In Dead Block’s world it seems that those brimstone and hellfire preachers from the American Bible Belt in the 1940’s and 50’s were quite right; Rock and Roll is the Devil’s music and it’s somehow bringing the dead back to life!
Taking a leaf from the Call of Duty Zombies mode, the sweetly titled Candy Gun Games have created something for people who still haven’t had their fill of the undead. Part Tower Defence (with you as the proverbial tower), part third person action game, Dead Block offers 10 levels for the player to board up their safe house and fend off the hoards of encroaching undead.
There are three characters to take control of including Jack, the construction worker who looks like he’s been spat straight out of the Village People, Mike the boy scout whose penchant for picking his nose completes the image of a character cut from from Up! because they didn’t make the grade, and finally Foxy, a meter-maid who seems to be an amalgam of any number of female stars you can still name from the Blaxploitation era. While each one has certain skills and special attacks, regardless of the character you’re playing the core idea remains the same; fend off the incoming zombies using the melee attack and barricade the doors and windows with any number of traps, all the while searching for resources to make even more traps. These resources consist of wood obtained by smashing up objects and lug nuts from searching other items. Both of these can then be used to deploy each character’s special traps (although these must also be found as time goes on). Think of it as Home Alone, but with an endless stream of undead Joe Pesci’s trying to eat your brains.
Searching stuff is a key element of the game, as it’s also the means by which the player is able to finish a level. Hidden around each is the equipment needed to make a three piece amplified sound system, the playing of which via a Quicktime event causes all the zombies to explode. Quite why the music does this when it’s supposed to be the thing causing them to rise from the grave is anyone’s guess, but there you have it… don’t expect us to be able to reason away something that doesn’t have any.
There are a very few occasions when collecting these parts is swapped for killing 200 zombies to trigger the end of a level smart-bomb device, but by and large you’ll spend most of your time trying to scavenge. Which is a little odd when you first set out, because you’ll find it hard to believe that you need to look inside a small book, boxfile or pillowcase to find a full sized guitar or amplifier. Once you adjust to Dead Block’s crazy logic, by employing even a slight modicum of methodical searching, levels can actually be breezed through in next to no time.
And this is where the key problem with Dead Block lies, because it’s difficult to argue that 10 levels (consisting of just a few hours playtime) is scant content for the asking price, when the whole design of the game is riddled with a level of repetition that eventually grinds the player down and makes it feel much longer. In the first 30 minutes of play you’ve pretty much seen all the mechanics and charm that the game has to offer (aside from some power-ups which are pretty much variations on a theme).
The initially amusing stylings and animations of the characters, and the Pixar-esque designs, become a distant memory as you’re forced to carry out the same endless tasks to beat the level. This becomes even easier when you realise there’s another trick to winning. Playing as Jack is a no-no since he’s too slow – instead pick one of the other two (when they’re available) and simply let the AI guide Jack into smashing up everything in sight for wood and leaving you free to concentrate on the button mashing for zombie killing and searching. That is, when the AI doesn’t glitch and just stand there, doing nothing (including being ignored by the hoard of zombies stumbling around the room). Or, even worse, the game decides to lock up. This is something which this reviewer encountered several times, centered around skipping the slightly drawn out zombie death sequences once you complete a level. This forces a reset and having to do the level all again…
The repetitive nature of the game can’t even be broken up by the multiplayer portion, since there’s no online mode and the local split screen just makes things confusing since everything is jammed into a smaller screen space. With the single player completed in next to no-time there isn’t really much of a replay factor unless you’re chasing the limited number of Achievements / Trophies, or you’re invested in the leaderboards for some reason.
That Dead Block falls short is a real shame because underneath it all there’s a real charm and sense that it could have been a fun little title. It leaves a genuine feeling that development of the game was either rushed or cut short because, like a zombie stuck in a reinforced coffin, you can almost feel the potential moving beneath the surface trying to break free. While it isn’t downright broken or offensive, it’s still hard to justify Dead Block’s current price tag. If you’re still insistent on taking a look it would be best to try the demo, realise that it’s pretty much all the game has to offer and then decide if you’ve had your fill.