Back when it first came out, rock and roll was considered by many Christian believers to be the Devil’s music. Its loud guitars, crashing drums and thumping bass was said to be corrupting the youth of America. Let’s face it – some people still feel that way, though I personally disagree. It certainly makes an interesting discussion topic and an even better reason for the beginning of a zombie apocalypse, agreed?
You see, Candygun Games have decided to take us back to the golden age of Hollywood in the mid 1950s, where the rock and roll craze has just begun. Its obnoxiously loud tones have somehow brought reanimated corpses upon your average, All-American town. They want brains and, well, you’re the best line of defense. Such is the interesting, yet under-developed premise of Dead Block.
The best way to describe this interesting take on the walking dead is to say it’s an action defense game. You rotate between three different characters, who have wound up being the ones counted on to put an end to the mess. There’s the strong construction worker, the tubby boyscout and the skinny but quick police woman, each of which have their own skill ratings in speed and strength categories. All three present their own benefits and drawbacks, so it’s important to switch them around to suit the task at hand.
Its campaign is comprised of ten different missions, with almost all of them having the same goal: to find a guitar, amplifier and large speaker, so that you can play some rock and roll to make the brain eaters dance. When they dance, they get hurt. Don’t ask me why. A lot of the aspects of this game don’t make sense, but they add up to make an interesting experience. Those missions are combined with a couple others, which task you with defeating a set amount of the undead.
As you try to find your objectives, the zombies will come at you from all sides, breaking through any window or door that they can find. This is where the defense part of the game’s mechanics comes into play, and where the game resembles the zombies mode in Call of Duty. To prevent your relatively weak selves from being overwhelmed by flesh eaters, you must break items around you to gather wood, which will then be turned into barricades. Almost anything in the environment can be smashed to smithereens and used for plywood – even counter tops, stools, and other metallic substances.
Finding those three aforementioned items can be like finding a needle in a haystack. They can be anywhere within the environments, which encompass the locations you’d think of in an All-American suburban town: a garage, the high school, a modern family home and a bungalow, to name a few. Rotating between characters, the task requires you to search any container, toilet paper roll, box or other form of container. All of those are found either laying about the area, or hidden inside the things you break. Somehow guitars, amps and speakers are able to fit into tiny objects in this world. Don’t ask. Just enjoy the surreal nature of it all.
It will take searching through approximately twenty different canisters before you find your first piece of the concert, and so on. That means it’s important to always know where the zombies are coming from, and where they’re shown on your mini-map. The characters can take a few out with melee weaponry, but it’s very easy to get overwhelmed and cornered. Your whole objective is to not let this happen, so when it does, it’s always due to a lack of fortification and defense. You can’t blame the game.
During the early levels where only one character is available, vigilance is at its most imperative, because there aren’t any checkpoints. When the other two become available, you’ll only lose if your entire team is taken out, so it’s detrimental to keep close to your partner(s) so that you can revive them when necessary. It’s easily done by holding a button, but the zombies will know you’re there and won’t be looking to take a few minutes off.
The action part of it all comes in via the aforementioned melee combat, mixed with strategically placed traps. Your team members all have their own upgradable weapons, ranging from a frying pan to a police baton. Also, those containers that the objectives aren’t inside of contain cogs, which provide the building blocks of each of your nine traps; three per character. They’re placed in doorways and can pack quite a creative punch.
The best of the bunch include a disease generator that drops poo on the zombies to infect their horde, construction hats that make them aid your destructive cause and a gigantic timed bomb. All nine are very helpful in slowing the onslaught of corpses down or eliminating them for you. One can even stop them right in their tracks, by putting up a cement wall to prevent any oncoming traffic from getting in through the doorway. Of course, there are a lot of secondary passages to worry about.
Laying traps, fortifying barriers and picking things out of containers are easy enough to do, though the latter two require practice to master. Both end up becoming different types of minigames, when interacted with. There’s your standard button taps at certain coloured areas of a slider, a spinning puzzle and a request for alternating taps of the two trigger buttons. The last one is for picking up cogs, which you have to do as quickly as possible to get in and out before something latches onto you with its teeth.
It’s all really interesting, but does it work? Yes. Dead Block plays quite well. It’s methodical but also frenetic when you need to get away from a group of unfriendly former humans. The mechanics are quite sound and work as advertised, though there is the need to be looking directly at something in order to interact with it, which can be a bit of a hassle. Additionally, the artificial intelligence of your partners can be suspect. They’ll stay in one area and rarely follow you, even when zombies attack.
Dead Block is an enjoyable and different experience that manages to meld tower defense ideals with third-person action mechanics. It’s fun for the most part, but can become a bit tedious after a while because you’re doing a lot of the same things over and over again, though in heightened and increasingly difficult scenarios. There’s nothing about it that is broken, faulty or overly frustrating, although its difficulty can be pretty challenging.
The only other real issue left unmentioned is a freezing glitch that causes the game to lock up during loading screens (between missions or when you select restart) and sometimes during gameplay. The odd time, it’ll stay frozen for about a minute, then will magically go back to normal. Hopefully the developers can rectify this unflattering issue with a patch because it’s very frustrating.
Though it’s pretty solid and enjoyable, this game isn’t going to blow you away. It’s just that – solid. Good, but not great, as the aforementioned issues and a lack of a unique wow factor keep it from being great. It’s also relatively brief, with only a few hours of gameplay, unless you’re one of those folks who loves to go back to 100% everything with gold medals. If so, then it may take you a while. The experience starts off a bit on the slow side, but gets better as it goes on. However, the story unfortunately does not follow this same path, never coming into full fruition or becoming a major part of the experience, which is too bad.
There isn’t any sort of competitive multiplayer, but eight of the campaign environments can be played in a separate local co-operative mode, which allows for four players. Provided that you’re able to gather some friends together, you may find some added replay value inherent in that option. It’s too bad that there’s no form of online co-op, which could have been a good complement for this type of game. It’s easier to schedule to play with people online these days, than it is to set up physical gaming nights.
Presentation is where Dead Block really shines. It’s campy, cool and a bit weird. Vampyre State Building provide some awesome rockabilly music that fits really well into the game’s classic zombie/creature film schtick, though there really is only one song that is used repeatedly. Every stage is introduced with a creature feature video, shown using an old film filter on what is made to resemble an old tube television from years past. The videos are basic, but do a pretty good job of setting up the upcoming campy events. As can be expected, there’s the necessary over-acting narrator, cheesy lines, plus creative titles and terms; all of the things fans of those films love.
Rockabilly music isn’t a part of those sequences, but it comes into play whenever you make zombies dance using a jukebox or a guitar. It is also the music that you must play note by note, at the end of each stage. Though it must be said that it’s hard not to notice an obvious similarity to Guitar Hero in those moments, though the riffs are incredibly easy and short. Press the correct button when its indicator floats by on the fret board; you know the drill.
To complement its over the top creature feature introductions and premise, the game abstains from realism within its visual design. Instead, the development team went for a cartoon look that favors the use of colours and creativity over the drab and disdain look of more ‘realistic’ zombie productions. It looks really good, with the Unreal Engine behind it all. Some may say it pops and it certainly has a look of its own, which is a definite plus.
The visuals are vibrant, shiny and polished, with some nice details. Each of the three characters looks unique and has its own animations – a good example being the fact that Mike the boyscout will pull out a sandwich when he’s not moving. It’s little details like that which aid the game in becoming more of an immersive and campy experience. Even when the lights go out at certain times, there’s still a nice amount of detail and a lack of muddy tones.
Gamers looking for a different experience for an affordable price should check out Dead Block. It has some issues, as well as a frustrating freezing glitch, but there’s a pretty cool little game here. Although it’s far from perfect and doesn’t offer a lot in terms of longevity or replay value, this game provides gamers with a different experience unlike most on the market. Action and tower defense elements join together pretty well to form a game with pretty solid mechanics.
If you pay the price of admission, don’t go in expecting the world from it. Look forward to a strange time in the glory days of Hollywood, where rock and roll was quickly turning America’s children into little monsters. At least they didn’t munch on brains. The undead devils that rock and roll has raised in this story certainly plan to do that and much more, so protect your home town from their dazed stares, groping fingers and dull teeth.
Dead Block is a campy experience that offers something somewhat different from the norm. Its presentation gets high marks too, setting up a classic zombie creature feature campaign storyline which looks great visually.