September 17, 2011 25 Comments
You. The dork reading this. No, I’m not talking about someone else. I’m talking to you. For real. This is not a joke. I’m personally addressing you. Do I have your attention? Okay, good. Now this is going to be a bit shocking to read, but I think you need to pay close attention.
You’re going to die.
In the event of a zombie apocalypse, you’re not going to come out of it alive. You’re not going to be the last human standing among your circle of friends. There’s not going to be a tearful moment where your parents get zombified and you have to kill them. You’re not going to lead a rag-tag group of survivors through the burning streets of whatever city you live in. Not happening. You’re going to be zombie chow. You’re not even going to make it very long into the apocalypse. If a film was made about the outbreak, you’re going to be one of the nameless dudes eaten in the opening scene while the real heroes get their shit together.
No, stop! Do not reply to this review with a detailed explanation on what makes you different from everyone else reading this. You’re not. You’re dead meat. Nothing you’ve done in life has given you the abilities you will need to survive a zombie apocalypse. If the outbreak actually begins and you see a zombie, your last moments alive will be spent with tears streaming down your face and a puddle of piss collecting around your shoes. Unless you’re a decorated combatant or police officer or fireman or someone with actual survival abilities, you’re fucking screwed.
Now, now, don’t be dejected big guy. I’m going to be just as dead as you are. But at least I’m self-aware of that. If the zombie apocalypse ever begins, I’m only going to last as long as it takes for me to get the handgun I keep in my nightstand, load it, and fire it into my skull. Actually, since in my hypothetical zombie scenario I picture my neighbors Carl and Mandy getting zombified by this point, I might walk over to their house and blow my brains out in front of them. They always made the best apple pies on the 4th of July and letting the zombie-thems feast on my corpse is the least I can do to show them how much I appreciated it.
For the majority of you, this delusion that you actually could survive a zombie apocalypse comes from your experience playing video games. Ha. Yea, I’m sure playing Dead Island has really given you a leg up on the rest of humanity. No offense, but zombie video games prepare you for surviving Armageddon about as much as playing Bingo prepares you for winning the lottery. It’s just not reality, people. So just play these for the fanciful digital distractions that they are. If you want an actual crash course on surviving Dawn of the Dead: The Real Thing, join the army or something.
Okay, Dead Pixels. It’s a side-scrolling retro game where you shoot zombies and NOT a documentary on how to survive the zombie apocalypse. The first clue to that should be the fact that there are stores right in the middle of Zombiepalooza that have the nerve to charge you money for guns and ammo. If I’m a shop owner and someone has actually survived long enough to make it to my store, I’m not going to ask them for money. I’m going to toss them all the ammunition I have and hope like hell they take me with them as something other than bait.
In all seriousness, Dead Pixels is fucking awesome. This is not only one of the best zombie games on the marketplace, but one of the best games period. The potential for disaster was huge here. When I saw the trailer for it, I told Brian “oh great, another samey zombie shooter. Ooooh lookie, it has River City Ransom style graphics. I’m sure that means it won’t be a total piece of shit.” Which proves one thing: I suck at prophecy as much as Nostradamus did.
Dead Pixels does look like a really good 80s style Technos game, but instead of trying to look just like a title from that era and nothing more, it actually dolls up the presentation with modern effects like a Grindhouse-style grain filter and an awesome sound track. The end result is a game that oozes with more style than most big-budget mainstream titles do. I usually try to avoid praising presentation if I can, but here it really does deserve mention. And if you hate the grain filters, you can turn them off. It’s astonishing that a console title can be $1 and look this good.
Even more remarkable is how deep the gameplay is. At its core, Dead Pixels is just a just a wave shooter. A cluster of zombies come at you. You kill them with a couple of shots, collect whatever coins they drop, and move on. But where it really surprised me is the moments where you’re not fighting zombies. There’s a very rich inventory and shop system where you buy and sell items looted from empty buildings (or any extra guns you don’t need) and stock up on ammo or various other goodies you need. Unlike other games of this style, not only do you have a limited amount of bullets, but so do the shops that sell them to you. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. At first I thought this would negate the fun of the game, but instead it greatly adds to it. It’s such a smart design, and it’s so well implemented.
Another design that I initially had penciled in as a dick move was getting weighed down by carrying too many items, leaving your dude moving at a snail’s pace. Again, it sounded stupid, and I felt like an idiot when I started crawling along at a speed of about one centimeter per second thinking “well fuck, there’s gotta be a store somewhere around here that I can unload this shit at” and taking roughly an hour to get to the next one. But you know what? I realized that if that wasn’t in the game and there was nothing else to manage, it would get boring really quick. So yet another high-risk design choice that paid off, and the game never did get boring.
And then I found co-op, and it was even better, in more ways than one. Not only is co-op every bit as crazy fun as the single-player, but I discovered that Dead Pixels has randomly generated maps. Granted, it doesn’t make a huge difference since most of the streets look the same, but the stores having different weapons at different prices does add a nice touch. Also nice is the fact that you can purchase upgradable stats that actually result in a noticeable difference. In lots of games, like Castle Crashers for example, your attributes tick up so gradually that you can’t even tell you’ve changed at all. There’s none of that here. When you buy an upgrade, you feel it’s power immediately.
It is nothing short of amazing that I could like this game as much as I did. I hate upgradable stats in anything but RPGs or Metroidvanias. I hate having limited ammo in wave shooters. I hate games that punish you for wanting to collect as much stuff as possible. Dead Pixels has all three of these. Not only did the developer manage to work them into the game in a fun way, but it actually wouldn’t be anywhere near as entertaining without them. Bravo, CSR Studios.
I do have to keep it real and so I have one complaint, but it’s a pretty significant one: the slowdown on the final stage. No, I wasn’t weighed down with equipment. Instead, the processor was weighed down with about a gillion zombies and I was using the flame thrower on them. The framerate started chugging like it was last call. Later, I played the game co-op and we really, really came close to making my Xbox explode. So close that I’m sure two players using the right combination of weapons and having the right combination of enemies on-screen could likely cause a full-fledged system freeze.
And in some circumstances it might not be avoidable. The last stage is one of those huge clusterfuck type of finales that games always throw at you in a half-assed attempt to feel climatic. Only here, it actually did feel climatic. I mean what else could they do? It’s a fucking zombie game. One thing that did feel a bit silly was the inclusion of a kind of, sort of last boss. It was a zombie that looked like it was wearing the official football uniform of GLAAD. It was dumb looking. And it wasn’t hard to kill. The military dudes who puked acid on me earlier in the game did more damage to me than the boss zombie did, which is none at all. And why would there be a boss zombie? It’s just as dumb as the Borg having a queen, but that’s a rant for another time.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised a few times on Indie Gamer Chick. It’s funny how the two games at the top of my leaderboard (LaserCat and the soon-to-be-inducted Chester) were games that I had low expectations for. Well now you can add a third title to that list, because Dead Pixels, much to the chagrin of the poor folks at BBG Games, is now slated for that #1 spot when the Leaderboard updates on October 1st. If there’s any justice in this world, it will rise to the top of the sales charts and be one of those rare Xbox Live Indie Games to shatter the glass ceiling and make its way into mainstream gaming circles. And I’m not just saying that because they’re promising DLC if it meets certain sales expectations. Dead Pixels was an absolute blast from start to finish and the best value a single dollar has ever given me in gaming.
And I thought it was going to be shit. Shows what I know.
Update: Dead Pixels has had content added to it. You can read about it here.
80 Microsoft Points think Sony is going to sue CSR Studios because, as anyone who ever bought a PSP knows, they have the market cornered when it comes to dead pixels in the making of this review.