A deep and satisfying zombie shooter, with a few rough edges
Nation Red is a zombie-themed arcade shooter that bears a striking resemblance to Crimsonland, as well as to slower-paced games like Robotron 2084. I bought this game during a sale for a few dollars, figuring that it'd give me an hour or two of entertainment before I never touched it again, but I ended up being quite wrong with that assumption. For all its accessibility (and short average game length), Nation Red is a more engaging and deeper experience than a quick glance might lead you to believe.
Most of Nation Red's replay value comes from a host of different game modes. Aside from a short and story-free campaign mode with varying objectives, there's also a barricade mode, which requires you to stop zombies from breaking through a series of barriers, a free play mode, and survival. All of these are playable in 2-player co-op (almost required to succeed at the higher levels), and online leaderboards provide motivation to keep playing, even if it is just bragging rights in the end.
Where Nation Red stands apart from any number of Robotron clones is in its the breadth of its pickups and perks. Aside from your standard arsenal of weapons with strengths and weaknesses (such as fast fire rate vs. low damage, or high damage vs. slow reload speed), as well as a few power-ups, there is an experience point system which allows the player to improve certain statistics, like accuracy, or gain new abilities, as the round goes on. Some of these are as basic (but crucial) as regenerating health, while others enhance the effects of various randomly-dropped power-ups. It's easy to dismiss the game as repetitive and shallow, until you realise just how much effort it takes to survive past the first few minutes of gameplay, and choosing the right perk, weapon and so on at the right moment can mean the difference between life and death - all of which can happen in a matter of seconds, as Nation Red is extremely fast and difficult.
If there is a major downside to Nation Red, it comes in its graphics and interface. It is not a pretty game at all, with brown and grey visuals, generic models for zombies, and only about two or three different levels to play in. Additionally, the menus can be a bit confusing, as it's sometimes unclear whether an option is a button that will take you to a new screen, or a toggle switch. Feedback for being hit could also be substantially improved, as it can be extremely easy to die unless you pay very close attention to your health bar. I also ran into an issue where my Xbox 360 controller was enabled by default, with no obvious or clear way to switch to mouse and keyboard right from the beginning (I did find the option, but it was a little buried). The sound effects and music get the job done, with bass-heavy explosions, punchy weapon shots and so forth heard clearly over the catchy-but-generic rock/metal soundtrack.
It's hard to recommend Nation Red as a game worth its $10 asking price, but if you can pick it up on Steam when it's on sale, then it makes a fun diversion for when something story-heavy or casual just doesn't fit your mood. The aforementioned leaderboards are all good incentive to keep shooting for high scores, and the achievements inclided are numerous and surprisingly nefarious - you really have to work for them, especially as most require you to impose limitations on your own play style. Additionally, a steady stream of updates means the game will likely be expanded upon for some time to come, with 4-player co-op and new stages reportedly in the works as of this writing. If your trigger finger is itchy and you find other games a bit slow for your liking, Nation Red might be what you're looking for.