Zombies? Zombies!: A Review of Dead Block
If someone came up to you and offered you a game that let you take a crap on a zombie’s head as a damage-over-time effect, you would check it out, right? Of course you would. Now what if that was the only really interesting part of the game? You’d play for, what, fifteen minutes and then wander off? That sums up the Dead Block experience unfortunately well.
Candygun Games’s Dead Block casts players as victims in a rock and roll fueled zombie apocalypse, with only broken boards and cooperation as their allies in this third-person defense game. Each level traps anywhere from 1 to 3 characters in a building as relentless waves of undead lurch in through windows, doors, and broken walls. Players can create obstacles from garbage to protect their juicy bits from monsters as long as their supplies hold out, but defeating the hordes requires something else entirely.
You see, the music that spawned the zombies also has the power to banish them, making each level a search mission for a guitar and enough gear to rock out. It’s actually a pretty awesome to see monsters literally head bang until they explode. But the cupboards, crates, cookie jars, and shoeboxes filling the areas takes time to work through, and those zombies demand succulent brain tissues, so a plethora of traps and barricades help fend off the hordes.
These traps really show off the developer’s creativity and definitely are the high point of the action. While Jack (the construction worker), Mike (the Boy Scout), and Foxy (the vaguely stereotyped police officer) can all build simple barricades, they each have three unique traps that can pummel, poison, freeze, microwave, and explode anything lurching through a window or doorframe. Some can even turn enemies against each other or into tools to smash apart furniture for more equipment.
Unfortunately, apart from the healthy array of traps with which to build defenses, Dead Block offers little substance to keep gamers around or even interest them beyond the premise. Nothing is technically bad, but nothing really stands out.
Fun never happens, never knocks on your front door, never sits next to you with chips, soda, and the complete Lost series on DVD. You just keep going through the motions, waiting for things to get interesting.
Every level plays essentially the same: run into a room, bar the doors, smash apart the furniture looking for trap pieces, slide into the next room, seal away the monsters, tear the place apart, blah, blah, blah. Levels don’t really evolve or adapt as the game goes on, instead filling areas with more stuff, an inconsequential change at best.
Plus, while the zombies technically range from old and weak to huge (read: fat) and powerful, they all act the same and only vary in the number of thwacks needed before disintegrating. (By the way, why does “fat” always equal “indestructible” in games?)
In an attempt to force strategy with trap placements and multiplayer cohesion, characters have individual strengths, such better melee attacks or requiring less button-presses to demolish objects. These differences are tiny, though, and rarely impacts play. In singleplayer, control can be rotated through each character, leaving the computer to manage the others.
The AI for the two characters you aren’t controlling can only perform a few tasks — Jack busts junk into rubble, Mike searches for items, and Foxy likewise searches for items until some zombies show up, at which point she immediately runs into their gaping mouths, and dies. Sometimes, they even repair barricades or take potshots at weakened enemies.
This has the sad effect of making the game both easier and more tedious, as the few actions possible get parceled down even further by the overzealous AI. Add in human players, and the situation becomes even worse. However, if the choice is between AI that can be trusted with helping the group or AI that demands constant adult supervision to accomplish anything, the former certainly gets my vote.
Beyond the lack of fun, Dead Block performs decently. The art direction paints the 1950s comfortably over the cel-shaded world, with no noticeable glitches or complications. Animations run smoothly, the camera sits decently (if a bit close) behind your character, and the one song can get stuck in your head pretty easily.
And that’s about it. Dead Block never really moves past the initial premise, instead recycling the same mechanics into every level with additional undead to add some vague stress. If you somehow have no games left from this autumn to play, and you *really* like zombies, then you might have a fun afternoon with this.