By: Armaan Khan
I’m a sucker for a top-down shooter. The Alien Breed trilogy is one of my guilty pleasures, and I had a lot of fun with the Alien Shooter and Zombie Shooter games, so I was looking forward to playing Dead Horde. Now that I’ve written this review, I’m happy to be uninstalling it, because it is such a bland and boringly frustrating game, you’re better off spending your money on other pursuits. Creative bankruptcy infects the game at all levels. The story is standard zombie fare: the government creates a virus that gets released into the local population and chaos ensues. You are a soldier sent to investigate the situation, but your helicopter crashes, leaving you as the sole survivor. Your goal is to trudge across 9 mutant-infested levels and get back to human lines.
I know the story isn’t the point here, but the gameplay is also lacking. It adopts a very simplistic formula: run along a linear path until you hear cheesy techno music, then fight the wave of identical-looking zombies who rush your position. Repeat until the level ends, and continue to repeat in every subsequent level until you finally complete the last mission. There’s no variation on that theme at all. It’s just run, kill, run, which would be fine if the enemies were interesting. Sadly, the zombies you go up against are all the same ones you’ve seen before: there’s the slow one, the fast one, the one with tentacle arms and the fat one that pukes bile . Heck, there’s even a zombie dog.
The upgradeable weapons provide a modicum of relief from the tedium, but not much. You’ve got your assault rifle, your shotgun, your rocket launcher, your gun that shoots sawblades, all of which are standard. There’s also a lightning gun, which is useless but at least it’s there, as well as a doll that distracts zombies, which is the most creative thing in you’ll encounter in all of Dead Horde.
Lack of creativity isn’t something that I would normally complain about, but Dead Horde’s gameplay doesn’t compensate for it in any way. 99% of the time, you’re just running backwards firing blindly into the horde of zombies chasing after you. There’s no strategy or tactics involved in terms of choosing the right weapon for the situation or making clever use of the environment or even selectively targeting which zombie to kill first. I tried it all, but every encounter eventually boiled down to staying as far away from the enemies as possible while unloading ammunition in their general direction until they died.
Survival is more often a matter of luck than skill. Zombies will randomly drop healing kits when they die, and those drops are vitally important to success. There are pre-placed kits lying around, but they get used up fast and once they’re gone, you’ll be relying on random drops to survive. I found myself in several situations where getting past an area absolutely required me to get lucky and receive a health kit from a dead zombie, because I used up the pre-placed kits and still had several swarms of enemies to defeat before I reached the next checkpoint.
Yes, checkpoints. In a PC-exclusive game. In 2011. It makes things quite frustrating, because these checkpoints are inconsistently placed. Sometimes, you’ll find two in relatively quick succession; other times, you’ll have to battle through half a dozen, very tough fights to get from one to the next. As with all checkpoint systems, their placement feels as if the designers were trying to artificially boost the game’s difficulty. Oh, and if you need to quit the game in the middle of a level for some reason, well, you’ll just have to start that level over from the beginning when you come back because you can’t ever save.
The experience gets better in co-op, but not by much. The zombies split their attention between the two players, so you usually get more room to breathe. They also die faster under your combined firepower. You’re tethered to your partner, however, so if you go left and he goes right, you’ll both run into an invisible wall and thus be screwed if you’re in battle. Communication becomes vital to playing co-op successfully, which is what makes things a tiny bit more fun.
Gameplay is otherwise exactly the same as in single-player, flaws and all, except that your partner can bring you back if you die, provided he bought a revive kit from the weapon shop. You can each only carry one kit at a time, however, and it’s very expensive to purchase, which means you’ll often have to sacrifice a weapon upgrade for it. If you die and your buddy doesn’t have a revive kit, you’ll just have to wait until he gets to the next checkpoint before you get back into the game, which could be a while.
I only played local co-op by the way. I tried getting online, but there were no public matches available, which makes sense because Dead Horde isn’t the kind of game that you play with strangers. It’s nice to have online play available, though, for when you and your friend can’t be in the same place.
You’ll need a top-end GPU to run this game with graphics and resolution maxed, which is weird because it doesn’t look spectacular. Just like the story and the gameplay, the graphics don’t do anything particularly creative or inspiring. In fact, they look like what you’d get from a game from made two years ago. On the plus side, you can customize virtually every graphical option you can think of, which is a pleasant change of pace from the limited graphics options we usually see these days.
You can also configure the controls to your liking. It defaults to using [W][A][S][D] for movement and the mouse for aiming. All other functions, like switching weapons or reloading, are accessible without having to move your hand off the movement keys. If you have a gamepad plugged in, you can use that as well, and it surprisingly doesn’t feel any better or worse than using the mouse. Audio controls are limited to volume settings, but there’s only one music track that ever plays and you won’t be hearing much of anything else except for weapons fire, your own footsteps and the cawing of crows, so robust audio configuration isn’t necessary.
This is probably a good place to mention that there is no tutorial in the game. You’ll have to go into the control configuration to learn what keys do what unless you’re using the gamepad, in which case you’ll have to figure it out by trial and error since there is no way to view or customize those controls.
Conclusion – Is It Worth The Money?
Dead Horde’s defenders usually resort to the argument: “What do you expect for a $10 indie game?” My answer to them is: “A lot!” There are a number of indie devs out there these days who are producing highly entertaining and polished content at this price point. They embrace their limited resources and use those limitations to produce creative and engaging experiences that ooze style and flair. Dead Horde doesn’t do any of that; it doesn’t do anything that’s remotely creative in any way, nor does it do anything that’s remotely fun. There are a lot of great ways for you to make use of your gaming budget, but Dead Horde is definitely not one of them.
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