Just a gamer looking for some games off the more well beaten path. Thomas Was Alone is one of my favourite games of the year which I bought on Desura before it reached the heady heights of Steam, so I figure Desura might be a good place to start exploring. I'm mostly a Web guy, however, I've been toying with the idea of picking up Unity for a while. Maybe some of the games/people on here will finally give me the inspirational kick in the pants to get me going.

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Dead Pixels

jimothyjim Blog

The Overview
Dead Pixels
is actually a game I picked up in one of the indie style bundles. I forget which bundle it was (Indie Royale at a guess) but it was actually the reason I ever signed up for Desura. Using that as an estimate, it's taken me 7 months to get around trying this game which embarrassingly isn't too bad for me. The current price is around 2 pounds, so even outside of bundles its a very reasonable price.

I'll do my best to give you a quick overview before I get to the actual review part. The game plays like a 2d side-scrolling shooter, with some additional survival RPG elements. You have 20 (30 on higher difficulties) procedurally generated streets/screens full of zombies until you reach salvation and you win. Ammo is limited, so at least in the early game where you're strapped for resources, it's a good idea to avoid as many zombies as you can safely ignore. Whilst they drop coins on death, retro arcade style, those coins will disappear after a few seconds and they can be hard to reach as surviving zombies will almost certainly be getting in your way. These coins are used at traders for ammo, weapons and upgrades. Alternatively you can raid houses along the way to find these items for free, which you can keep for your own use or sell to a trader for additional coins. The upgrade system has a handful of trait such as luck, bargaining skill and weapon skill, all of which can be leveled up to 5 using cash.

One more thing I'll get out the way right now, I played this using an xbox 360 controller. I tested it with the keyboard and mouse controls, and I can report that they seem fine, but the gamepad is much more comfortable for me and the controller vibration makes the weapon fire a lot more satisfying.

The meat and potatoes
Hopefully you'll have a decent understanding of the basics now, I so I can get a bit more in-depth. The first playthrough was super fun for me. At the start you have a pretty 'meh' character and you'll have almost nothing to your name. By the time you've done the first half of the game, you'll have found some better weapons and you'll probably be pretty wealthy if you're hitting every raidable house along the way. This point of the game is probably the hardest though, as there's often too many enemies to dodge effectively, and most of these enemies will be stronger than earlier on. You'll be looking to carve out a safe path or trying and maneuver them into one large group you can sneak past. The enemy AI is pretty basic so with a bit of practice you can herd them very effectively. It's not uncommon for a zombie to infinitely run into a bench as it tries to reach you. Towards the last streets you should be blitzing everything in your path. After the earlier struggles, tickling your enemies with a low quality shotgun, this is super satisfying and easily the highlight of the game. You can still get yourself cornered and killed but for the most part you'll be the badass and the zombies will be the cannon fodder. At this point I was at around a 9 on the happy scale and was prepared to write the nicest review ever written.

It's a bad day to be a zombie Herd

It's a bad day to be a zombie herd

Unfortunately, on later play throughs, it's hard to recreate that first high. You already know what it's like to be the hero at the end of the game, and it feel a bit slow having to go back to only the most basic of weapons. The repetitive nature of the game is probably starting to become noticeable too, as you're fighting the same enemies, the same way and although the levels are freshened up a bit, it's a very similar experience. Despite this, I continued to have fun and I've probably played for around 7-8 hours at this point. I'm actually still having a good time with it, but I can't seem to quite capture the buzz from my first play through. This is of course true of many games, but the first play through was probably close to 90 minutes, maybe 2 hours, with the last half an hour or so being the height of the experience. I'd have liked to have had slightly longer "in the zone", although it's also possible the novelty would have simply worn off.

The trading mechanics are pretty simple. Different shops seem to offer different prices, but it's not feasible to go backtracking to another shop, not to mention they all have limited stock. Resource management is pretty much a non issue on normal so it's not noticeable, but if you play through on harder difficulties it might be worth paying a bit more attention. Your strength trait controls the amount you can carry before being encumbered, so even on normal you will have to chose which items to hold onto and which ones to toss to the side. This is much more of an issue on hard or above where I found fewer traders and was unable to offload my bounty quite as much.

There also seems to be quite a few trash finds, ironically classed as "valuables". A few shops might pay extra for a specific wanted item but really the different objects mean nothing. It would have been more interesting if I could, for example, eat a can of "mystery meat" and get between 1-3 hp back, or use lengths of rope as a limited use lasso to instantly stop a zombie in it's tracks, but in reality there's nothing to do with them except dump them at the shop for some coins. They certainly serve a purpose as cash flow, but unless I'm missing something big, they could have been used a bit more inventively.

A sampling of "valuables"

To add a little more variety back into the game, there are actually another 2 game modes. One of these makes you reach the end of 15 streets, and then go back again to win. Any houses you raid or shop items you bought on the way are persistent, so it's an interesting compromise between what you want right now and what you'll want to leave yourself for later on. The other mode is a fairly typical wave based survival mode. I'm sure we're all familiar with the mechanics in survival, and you can try to chase high scores if you want. These high scores seem to be local only though, so you'll have to compete with yourself. With both of these modes, the gameplay will still be very similar to the original Dead Pixels mode. It's more of a custom ruleset than a new experience. One thing that would probably add a new level of fun back into the game for me is the coop mode, however this too is local only and I haven't tested it out.
I didn't feel strongly about any of these things on their own, but the graphics, soundtrack and sounds are all perfectly competent. If you like retro style games then they will be a definite positive for you, but personally I've never been one for bit game nostalgia. They certainly make the game a cohesive experience and whilst not consciously registering as anything special to me, I'm sure they subconsciously played their part in making this a great experience.

The Summary
My final rating of this game is an 8.5. It was almost a 9 but I couldn't help but feel it could have gone a tiny bit farther with the items, and even with the game modes it's mostly just "more of the same". Fortunately, that more of the same can still be a lot of fun if you're willing to take the time to work your way back up to the better weapons. I'm not a fan of retro games, and I'm feeling very burnt out on zombies, so for it to have still won me over is a testament to the game. The final product certainly seems greater than the sum of it's parts, and while I can't put my finger on exactly why, it was thoroughly enjoyable. The value for money here is also quite high for those of us on a budget, and had I paid 2 pounds for it rather than acquiring it in a bundle, I would still have been pleased with the pricing.



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