wasn’t expecting a lot going in, but the story is completely forgettable and generic. It’s not helped by the mediocre voice acting and uninspired cutscenes between levels. One nice touch is that you can choose to be a male or female character, and there’s no statistical difference between them. In a co-op game you can play as both.
I wasn’t able to test the co-op due to not owning a second PS4 controller. That said, the single-player mode is pretty fun, if occasionally frustrating. I will warn you that you should save up for the Rocket Launcher early on, as there’s points in the game where it’s ability to break down walls comes in very handy, and the alternative is trying to break them down while fighting off huge waves of zombies. Enemy variety is good, too, with a few zombie variants (exploding ones, jumping ones, ones with blades in their hands) as well as other things such as mobile poison-spitting fungi.
All in all, Zombie Nation: Apocalypse Edition is a fun, if not outstanding zombie-themed twin-stick shooter with some excellent visuals and intense, fast-paced action. It doesn’t really let up from start to finish, and is a good way to kill a few hours here and there if you get bored of Resogun.
Lots of zombies to shoot at for points
Several weapons aren't very useful