Dead Horde, by DNS Development, is a top down shooter akin to Smash TV. Instead of an absurd and comedic game show, Dead Horde focuses on a rampant virus that has been released into the water supply of a small city. You (and a partner) are now racing against time to get to the edge of the quarantine zone. The longer you stay in the city, the further the virus mutates it’s victims into even more horrifying creatures. Luckily, when you kill those infected, money is instantly added to your pocket/bank account/credit card/whatever, which will help fund upgrades and additional weapons to help you on your campaign. Also, did I mention you get to drive fork lifts and armored vehicles? Read on for the full review.
Here’s the thing, Dead Horde looks excellent when the gamma is turned way down low. It’s also the better way to play the game for a few reasons. But saying the game looks good with the lights turned low is like saying a girl looks good with a bag over her head. Thankfully, the game only goes from looking excellent to looking good when the gamma is cranked up, rather than slipping too far down. I’m not certain at all what engine they are using for Dead Horde, but it seems that far and away the environments and effects had more love than the models had. I would have liked the player and NPC models a bit more detailed, but altogether it’s really not that bad.
Many of the screen shots I’ve taken involve the gamma at full bore and even though I would have preferred not to play like this, it was completely necessary in my co-op online game. I’ll touch on that more in the gameplay section but it’s a shame that during that portion, a lot of the suspense is lost because flashlights and sounds aren’t necessary. The picture above is a screenshot with the gamma almost maxed out, all other screenshots will be with a gamma setting of 0.4.
Since I’ve played a good portion of the game with the correct gamma setting, the scenes that are intended to get your heart racing come across perfectly. There are moments during mutant rushes that all of the lights go out, the only illumination being your flash light, the muzzle flash and/or lightning. The cherries on top are the small touches: ejected bullet casings, sparks and spurts of fire.
Things are a bit sparse on the audio front. Fast paced music is there to cue action that’s about to happen. Bullet sounds reflecting off of metal/wood/glass are there, too. It’s all there… except everything just feels a bit empty, hollow. I’d say that the big fat mutant that stomps after you is the best and only really notable use of sound in the game. Whenever that dude showed up, I couldn’t stop my heart rate from jumping up a little.
Since DNS Development equipped us with two review codes to fully test out the online and offline components of Dead Horde, there were some important and intriguing gameplay decisions that became readily apparent. One important tidbit is even though you are playing online in a co-op fashion, you still share the same screen. This is critical for a lot of reasons. Essentially, the co-op experience is the same locally or over the net, which means you are disadvantaged when playing online just because you have to account for lag. This is the reason why I had to bump up my gamma settings. Far too often, my teammate and I were swarmed by
zombies mutants which we couldn’t see coming and then had to guess which way we could run to fight off the horde. Here’s the other problem: say I run up and my teammate runs down. What happens? Well, you can’t move past the edge of the screen, regardless of the terrain in your way, which means you get eaten alive by the Dead Horde. So even though I could compensate a little with the gamma correction, the net code (or my partner’s PC not keeping up with the game) in Dead Horde really gave us trouble. And this is between two people with 30ms of latency separating us. Thankfully, quite unlike other arcade titles, Dead Horde goes easy on co-opetition crap. Picking up money packs distributes evenly to all team mates. However, ammo and health packs are one use per player. Since money is far more important than ammo or health, it’s not too bad.
There is an interesting risk versus reward system in Dead Horde. Even though it isn’t necessary to explore, if you do explore you have a greater chance of finding money packs splayed out around the level. Usually, acquiring these packs triggers a mutant rush after you which you MUST survive. If you don’t, you start back at the checkpoint sans extra cashola. I’m also happy to report that you don’t have to go very far out of your way to explore every nook and cranny of the map. I’ll use this to segue into the overall arcade-y feeling of the game.
One such arcade aspect that I found refreshing is the score multiplier. Most of the time, a score multiplier encourages you to purposely put yourself in harm’s way or else it would reset if you haven’t successfully landed a blow against an opponent in a certain time frame. In Dead Horde the score multiplier is directly based upon your opponents not hitting you. Combined with the dark atmosphere, a palpable fear began to surface and genuine anxiety started to settle in when my multiplier hovered over 110x. While the visual direction sets the appropriate mood, there are a few gameplay mechanics that add to the suspense as well. Certain mutants can run faster than others and if you run out of ammo in your current clip, there is a three second reload before you can start firing again and and back pedaling while firing is significantly slower than running forward like a normal human being.
The vehicles in the game are wacky. They drive like shit and can barrel through dozens of mutants but if you hit a stop sign at full speed, it’s like you hit a brick wall. Firing the weapon mounted on top of you vehicles works sometimes and sometimes it doesn’t. There is a weird problem when firing your gun at different elevations, almost as if the angle your gun can traverse is only ten degrees off center. This results in your bullets sailing clear over you adversaries if they are particularly close to the vehicle.
It works fantastic with an Xbox 360 controller (big plus to any PC dev that includes game controller support) and works reasonably well with keyboard/mouse. Despite the latency issues, Dead Horde is actually tons of fun. The pacing is dead on. There is this constant feeling of progression, whether it’s via the story or having enough cash to get some upgrades or new weapons. In fact, the only thing that I felt was out of place was the price of the revive item. It was priced so ludicrously high that I never saw any value in it. Oh, I should also mention my partner, who doesn’t have the best computer, took 2-3 minutes to load a level. Other than that though, those might be my only complaints for Dead Horde.
The military created a virus that was developed to take out countries and stuff. Somehow, someone nabbed the virus and put it into the water supply of a town. Your helicopter went down… somehow, and now you have to evac double time to the quarantine zone. The only problem is all of the
zombies mutants in your way. Yea, it’s not the most original plot ever, but who cares, the game is pretty fun.
I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised with Dead Horde. The game added some interesting twists to a tried and true formula. It took me a little to get used to the fact that you can’t switch your weapons unless they have ammo. It’s a little disconcerting when you just dropped down your hard earned cash on a new weapon and you can’t equip the bad boy. Thankfully, the ammo prices aren’t insane, and partial purchases are priced accordingly. What I mean is, if you can hold a max of five grenades and you have three already, you only pay the difference. The screwy part is even though you are paying a la carte prices, you have to buy the max amount of ammo for the weapon.
The online component needs some serious work, if that gets sorted out, I would easily recommend the two-pack on Steam which basically works out to $7.50 a copy. Or wait until the inevitable Steam sale and buy the dual pack and just hope the online gets better. Local play works perfect and if you have an itch for some arcade fun, Dead Horde might be just what the doctor ordered. Remember, high score is a component of Dead Horde as well.
80/100: A solid arcade title that is a bit resource hungry