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Touch the Dead

On-rails shooters have always been taken kindly by gamers. The combination of quick thrills, rapid-fire dexterity and kinetic energy associated with the likes of the House of the Dead and Time Crisis games, amongst quite a few others, have always been popular arcade fare. Home console conversions have enjoyed relatively milder success, partly due to the fact that while these sort of games are incredible the first few times, the highly linear nature makes them a bit ho-hum after a couple of rounds.

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Then along came the DS. Thinking that the light-gun mechanic could possibly be pulled off with a tiny little stylus, Namco shoved Point Blank under our noses. It definitely showed that perhaps the idea wasn’t as far-fetched as one might think. Now we finally have an all-new property from a relatively unknown developer, Dream On, in the form of Touch the Dead (AKA Dead ‘N’ Furious in European territories). This is a full-fledged single or co-operative experience comprising 4 levels, 12 stages of hardcore zombie killing. Despite its simplicity, TtD is indeed a fun, if short-lived experience, just like other games in its genre.

The game puts you in the shoes of Rob Steiner, a convicted murderer, who finds himself in a jail full of zombies and other assorted beasties. After a set of comic-book style panels that provide a lacking introduction (art style very reminiscent of XIII – a great game by the way), we are straight into it. Something’s not right here and as you make your first few steps out of your mysteriously opened cell, you find out why. It’s all very much like the classic FPS Wolfenstein 3D in that you never really know what is going on; just lots and lots of zombie-killing carnage as you try to escape this decrepit hell-hole.

“you never really know what is going on; just lots and lots of zombie-killing carnage as you try to escape this decrepit hell-hole.”All the action occurs on the touch-screen, with the upper standard screen used to display weapons currently in your possession and other info tidbits. Your stylus is your weapon here as you tap to shoot your gun, slice to swing your crowbar, and drag ammo to clip when you need to reload. The interface works very well. Touch detection is highly responsive and spot-on, and reloading is a breeze; it may take a while to get adjusted to the scheme, but you’ll be going all gung-ho before you know it, and it all looks very cool.

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With 12 stages to shoot through, each lasting about 10-15 minutes in length, plus an end boss for each of the 4 levels, it’s quite a bit to blow through. But on-rails shooters have always excelled in providing hit-em-and-run thrills & spills, and this isn’t seen here very often. Going through each stage takes a while, and when all you are doing is just shooting, shooting, swinging and more shooting at about 10 different enemy types, most of which are variations on a theme (i.e. zombies), it can be a bit of a drag. There are no checkpoints here too, so if you die you will have to restart from the beginning of the stage, and that includes if you die at the boss.

Apart from many zombies, there are also a few crows, crocodiles and bubbles(?!?) to test your accuracy. You can also shoot up boxes to gain extra ammo/life. You cannot directly navigate yourself, but there are switches, signs and door handles which you can shoot at to tell Rob where to go. Sometimes you will be faced with a split path, left or right, but there are plenty of other opportunities to take a brief diversion if you are quick enough with your trigger finger (that is very short windows of opportunity to shoot up a door handle etc.) These mini-branches usually yield bonus ammo/health, and occasionally the surprise ambush. It is a great element (popularised by House of the Dead), but more major deviations would have been more welcome.

There is no formal score system to speak of here, which is a very serious flaw considering the genre. Upon the completion of each stage you are given statistics of your performance: headshots, legshots, armshots, bodyshots, as well as the usual suspects like accuracy. It is the ‘amputation’ stats that matter here though, and there is a set number of say arms blown off, required in order to pass the relevant category. Each goal you meet will yield 2 units of bonus life (so 8 max. per stage), and life is very important in this game (see next paragraph). The goals are however unknown until you finish the stage, so there isn’t anything to aim for as you go through each one; my tip is to shoot everything everywhere.

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Stages you unlock will be able to be replayed at any time, but to make progress you will have to continue on from the main game. By this I mean that you will have to resume from your last save, keeping all the ammo and health you had up to that point. Since the game automatically saves after each stage, you may be unlucky and end up with having no chance to pass the next one successfully. If you wasted too much ammo or got hit one too many times, but still survived, you may be looking at a full restart. This is called artificial difficulty and artificial length.

Unlike your typical on-rails shooter, TtD does not provide an adrenaline-filled musical score. But since it is trying to capture the survival-horror tension, made popular by the likes of the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series, the ambient sounds fit the bill soundly. During boss encounters, we do get some high energy rock, and it would’ve been nice if there were more of them (both boss battles and energising scenarios).

Visually it all looks quite plain, but the environments, from jail to hospital to sewers to swamp to bog-standard high-tech facility, all look distinct. Cutscenes show some super blocky textures, but in-game the 3D engine looks pretty decent, and the framerate is very smooth too. The zombies all display a range of ragdoll animations (but they aren’t full ragdolls unfortunately) and it is entertaining blowing them away in different directions.

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Surprisingly this game develops a moody atmosphere rather well, an achievement since this is played on a DS after all! But due to the drawn-out length and repetitiveness at times, those moments of tension will taper out as you get further in and obtain bigger guns. If you are too chicken to go through it yourself, there is always the co-op mode (multi-card play) to have a partner hold your hand. This is the same game played with the same viewpoint, but with 2 people dishing out the hurt at once making things much easier than going solo.

“If you are too chicken to go through it yourself, there is always the co-op mode to have a partner hold your hand.”Touch the Dead wins points for attempting to bring us a proper on-rails shooter to the portable that can seemingly do anything. Due to low-budget issues, there are some areas which were not able to be improved on in the final product; if some company like Capcom decided to take the reins, no doubt it would’ve had a lot more icing, an important additive for such games. The lack of high-score records is puzzling, and the slow-paced nature of getting around holds this title back. But dispatching countless undead beings is still fun, and right now it’s still a big fad.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in May 2007.

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