Dead Effect Steam Early Access Impressions

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Porting a first-person shooter from mobile devices to the far more sophisticated PC gaming environment might sound like a disaster waiting to happen, but in the case of Dead Effect, first released last year for iOS and Android, the results are surprisingly solid with plenty of potential still to maximize as the game continues to grow through Steam Early Access.

Dead Effect is a sci-fi horror FPS that plays like a small-budget fusion of Doom 3, Dead Space, and System Shock. The game begins with your character waking up from cryogenic sleep aboard a spaceship overrun by zombies. Yes, this is another zombie game. There are a lot of them and this game doesn’t bring anything original to the formula, but it is a fun and atmospheric experience nonetheless. The current Early Access build contains three story missions out of the dozen or so the full campaign will feature once complete, which equates to roughly an hour of play time, give or take depending on how much extra time you put in to find the secret orbs and tablets hidden in each level. During that time, you will explore the dark, linear corridors of the space craft while fending off aggressive packs of zombies, searching lockers for ammo, money and messages left behind by crew members which flesh out the backstory, and occasionally flipping switches to unlock doors or activate power to a nearby elevator.

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The game’s pacing is very methodical compared to the run-and-gun mentality behind most modern shooters. Ammo isn’t scarce, but it is limited to the point that there is pressure to make every shot count and use every weapon at your disposal to maintain a balanced supply. Not going for headshots or wasting grenades will quickly lead to becoming overwhelmed by the zombie horde. If you don’t quickly thin the herd, you will be left with very little room to maneuver in the spaceship’s cramped hallways and rooms. Tension is heightened even further by the slow reload speed many of the weapons have, especially shotguns and revolvers which are reloaded one bullet/shell at a time. The reload animations do need to be balanced a little better so they aren’t quite so sluggish, but I like the general idea behind having more realistic reload speeds so there is that extra level of anxiety, as well as the added strategy of having to space out shots and find opportune moments to reload even with rounds still in the clip.

In addition to the preliminary story missions, the Early Access build currently contains four missions each in Survival and Biohazard side modes. Survival mode involves killing endless waves of zombies and surviving all the way to the end of a three minute time limit to post a high score. Biohazard, on the other hand, is a wave-based survival mode in which you must battle through four waves of increasing difficulty. Overall progress in the story missions and the survival modes is unified by the Meridian Armory. Throughout all modes, credits and gold bars are accrued to be spent on unlocking new weapons, buying weapon upgrades (damage, clip capacity, accuracy, etc) and restocking ammo between missions as needed. After the first mission, random enemy loot drops provide the opportunity for more currency intake as well as the rare chance to find weapon patents which automatically unlock new guns without first needing to be purchased. Even with only three campaign chapters, the game already has New Game+ implemented so you can replay at higher difficulties with all currency, unlocks and upgrades carried over.

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Visually, the game showcases atmospheric effects and texture detail far superior to anything possible on an iOS or Android device. However, Dead Effect‘s mobile origins as well as its in-development state are readily apparent in other areas. While not a detraction from the experience, elements of the interface are presented with interaction icons/prompts to “tap” a particular button as if the game were still being played on a touch screen. Of greater significance, fundamental FPS mechanics like sprint, jump and melee are nowhere to be found, and their absence is noticeable as there are plenty of times when you will instinctively reach for the keys typically associated with those actions in other shooters only to find that they don’t do anything. Little touches like gun sway and more varied enemy hit reactions would help an awful lot as well, though I will say that, like Doom, this game’s shotgun is one satisfying boomstick to blow through creatures of the undead with. Headshots will decapitate zombies with a gruesome sound of splattering blood and ripping flesh, but it would also be nice to be able to dismember individual limbs or at least see some other form of body damage.

Weapon switching is another area that needs to be addressed. Now that so many more buttons are available, the game should allow specific weapons to be hotkeyed to number keys for quicker swapping. As it stands, the mouse wheel is the only input for changing weapons, which is fine when you only have two guns, but once you have a full arsenal (one primary, one secondary, a stungun, and an explosive) getting to the gun you need while a horde of zombies is all up in your grill feels cumbersome.

For a game that began life on mobile devices, is still early in development by a small five-man studio, and only costs $4.99, Dead Effect is a pretty impressive effort. Rough edges still need to be smoothed out and numerous features and mechanics still need to be integrated, but what’s here already warrants attention and support from any gamer with an affinity for zombie shooters. With enough Early Access success, the developers even hope to add PvP multiplayer as well as players vs. zombies co-op by the time the full game launches in Q3 2014.

Disclosure: A free Steam key for Dead Effect was provided to VGBlogger.com for preview by the game’s developer.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!