Giant Bomb Review

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Dead Block Review

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  • XBGS

Dead Block is dead boring.

In the opening minutes of Dead Block, you may find yourself intrigued. It presents a style that simultaneously pays reverence to the classic schlocky horror of the 1950s, Team Fortress 2, and, for some reason, rockabilly. Its gameplay appears an interesting mix of tower defense, third-person action, and assorted minigames. Its notion of a zombie game that's more about strategy and survival than producing buckets of button-mashy gore sounds like a good one. And as it goes along, you keep waiting for it to evolve past those early inklings of promise. And you wait. And wait. And wait some more.

Clearly, he's got the right tool for the job, if you know what I mean. (I mean sex.)
Clearly, he's got the right tool for the job, if you know what I mean. (I mean sex.)

It never happens. For the entirety of its couple-of-hours-long campaign, Dead Block refuses to evolve past its initial impression. It is a game in which you do the exact same thing over and over and over for a handful of levels. You gain new items, you equip new weapons, and you fight new enemies. But the fundamental nature of the game remains staunchly constant: You break stuff, you build zombie traps, and you item hunt. You keep doing this until the game is over, or you have had your fill. Odds are, you'll have your fill very quickly.

In the game, you are presented with three playable characters: The construction worker from the Village People, the fat kid from Up, and Foxy Brown in a crossing guard uniform. Each character has their own particular strengths and weaknesses when it comes to searching for things, destroying objects, and fighting off zombie hordes. They also have their own unique traps they can set for zombies, ranging from a precariously placed nuclear bomb to a bucket of human excrement that hurts zombies for some reason.

You can fight the zombies in Dead Block, but that's not really the point, and that's good, because the combat is clunky and terrible. Rather, you're meant to find all the various points of entry that zombies might use to infiltrate whatever base of operations you're in, and stop them using blockades and traps. You gain the materials needed to build these traps by destroying furniture and other objects throughout the environment, and searching through boxes, packages, cases, and globes for other useful items.

You can also get wood for blockades by breaking toilets, but perhaps it's best if we just leave that one alone. Anyway, once you collect enough resources, you can plop a blockade or a trap down in any windowsill or door frame. The strategy is in trying to manage the waves of zombies breaking through. A few at a time is fairly manageable, but the more that pour in, the more hectic things tend to get. If you plan poorly, you'll have a whole horde of undead backing you into a corner. If you plot correctly, you'll be able to rummage through the various credenzas and cacti that hold the items which you seek with only minimal molestation.

What are you looking for besides resources, you ask? Oddly enough, guitar equipment. Someone on Dead Block's design team has a real hard-on for rockabilly, it seems. Apart from a soundtrack by Danish rockabilly act Vampyre State Building (whose same two songs play at the outset and outro of every level), the game uses the central conceit of Mars Attacks! that music will kill invading interlopers. Here, rock-and-roll guitar played at full volume is all you need to explode some zombie heads. In order to make that happen, you have to find a guitar, an amp, and a speaker. These are hidden throughout each level, sometimes in suitcases, sometimes in cow skulls. Again, don't ask.

Some of the methods of zombie death provide minor amusement, but you run out of new methods pretty quick.
Some of the methods of zombie death provide minor amusement, but you run out of new methods pretty quick.

Where Dead Block ultimately falls apart is in its refusal to evolve these tasks. Every stage is a foregone conclusion. You know that any nearby window will allow zombies in. You know what to break and what to search through. Almost immediately, the game begins recycling these concepts to the point of abject tedium. You'll hammer on the B button so many times while bustin' chifforobes that it may require replacement following the end of the game. The minigames inserted to try and add some "game" to the process of perpetual item-hunting are merely dull variations on "how fast can you press the trigger buttons in succession?" and "can you time this A button press correctly?" This never becomes more complicated, nor more interesting. You repeat the same meager set of actions ceaselessly until the game simply stops throwing more levels at you.

And that's after just a couple of hours. There are some multiplayer co-op levels, but you can't play them online. With so little content to speak of, and only early fits of charm to mask the overwhelmingly monotonous mechanics, Dead Block feels like a weird product of a bygone era. It's as if it was plucked from the earliest days of downloadable gaming, back when digital games often relied more on single-minded gimmicks than the fully fleshed-out concepts of late, and $10 seemed like such a great deal for any game you could play with buttons on a console. That era has long since passed us by, and we're better for it. Pass on Dead Block, and you'll be better for it, too.

Alex Navarro on Google+