Imagine this: you’re working on a building site, the Sun is beating on the town as beads of sweat run down your back and enter the realm of the ‘builder’s bum’. Wiping your moist brow, you hear news that the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll act are coming to town tonight. You call up your friends and organise to congregate with them and some cute girls at the local gig theatre for a night of riffs, beers and good times. Thing is, I’ve got good news and bad news, guys. The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is they’re dead.
The power of rock ‘n’ roll has resurrected the previously deceased – and they’re ravenous for human flesh. As one of the remaining survivors of the town, you’ll lead a builder called Jack Foster, Mike Bacon, a young boy scout played by the kid from Pixar’s Up, and Foxy Jones, a policewoman who doesn’t take kindly to these undead suckers ruining her patrol. Moving from location to location, you have to seek out the only weapon that can dispatch the zombie flesh eaters back to their graves – a rock ’n’ roll overdose.
The dissonance with Dead Block is that the whole ‘50s gimmick feels added on, as if the developers had the core design down, believed it wasn’t adequate enough and, after seeing some of the modern crap cinema has churned out under the veil of grindhouse, decided to add a ‘50s B-movie element. Its incessant use of bold, capitalised words and hammy voiceover during prologues falls flat and its overuse is unbearable – thankfully, these can be skipped.
However, the era that it references doesn’t exist. There never were zombie films made in the fashion the game presents. It’s a stereotype that’ll fail to make a connection with an audience as there’s no nostalgia to be found. The only film that comes close is Tetsuro Takeuchi’s Wild Zero, released in 2000.
A hyper-energetic movie about aliens, zombies and rock ’n’ roll, Wild Zero was completely insane, casually casting off anything serious with girls-that-are-boys, blue wigs, swords hidden in guitars, shuriken plectrums and a running moral throughout: that rock ’n’ roll is love, man. Candygun Games would have done well to research this film and follow its youthful and rebellious pose where exuberance and lunacy was sovereign.
In game, the controls suffer from the need for refinement too. The bulk of your time will be exhausted by walking over to furniture and continually hitting it until it breaks. Refrigerators, beds, sinks, and wooden desks all bend like crumpled cans before exploding into splinters to provide the materials needed to board up windows and lay traps. Attacking, however, is done via a separate command, so swinging your weapon is done differently depending upon what you want to strike. This is illogical, and the obsession with using as many buttons as possible doesn’t stop here.
Interacting with the environment, building a trap or searching all uses the same button, leading to your character inevitably doing something you didn’t want. When you do search an item you’re presented with a mini-QTE. It could be tapping two buttons to unearth resource, scrolling across images and selecting the highlighted item you want, or attempting to stop a spinning wheel to collect a guitar or amplifier. It’s unwieldy and the constant commands become more of an enemy then the zombies themselves.
Once you’ve collected enough materials, you can then build traps in doorways and windows. All of the characters have three unique traps that can be found during the game. Boarding up a window requires you to get the timing right – like a swing bar in golf – whereas other traps are built by holding the button down. The traps can permanently block an entrance, drop cardboard boxes onto the heads of passing zombies, microwave blast them or even secure the entrance with a mini-nuke.
This playful attitude is an attempt to diminish the boredom of repetition, but fails to do so as many of the traps are defunct. Once unlocked, the concrete door and mini-nuke are all that are needed. The other traps are too weak to be of use, and so Mike was only played when the level forced me to do so.
There are also weapons that can be used. Foxy has a firearm to gun down the walking dead, while Jack can nailgun their feet to the floor should a room be filled with the shambling dead. But even with the differences, most of my time was spent playing as Jack, hammering everything to pieces and then calling the boy scout into the room to search, saving me the bother of all the QTEs. Rinse and repeat.
To complete each location you need to find a guitar and amplifier. Therefore, searching is the main gameplay element here. Once all of the gear has been discovered – hiding in anything from wardrobes to ketchup bottles – you’ll then need to run over to the built stack and enter another QTE, Guitar Hero-style.
Again, this is tacked on. The character air-guitars along with the bass track being played, while you’re asked to press buttons in correspondence with guitar notes, notes that are often out of time with the on-screen commands. Then our hero will rip into an air-guitar solo as the zombies begin to dance along, but there may be no guitar actually playing, just the soundtrack as before.
Local co-op is supported for up to four players, with a different set of levels. However, this still results in the same repetition of actions. While a great addition, the lack of an online mode means many people that play the title will never experience this side to the game, which is a shame.
At the core of Dead Block is a good game. The idea of barricading yourself from zombie hordes and working cooperatively to survive is a solid scenario. However, the controls and constant QTEs hinder interaction and the game hastily leaps into repetition. Sitting on the fence does more harm than good, and by being light on both the survival horror and faux ‘50s B-movie influence, Dead Block never makes an impact, resulting in an average game that by no means attempts to realise its full potential.