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Preview: Dead Nation

Chris Buffa

Adding zombies to your game is like putting a lowercase "i" in front of your product name. Marketing types think people just go for the one called "the iBlanket" or the racing game with zombies. While that might have been true a short time ago, I've become desensitized to these overused hooks -- there's also got to be a catch to wrestle away my dollars. That's what makes Sony's Dead Nation somewhat unappealing. Developer Housemarque (of Super Stardust HD fame) has no problem shoving hordes of undead freaks into this PSN game and giving me weapons to kill them with, but that's already been done to death. Come on, guys. Throw in some really cute demon kittens or something.

This longing came up as I demoed this well designed but ultimately vanilla twin stick shooter at Sony's E3 booth. As one of the world's remaining survivors during the zombie apocalypse, I made my way through a devastated city, pointing boom sticks towards throngs of monsters and ripping them to pieces. The list of weapons included the usual suspects: submachine gun, assault rifle, shotgun, grenades; and I snagged health packs by breaking boxes and vending machines.

Gallery: Dead Nation (E3 2010) | 5 Photos

Two things stood out. First, I could upgrade weapons at each checkpoint. While not the most imaginative feature, increasing a gun's rate of fire, power or clip size allowed me to keep pace with the variety of zombies erupting from every dark alley and shadow; super strong mutants, in particular, absorb a lot of bullets. Second, I could conserve ammo by shooting vehicles and activating alarms. Whereas the zombies in Left 4 Dead come after you when that happens, in Dead Nation, they swarm around the cars and cause enough damage to rupture the gas tanks, thereby sending them back to Zombie Hell (or wherever it is zombies come from).

Forgive me, however, for snubbing my half-eaten nose at the game, because all of that is meaningless if I can't invite some friends in for online co-op zombie murdering. I hope Sony gets the message, because during the demo, a rep wouldn't confirm online play; thus far, the game is local co-op only. It's 2010, just two years shy of the actual zombie apocalypse that'll destroy us all. Housemarque must deliver.

I had a decent time playing Dead Nation, but after Burn Zombie Burn and Zombie Apocalypse (also available on PSN), it's hard to get excited about a title that does little to distinguish itself. That said, Sony's reluctance to discuss the game in detail makes me hopeful that it'll have some cool feature no one saw coming. (Pssst, zombie kittens, guys!)

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