Inside Pulse 12

Review: Dead Effect (PC)

Dead Effect
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer: Dykast Lubomir
Publisher: Dykast Lubomir
Release Date: 12/17/14

When a game is released at a budget-minded price, certain concessions should be extended to it; a game that launches at $60 should be held to a much higher standard than a game that launches at $10, because the cost is higher and the game should deliver at a level relative to that cost. Not to say that there isn’t any expectation of quality, but rather that the expectation is different; no one expects Halo 5 for $10, but it’s entirely fair to expect Painkiller or Serious Sam levels of quality for that price, as those are both awesome games, even if they’re not quite at the same level. This is important, because Dead Effect isn’t meant to be considered on the same level as something that released at the $60 price point; as an $8 Steam release, it promises lots of zombies (iiiiiiinnnnn spaaaaaaaacccceeee), lots of weapons, and lots of violence, nothing more. It doesn’t need to be a narrative or technical achievement on the level of a Call of Duty or a Halo so long as it delivers on those promises and is also good. It’s with those clarifications in mind that the following statement is made: even with its $8 price tag, Dead Effect is a derivative disappointment, as it can’t shake the trappings of its origin as a mobile phone game, and lacks in originality or, in some cases, proper design decisions. Taken on its base components, there’s the hint of something fun here, but taken as a whole, all of its positives drown, and the end result is basically just there, and in many cases, not very pleasant.

The gist of the plot, such as it is, is that you’re a super soldier, awoken during a massive viral outbreak on the spaceship you’re travelling in, and you’re one of the very few people still in control of their faculties at the moment. The people around you have succumbed to a viral infection, and have more or less become “zombies,” though they’re at least slightly capable of basic human function (or some of them are anyway). You’re tipped off as to what’s going on by a scientist of something approaching Germanic origin, who tasks you to perform various functions around the ship, which start with “cure your own infection” and escalate in severity from there. The plot, on its own merit, is quite by-the-book, as it’s a whole lot of “go here, do this, save humanity,” and it’s fine if nothing special, though the dialogue is often bland and uninspired, and does nothing to help the plot along. There are a couple different game modes to carry things along, at least; aside from the core Story mode, you’re also offered a New Game Plus option should you complete it, a Missions option that allows you to replay stages you’ve completed for cash prizes, a Survival mode that tasks you to live for a set time against infinite enemies, and a Biohazard mode that’s essentially Horde mode against waves of enemies, also for cash prizes. The game is entirely single player, sadly, but you’ll find that from a variety standpoint, even if the modes are mechanically similar, there’s just enough here to offer diversity, at least.

Visually, Dead Effect looks fine enough; the environments are appropriately sci-fi, if repetitive, and the character model components of the player are fairly high resolution. The zombies look acceptable and animate fine, though they’re fairly repetitive; unlike something like Doom, where enemy appearance denotes function and is therefore important, most of the enemies in Dead Effect are cannon fodder, and even so there are only about four or five models to go around. Special zombies only have a couple models, and those are basically used constantly, so you at least know what a zombie does based on appearance, but compared to, say, Left 4 Dead, the generic zombie hoard is much more obviously repeated, regardless of appearance. Aurally, the game sounds okay enough; the background music fits the tone of the game fine for what it is, though you’re almost certainly not going to think of it when you’re not playing, and the sound effects are generally acceptable, if repetitive as well. The voice work, however, is the lone standing negative against the audio package, because it is terrible, no matter what’s going on. The main characters feature some stilted, boring dialogue delivery that occasionally cuts off too fast and frequently sounds dead inside, and the doctor who guides you through the game sounds like he vants to pump you up, because that’s where we are with bad Germanic accents in 2015. It’s occasionally laughably bad, but is mostly just embarrassing, and it’s just not anything good at all.

As Dead Effect is an FPS, you’ll have a decent idea of how to play: WASD moves you around, the mouse aims, the left button shoots and the right button kicks in zoom functions. You can also play with a controller, which I actually recommend, because the mouse movement is floaty and it takes entirely too long to get it adjusted, but even then the controls aren’t great. The keyboard and mouse controls take a bit of adjusting to really work with, and there are a decent amount of keybindings to remember, which makes it awkward to remember everything you’ll be working with, even if you set it up perfectly. Gamepad play is easier mechanically, but you’ll have to go back to the mouse at times, because the game is less “controller friendly” and more “able to read controller maps in anything but menus,” so you’ll end up using the mouse for any menu interaction you perform. It’s a very odd situation, and the end result is that neither control scheme feels right in the strictest sense, which ends up being something of a trend as you go through the game.

In terms of play mechanics, the game is essentially your standard FPS with some novelties thrown in, all of which you’ve seen before. The core mechanics are genre standard: you move around looking for objectives, zombies appear, you shoot them in the head, man. The game has many of the standard mechanics, including strafing and crouching (but oddly, no jumping), though you’re also given a dash strafe by double-tapping a direction and a 180 degree turn at the press of a button if you need them. The first really special mechanic is that you’re given a smart bomb of sorts that charges over time; at the press of a button, you spend a second or so charging it up, then detonate it to kill everything around you (except for bosses), which is good in large groups or when you need a breather. The second special mechanic comes up a couple stages in, as you’re infected with a version of the zombie virus but manage to cure it; this leaves you with the latent ability to slow down time perception, which the game dubs bullet time, allowing you some rapid response time when needed to fight off enemies. The third special system involves collectibles; you can collect cash and gold bars during missions, as well as weapon power-ups and even new weapons from killing enemies. Cash and gold can be used to buy upgrades and new weapons, in addition to the ones you can find as drops, so you can upgrade your favorite weapons or simply buy all new gear if you wish, which is another leftover from the game’s mobile phone days, though you can’t buy gold and cash directly, at least.

The game can be completed in around four hours, though collectibles in the stages can give you some motivation to complete the game a second or third time, as can the New Game Plus functionality if you want to own and upgrade every possible gun and armor upgrade. The alternate mission options, such as the aforementioned Survival and Biohazard missions, can also offer some solid replay value, and you have two characters (though they’re basically similar) if that interests you. The game lacks any kind of multiplayer, though, so what could’ve potentially been a draw to replay value ends up leaving the game feeling flatter than it already does, and it makes a hard game to recommend even harder. Put simply, any improvement on the replay value would be a big one; as it is, you’ll mostly only max out one or two guns even if you’re really into the game, and since the collectible orbs and data pads don’t really unlock anything important, they only motivate replay so much.

The bigger issue, though, is that the core mechanical structures are, at best, derivative, and at worst, derivative and poorly implemented. For one thing, they named the bullet time mechanic bullet time, instead of coming up with their own cute nickname for it, which is just super lazy; even if that’s what it IS called, call it Zombie Vision or something, don’t just call it the same name Max Payne called it a decade ago. Further, the game borrows its weapon system from Call of Duty/Halo, IE, two guns, one melee, one grenade, but even then it screws that up by not understanding how that system worked. In Halo and Call of Duty you’re only given two guns because you can swap out weapons for anything you find lying around, so the lure here is to constantly switch up weaponry on the fly so that ammo loss is never a big deal. Here you just constantly find ammo, which is fine for assault rifles and anything with high ammo counts, but guns with low ammo counts and stopping power, like shotguns, are almost entirely useless here, and since you’ll never find weaponry in the environment the whole point of the system is lost. Further, they also use the old-school style health bar, instead of modern recharging shields, but then only let you refill health at health stations, instead of offering any sorts of power-ups to do so, which just seems arbitrary and poorly conceived.

Further, let’s talk about the weapons themselves a bit. As noted, the shotguns aren’t great; unlike in many games of this type, they take forever to reload and have poor stopping power relative to the assault rifles, so there’s almost never reason to use one unless it’s the best possible one, and at that point the relative assault rifle is still better. Grenades have a low area of effect when you use them, and while they hurt when they hit, you’d be better off detonating your AOE attack if you want to do damage with a decent range. Your starting melee attack is also absolutely terrible; it’s a stun gauntlet that generally only kills one enemy at a time, takes forever to recharge, and is inaccurate as hell. You can buy a chainsaw, but it’s insanely expensive and by that time you could just get an awesome assault rifle and be done with it. If this all seems like it’d make for a difficult game, fear not; most of the enemies are bone stupid, and there’s generally little challenge to the game, except when fighting bosses (which use some of the stupidest active time events ever), spitting enemies and grenade tossing enemies, who will generally kill you in one hit assuming they don’t suicide next to you and do the same, and said grenade enemies will represent ninety percent of your in-game deaths, easily. Of course you can pay twenty gold for an in-suit auto-heal or just pay credits to respawn, which just shows off the game’s freemium roots more than anything else, sadly. Oh, and said auto-heal isn’t of much use in the occasional “room full of respawning zombies, and any FPS with respawning enemies but not respawning ammo that is not Left 4 Dead is committing a cardinal sin, especially when said respawning enemies can box you into a corner and beat you to death with no response. That’s just terrible.

If you’re especially forgiving of FPS titles and absolutely love shooting zombies in space, Dead Effect could probably be worth your time, but even the name is derivative of Dead Space and Mass Effect, okay? There’s not a single original thought here, and everything, literally everything, is something you’ve seen somewhere else. The sole claim the game has to fun is the wide variety of weapons, and even then other games have done it much better. The game looks and sounds mostly okay, but the story is trash, the play modes are limited, the controls are spotty, the mechanics are derivative and poorly executed, and nothing really works. You can almost certainly find a better game on Steam than this for the same price or a couple dollars difference in either direction, and your tolerance for FPS games would have to be quite high to appreciate what this game is doing. Dead Effect is essentially only here for the FPS fan who loves everything; everyone else can safely pass it by and feel no loss from doing so.

Short Attention Span Summary:
There’s not much to say about Dead Effect that hasn’t been said above; it’s a derivative, sloppy, also-ran FPS about shooting zombies in space, and you’ve almost definitely seen everything it has to show you, only better, before. The only true positives on display here are the generally fine visuals, the audio that isn’t the voice work, and the wide variety of weapons; everything else is flawed at best and poor at worst. The controls don’t work correctly whether you’re using the PC or controller setup, the game doesn’t have a single original thought to its name, the story is stereotypical, the voice work is hot garbage, the mechanics either don’t work properly, don’t work together or don’t work at all, and the few times the game is difficult, it’s only due to cheap design flaws. For eight bucks you could find hundreds of games on Steam that are better, and several of them are almost certainly about shooting zombies in space, leaving Dead Effect as one of the many games that only exists for genre enthusiasts who must play everything; everyone else can safely click “Not Interested” and miss nothing.