Review: Dead Block (XBLA)

Dead Block
Genre: Zombie Tower Defense
Publisher: Digital Reality
Developer: Candygun Games
Release Date: 07/13/11
Price: 800 MS Points ($10)


When I first saw a clip of this game I immediately became interested. I’ve been a fan of zombie related material for a long time, and remain so even through the current fad of adding zombies to everything. Dead Block looked different, the object was defense instead of just killing zombies, the art style looked like Team Fortress 2 (and who doesn’t like TF2?), and the presentation of the game looked more like an old cheesy horror movie.

Such a waste of potential.

Let’s begin with the story. It’s the 1950’s and the power of Rock and Roll has angered the dead and brought them back to life. You play the role of one of three survivors, a fat boyscout who we are supposed to believe somehow has survived this zombie apocalypse. The only way I can believe that is either the boy managed to eat his way through zombie hordes or somehow the zombies came from the future and have a fondness for the movie Up, since the boy looks like that character. The boyscout’s name is Mike Bacon, and I’m sad to see the name of bacon so disgraced. There’s the construction worker who looks more like he’s ready to burst into singing YMCA than fixing a roof, and finally Foxy Jones, a meter-maid straight out of 70’s blaxploitation movies despite the game being set in the 1950’s.

For the most part our three unlikely heroes have to search out parts for an electric guitar, because for some unexplained reason the same Rock and Roll that brought the dead back to life is also the key to killing them. Or something. Each chapter is prefaced with an introduction to the level with a cheesy announcer, but otherwise there’s not really a plot, character development or anything that might be even loosely considered a story.

As for modes, the game has two. Single player, where you get to try and fend off zombies solo though at times you will have all three characters at your disposal to switch between, or multiplayer, which is strictly a local multiplayer affair. The game is not much fun playing solo, but the fact that it was light on story and had multiple characters made me think that the game revolved more around multiplayer, so I was pretty shocked to see that the game did not support online multiplayer at all. Not that the game is much better with multiple players, I played with another person and the only benefit was the fact that I was able to share the suffering instead of bearing with it on my own.

Playing single player means playing occasionally with the computer AI of the game, which you do not want to do. It will stand there, sometimes running up against an object instead of around it, it will not move out of a room unless you manually take control of the character, and is about as useful as a third nipple. Co-op is really the way to go if you must play the game.

The lack of online multiplayer is only one of many odd design decision in Dead Block. The game is meant to be more of a tower-defense style of game, set in the third person perspective where you can lay down traps and board doors and windows shut in order to manage the flow of enemies while you search for the guitar pieces. You have to search through objects for guitar pieces, power ups and parts you need to build your traps. You destroy furniture to get more wood to board up doors and windows.

Interesting idea, but the way it is implemented is terrible. Breaking furniture requires mashing the B button. You will have to break a lot of furniture as sometimes breaking something will drop objects that you can search through and have crucial items inside of them. It doesn’t matter if you are the construction worker of the boyscout, both break furniture at the same rate, which gets even stranger when you upgrade the construction worker’s melee weapon to an axe. Why a fat child and a large man take the same amount of time to destroy a dresser is beyond me. Hell, the metermaid does more melee damage with her baton than the construction worker does with an axe, try figuring that one out.

Of course that’s not even the most confusing thing. You see every object give you wood and most furniture can be destroyed. Which means the toilet, the sink, the refrigerator, the stove, and so on all break down into wooden boards. A huge portion of the game is devoted to just running around and mashing the B button until everything has been reduced to wood, because as I said crucial items like the guitar pieces needed to finish a level can be hidden inside of a searchable item, which might be hidden inside of a chair or a metal workbench.

Searchable items are everywhere as well. They might be paintcans, cow skulls, pillows, cacti, toilet paper, or any number of things that you would never, ever expect to be able to hide a guitar or an amp into…because you know, the guitar is much larger than any of those things. Nothing about this game makes any sense, so why should this be expected to? Pressing A to search an item starts up a mini-game. You either mash the left and right triggers consecutively if it is a trap part, hold them to line up a tumbler if it is a character item, use the triggers to grab a coin, or watch a wheel spin with a guitar part and try to hit A at the right time.

Most of the time you aren’t mashing the B button to break furniture or laying traps, you will be playing one of these mini-games, most of which aren’t much fun the first time, and the 100th time you do one you will be wondering what bad karma you earned in a past life to deserve such torture.

Once you have worn down the B button and trigger buttons on your controller enough to have found each of the guitar parts in a level, you go to the spot in the level that triggers a little Guitar Hero inspired mini-game where you try and press the correct button on a track. Wash, rinse, repeat with a couple of different backgrounds, and you’ve got Dead Block. Sure, sometimes the game tries to mix it up a bit with the Zomb-O-Matic 9000, which changes the objective to killing a set amount of zombies. Of course this makes no sense either, a zombie killing machine requires you to kill hundreds of zombies…in order for it to kill zombies?

I don’t know about you, but if I bought a sandwich maker that told me I had to make a couple of sandwiches before it would make me a sandwich, I’d take it back to the store for a refund.

This objective does however highlight the zombie killing part of the game. The game gives you multiple ways of killing zombies. There’s the traps, each character has multiple traps that are unique to them and are probably the more enjoyable part of the game. Most of the traps do damage, or hamper enemies, though the best one is probably the one that makes them destroy furniture for you just so you can give the B button a break. Mostly they’re about controlling the groups of zombies so that you have time to smash furniture and search for items, so while they’re the most interesting part of the game, mostly you just quickly set them up and move on.

There are Jukeboxes which for some reason cause the zombies to dance. The zombies don’t dance as much as they just completely spaz out and hurt each other. There are special zombie types that are immune to the Jukeboxes. There are also some parts of the level that can help, like putting meat on a radiator shocks zombies that get close, and TV distracts them completely, though you have to locate an antenna for it.

Finally there’s Smart Bombs and melee. Each character has a ‘Smart Bomb’, which is only strange because not a single one of these special attacks is actually a bomb. The meter maid has a taser (from the future!), the construction worker has a nailgun, and the boyscout has rotten burgers. There are also upgrades around for each of these. These work fine for if you are in a tough spot, and they have a cooldown timer to prevent it from being used too often.

The way you will likely end up killing most of the zombies is melee attacks. This is also probably the worst part of the game. Using the right button you swing a characters melee weapon, though it feels clumsy and inaccurate. Getting close to zombies put you right in the reach of getting hit by them as well, so running up to a group of zombies is like running into a moshpit with flip-flops while everyone else is wearing steel toed boots. The only way to really succeed is to run up, smack then a few times, move out of the way, and run up again.

The levels that require a certain number of zombie deaths really highlight exactly how tedious it is to kill zombies in Dead Block. You use traps to slow down the influx of zombies, then you set to work running in, hitting, moving, repeat. Occasionally you have to search for more trap parts to keep them working or wood to keep spots blocked. Then you go right back into boring task of smacking zombies.

Graphically the art style fails to be impressive. The animations are rough, especially the melee and furniture destroying animations. Hitting an object will change it to a more damaged version of the object before it gets destroyed, but it doesn’t do so in any realistic way, it’s more like every time you smack it you’re clicking forward on a slideshow instead of actually breaking it. There’s character model clipping through solid objects like walls and doors. I ran into a suitcase and somehow kicked it right through a wall. The levels change but many of the objects you search through and break stay the same. Whatever town this is in sure does love cow skulls, they’ve got them in their houses, schools, restaurants, and everywhere else.

You’d think at least that a game that has such a focus on music, and even brags about having the band Vampire State Building do the music for the game on the title screen, would have a wider selection of music. I might be wrong, but I think I only heard like three different tracks the whole game. After hearing it over and over, I’m no longer surprised that the dead rose to try and shut it off.

Considering the amount of repetition in both objectives and gameplay, I can’t imagine a reason for playing this game more than once. If someone actually found this fun I can see them getting more play time out of it if the game had online multiplayer, but limited to online co-op means that you’d have to find someone local who could tolerate playing the game.

The Scores
Story: Awful
Graphics: Bad
Sound: Bad
Control and Gameplay: Awful
Replayability: Worthless
Balance: Poor
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Bad
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Worthless
FINAL SCORE: BAD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:

While I admire some of the ideas at work at the core of the game, playing the game is a painfully boring experience. Dead Block reduces a zombie apocalypse to button mashing, constant mini-games, sloppy combat and playing hide and seek with guitar parts. It’s just not fun.

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