Developer: Iggy Zuk and Gonzossm
Publisher: Meridian4 & Headup Games
Video games and zombies, sitting in a tree. S.T.A.G.N.A.T.I.N.G. Our love affair with the necromantic hordes has lasted far too long in my humble opinion, though it's easy to understand their appeal from a developmental standpoint. Why fight for a USP when you can line up a ready-made target audience? Why spend ages coding advanced artificial intelligence when you can record a few moaning sound samples and knock off early instead? The marketplace creaks and groans under the weight of innumerable lazy knock-offs, perpetrated by the biggest publishers and the smallest bedroom coders.
But excuse my jaded ramblings, because I've done the undead a disservice. And a pretentious one at that. Zombie shooters can be great, hectic fun when done properly. With shotguns in hand, brains flying everywhere and your back to the wall, there's nothing stopping a studio with a few good ideas from making a cracking title.
Deadly 30 is a fine example of a zombie game done right, and better yet, it will only set you back £3.49.
The basics are breathtakingly familiar. As a World War II soldier marooned deep within zombie-infested territory, you'll have to defend yourself from increasingly powerful nocturnal onslaughts for thirty deadly nights. In gameplay terms, this means a two-dimensional platformer with WASD controls and a mouse-controlled reticule. Zombies advance. You shoot at them. They die for the second time. Reload.
Your safehouse is far from safe, but can be upgraded by acquiring scrap metal to build defensive barricades and restore a staggeringly useful generator. This base of operations provides a place to buy new armaments, ammunition and first aid kits - it's functional and frantic, but again, so far, so trite.
The vast majority of zombie shooters simply stop here and call it a day. But instead of relying on this basic framework as the be-all and end-all of its gameplay experience, Deadly 30 uses it as a foundation.
As mentioned, zombies only attack at night - giving you the daylight hours to explore your surroundings, scavenge for scrap metal and access a surprising number of varied environments. Your daytime forays grant you access to resources you'll desperately need over the increasingly tense month of murder, but stray too far and you'll be caught short by the setting sun. Risk and reward go hand in hand, compelling you to stay out as long as possible, occasionally having to madly dash back to your home base through crowds of zombies, ammo dangerously low, Other games (such as The Lost Town: The Dust and Dillon's Rolling Western) have utilised this mechanic, but it's rarely felt so tense and urgent.
And when night settles, Deadly 30's light mechanics come into play. Your torch is the one of the only available sources of light in the pitch blackness, meaning that you'll constantly have to scan your perimeter to avoid zombies sneaking up on you in the darkness. It's a nice touch, and facilitates the occasional accidental jump scare.
Other AI survivors can also be recruited and outfitted with their own weapons. It's annoying that you can't use their weapons yourself, but I'm willing to take any help I can get.
Despite all that, though, Deadly 30 is still a hard and nasty little shooter at its core. And the emphasis is on'hard.' Limited resources and some horrendously cheap zombie variants ramp up the difficulty around night 4, with early-game decisions and upgrades sometimes radically affecting your mid-game survival chances. Many players will tire of the experience quickly and move onto pastures new (or similar $1/free-to-play flash games), but patient gamers who are willing to learn from their mistakes and play the same recursive experience several times will be in their element.
Indeed, surviving for the full 30 days will tax the diehard to their limits... and they'll love every minute of it.
Deadly 30 is incredibly cheap - £3.49 at launch - and it's therefore unrealistic to expect a huge amount in terms of raw graphics output. The hand-drawn visuals are expressive despite their ugly simplicity, featuring some slight caricaturisation that's often reminiscent of the Metal Slug series. However, I was surprised to discover that running in fullscreen resolutions can lead to serious slowdown during pitched battles - if you want a guaranteed frame rate, you're best sticking to the windowed mode.
- Tense balance of exploration and desperate defence
- Effective use of darkness
- Great price, good value
- Repetitive, frequently cheap, thrives on patient recursion
- Ugly (though expressive) art design
- Patchy performance in fullscreen mode
The Short Version: Deadly 30 is another zombie shooter, but not 'just another' one. Some nifty gameplay features, a recursive campaign and tough challenge make this a seriously hardcore proposition that patient zombie fans will lap up.