Irish developer Timeslip Softworks has released it’s first offering in Deadstone. This game takes the classic twin stick shoot’em up genre and adds elements of tower defense, RPG-esque stats and a well told story line. Combining these features gives Deadstone familiar gameplay without making it feel like a clone of other titles.
The game opens with a series of still pictures and exposition. While not overly original, research conducted on a space station orbiting Mars goes horribly wrong which creates zombies and you are the only one who managed to escape, it is very well told. The writing itself is dramatic, like something you’d read in a pulp detective book. However, it is the voice acting that really grabbed me. Given the writing style it would be very easy to have an overly dramatic, over acted opening monologue. Instead I enjoyed a gruff Irish brogue that added real character to the story. My only complaint here is that this opening contains almost all the voice acting in the game, after that the story is told through a lot of reading.
There are three choices for the story line. The first two are labeled Side A and Side B, which struck me with a bit of nostalgia for the singles records I listened to in my youth. Buying a record with a single song on it meant the really good, popular song was on Side A. If you flipped it over and listened to Side B it was usually either a lesser known “throw away” tune, or alternate version of the main song. Deadstone follows a similar formula. Choosing the Side A story will will give you a dark tale of science gone wrong and the struggles of those left to face the horror. It is all told in the same pulp style as the opening narration. Side B however is a very tongue in cheek version of the same story. This storyline also pokes fun at RPG games in general. Your last choice for story options is No Story. This choice just let’s you play through the levels without any dialogue between players.
Deadstone is a small frontier community on the Martian wasteland. It is also one of the last surviving settlements on the planet. Your job is to help keep it’s people alive, by killing hordes of zombies coming down the only road into town. Being a twin stick shooter, the whole game is played from a top down perspective. Zombies come from the top of the map and head towards the bottom. A counter tells you how many civilians are in town. For every enemy you let pass, a single towns person is lost. You lose the game by either letting all the townfolk die or by perishing yourself.
There are several methods for fighting the undead, and this is where Deadstone really excels. You have a variety of weapons to choose from, some with unique benefits. Pistols, for example, allow you to carry an infinite amount of ammo. You still need to reload your weapon but there will always be enough rounds in your inventory to do so. There are also shotguns, rifles and automatic weapons. Some may stun an enemy while others can shoot through one and hit another. As you progress through the game, you can purchase new weapons and upgrades. Newer weapons may have both advantages and disadvantages.
Shotguns deal more damage but have limited range whereas a rifle is more accurate but holds fewer rounds. Weapon upgrades are universal and effect things like damage, capacity and reload speed. It is possible to play the entire game using only the starting pistol by purchasing the upgrades. You also have a small supply of Heath Kits and Bombs. Health kits replenish a portion of your hit points. Bombs are described as shaped charges which blow up around you with out causing personal harm. If surrounded you can detonate a bomb and send all nearby zombies flying.
If you don’t want to fight the incoming hordes yourself there is also a mechanical route. Before each level you are given a chance to lay down some mines. As you advance in the game it is possible to drastically increase the number of mines you get along with the ability to build turrets. They are expensive, however once built, this defense hardware will be persistent through the subsequent levels unless destroyed. They also need a lot of upkeep. Damaged turrets can be slowly repaired during gameplay or fully restored in between levels, which is more cost efficient. Your turrets also have their own set of upgrades, which increase damage, health and reload speed.
Like with your other weapons these stat upgrades are universal and apply to all turrets, even those you have not yet built. Each individual turret can be mounted with different types of weapons. These follow the similar rules to your equipped weapons, so a shotgun turret will do more damage but a rifle turret has a much greater range. By focusing on the mechanical progression path, it is possible to build an impressive defensive system. There is even an option to build a Death Robot that follows you around and shoots zombies for you.
What ever method you choose for dispatching the undead, each kill gives you money and XP. You also get bonus XP if no civilians were lost during a level. Money is used for purchasing the myriad upgrades and XP, naturally, levels up your character. The character progression uses the SCAM system, which stands for Speed, Constitution, Accuracy and Mechanics. This is what allows you pick your path in the game. Speed seems to be a good choice for any play style, it makes your character move faster and reduces reload time. Constitution allows you to carry more weapons, ammo and equipment along with increasing your health. If you want to be a one man army loaded up with the biggest guns available then this should be your focus.
You can further define your character with Perks. Each level up you receive one stat point and one perk point every two levels. There are a good variety of perks to augment your character. Some perks have certain requirements, for example building the Death Robot is a perk that requires a high level Mechanics stat. Other perks are available no matter what character setup you choose, these may boost money or XP earnings or can improve the efficacy of Bombs and Health Kits. When killed some enemies drop a pickup item, which can be ammo, money, health or temporary boosts for speed or accuracy. The perks for pickups have no stat requirements and include giving you more pickups, making them more potent or even cause them to slowly come float towards you.
When first playing Deadstone I was quite excited by the idea of a twin stick shooter with RPG character development, but after a while I stared to find the flaws in that formula. The biggest issue was that, at first, the game seemed very sluggish. Typically twin stick shooters are defined by their frantic gameplay. In this case both the player character and enemies moved at a slow to moderate pace. It was not until after investing a few points into speed that I felt like I was playing a decent shooter.
While I enjoyed the mechanical advantages of the turrets, having persistent set pieces also means playing on the same set over and over. The level design is very basic and since you are defending a static location the level never really changes. You spend the entire game defending a simple road in a flat span of land. There are no rocks, debris or anything else to breakup the playing field. About the only variations are night missions and storms. Occasionally, you will play a round at night, which means you get a flash light and some flares. The level is exactly the same, just darker. Sometimes you play during a sand storm, this gives you somewhat reduced visibility and causes your RADAR screen to stop working for brief periods of time. Every few levels you get a survival mission. These place you in the middle of a small red square of Martian dirt surrounded by zombies. You don’t have any townsfolk to save, you just need to survive for a specified amount of time.
There is a decent progression of enemies and their abilities, which is somewhat lessened by the simplicity of the AI. As you advance new types of zombies arrive with interesting and unique abilities. Some move faster, others can burrow underground or even teleport to show up right behind you, there are even zombies armed with guns. The downside is that it takes several levels before each new threats is introduced, and then only sparingly and with the exact same AI as every other enemy. Basically every enemy unit appears at the top of the screen and slowly moves towards the bottom. If you are detected, either by shooting a zombie or being in it’s cone of vision, the unit changes course and heads directly towards you in a straight line. Having such predictable enemies, especially slow moving ones, takes away some of the challenge. I feel there was a missed opportunity to create some unique scenarios that required the player to develop a particular set of strategies.
My final issue with the game is that there is only a single save slot, which is very well hidden. I wanted to do a side by side comparison of the Side A and Side B story lines for my own personal amusement. Unfortunately, there is no way to start a new game without overriding the old saved game. A lack of multiple save slots is a personal pet peeve of mine, especially in a game with level up and character perks. I would like the ability to tryout a specific character path or perk then reload and make a different choice.
So while a bit disappointed in the developer for not letting me have multiple saves I decided to use the old manual back up and restore of the save file method. Only I couldn’t ever find the save file. I checked the usual places, the install folder, My Games, the hidden files in [username]/apps/roaming, all to no avail. I did a full search of every file on my system with timestamps since I installed to game and still came up empty handed. This is not too surprising considering the game was made with the Unity engine. Unity has a tendency to use the Windows Registry for saving data. So the save games maybe in the system registry, which I usually try to avoid manually changing. This might not be a big issue for some readers, but it did not sit well with me.
Conclusion – Is it Worth Your Money?
Overall, Deadstone is an excellent game that balances several aspects of other game styles. It doesn’t standout in any one area, meaning it’s not at the same level as a pure shooter or action RPG, however the way it combines these elements is superbly done. Timeslip is still working on the game and releasing more content. They have already introduced multiple difficulty levels and local 2 player co-op, and are currently adding a new Survival mode. At $10 I think Deadstone is well worth the price for just about any PC gamer. It’s not a perfect game but it gets a lot of things right.
- Time played – 6 Hours
- Widescreen Support – Yes
- Resolution Played – 1680×1050
- Windowed Mode – Yes
- Control Scheme – Mouse and Keyboard, Gamepad
- System Specification – Intel i7 870 @ 2.93GHz, 4GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce 9800GT
- Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
- DRM – Activation Key
- Saved Game Location – Appdata\LocalLow\Deadstone
- Bugs/Crashes – None
- Availability – Official Site, Desura,