The zombie genre throughout the decades has permeated all venues of entertainment, most notably that of film, but also video game as well. Due to its overuse, it can prove difficult for any developer to provide a fresh perspective on the theme. Unfortunately for Candygun Games, the recently released Dead Block on XBLA fails to provide that new outlook that it needed to revive the already dead zombie genre.
DOESN'T BOG ITSELF DOWN
Easy to Understand Controls - If there is one aspect that Dead Block has going for it, it is definitely the simple controls it utilizes whether it be setting up traps or electrocuting zombies. The game uses button timing mechanic to board windows and some amount of mashing for other endeavors. The two main objectives in the game primarily include building traps and segments where collecting guitar parts is required, which fits in with the Rock ‘n Roll 1950s setting the game uses. There are neither complicated menus to navigate nor any frustrating item management (although you will gather items over and over). It never pretends to be more than it is in regards to both the gameplay and overall concept. The gameplay simplicity works for the game’s entire duration. However, the initial charm of the premise itself can and does grow old.
Solid Audio - The overall audio in the game works well, whether it is the announcer or the various sound effects heard throughout. While the some areas could be improved upon such as the cheesy quality to the narrator or the 1950s inspired soundtrack, the audio on the whole is more than adequate for this XBLA title.
STUCK IN THE PAST
Old School Doesn't Work - Dead Block tries to use a TV camera narration style relating to the 1950s that parodies the older zombie films to relay not only the initial premise, but the overall action as well to the player. However, this presentation does suit the game well as it does indeed belong in the past, parody or otherwise. The “fake” TV does not complement the gameplay very well as there is a sharp contrast between the static television and the actual gameplay graphics which also suffer.
Stale Gameplay - Dead Block unfortunately never spices things up so to speak when it comes to the gameplay in particular. While there are three different characters whom the player fills the role of throughout the tedious adventure, the same tasks are performed over and over. You will board up more windows during this game than you will open windows during your entire life. However, in order to board these windows, objects such as furniture must be viciously attacked in order to collect necessary items such as wood. This smashing of items utilizes repeatedly mashing the B button. While this is simple and enjoyable, it would have been nice for the gameplay to change during the experience to provide at the very least a small layer of difficulty. The tedium does not stop there. I also bashed in enemies with simple melee more times than I care to remember. If bashing in the enemies wasn’t enough, you can also kill some using traps. While there is a nice variety, they are for laughs more than anything else despite the attempt to have them act as the primary strategy element.
Music Doesn't Fit - If electrocuting them doesn’t fit your style, perhaps collecting parts to power a guitar will. Once the guitar is complete, a riff can be played in order to clear the stage. With the focus clearly upon zombie annihilation, the musical element doesn’t add to the tension or even overall fun factor. By including such a wide variety of maps, thinking outside of the box is encouraged. By having the objective possibly be centered on collecting guitar parts, the strategy element is negated. Furthermore, while the game does include a local co-op feature which lessens the tedium somewhat, the game does not include a multiplayer component which would have been nice considering the killing zombie premise.
Poor Graphics - While I am willing to be more than lenient with an arcade game in the graphics department, the bland, uninspired graphics the game delivers do not lend themselves to any type of creativity or tension that the zombie genre utilizes on the whole. The graphics felt more cartoonish than anything else. While that works to help further along the parody, the zombie genre is predicated upon a more serious tone. It almost becomes two contrasting ideas.
Dead Block plays to an audience that has some amount of universal appeal as you can find almost any person talking about the zombie apocalypse from time to time. However, the presentation, poor graphics, mind numbing gameplay, and the wearing away of the game’s initial appeal detract too much from the overall package. With the XBLA Summer Arcade line-up right around the corner, gamers interested in a downloadable title are better served waiting or trying another title all together. Perhaps, zombies really should stay dead permanently.