Dead Effect, developed by inDev Brain and published by BulkyPix, originally for iOS and Android, has made its way to Steam. It’s not a bad game, calling back heavily to classics like Doom 3 and Dead Space, but it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, and it has a few frustrating quirks that turned me off early. It’s an okay game! Really! I just wish it didn’t have any grenades. But we’ll get to that, I promise.
It’s a very basic game, which makes it easy to pick up and play, which I enjoy. But at the same time, it leaves something to be desired. You’re a space marine, there are zombies, you shoot them, and that’s really it. There’s a campy plotline that’s phoned in by some meh voice actors, but it’s exactly what you’d expect: Oh no, an experiment went wrong and now everyone is a zombie and we’re heading for Earth! Tablets dropped around the ship offer you brief glimpses deeper into the story, including (no shit) a commentary on a woman who is totally bionic except for her breasts. The voice acting consists of your space marine who shouts everything that he’s doing, and a scientist who couldn’t sound more cartoonishly German unless he was Dr. Wily.
The game has a small collection of different guns that you can buy if you can play long enough to amass a fortune of credits or gold bars. The gold bars were a micro-transaction item in the mobile version of the game, I’m not 100% clear how you obtain them in the Steam version other than hoping that they randomly drop from enemies. You use your credits and gold bars to buy new weapons, and then you spend your credits upgrading their accuracy, magazine size, etc. None of the weapons have any stat fields, so you just buy the one that looks cooler and hope it shoots bullets faster. I ended up buying a new pistol only to discover that it was a revolver. Great. In a game that tries to kill you by throwing hordes of enemies at you, a smaller pool of bullets and a longer reload time is exactly what I needed.
The guns aren’t all bad. They’re well-designed, and I enjoyed playing with them (even the revolver), but they are some bad. The red-dot sight on my assault rifle liked to go dark at random moments, making it hard for me to put it on zombie faces. The guns have a very finicky accuracy; sometimes the bullets decided they wanted to change it up and maybe hit the zombie in their shoulder, or go flying past them. That’s totally fine if I’m trying to hit the zombies from across the room, or even up close with a gun that I haven’t upgraded, but sometimes it still happens even when I’m right next to the enemy. To be fair, it wasn’t often. But it happened, and I got punched by a stupid, shambling zombie because of it. The stun gun is the worst perpetrator of this. In order for it to work, you have to be very close, because hey, it’s a tazer. But sometimes it hits a zombie and murders it with a thousand volts of pure hate, and sometimes it makes a harmless electric field a couple inches to the left. It’s very frustrating to have a single-shot weapon that requires me to bring my face into punching range with such a finicky hitbox. But like I said, it isn’t all bad. There are some interesting guns in the game (crossbows and compound bows), and a minigun that is only there to make it easier for you. I didn’t try any of these, however, because of the final weapon in your arsenal: Grenades.
There are a couple mechanics in Dead Effect that I wasn’t a fan of. Grenades are the worst. They’re great when you’re the one throwing them, even if their explosion radius is laughably small. They require an inane amount of precision to kill more than three or four zombies, even if ten of them are clustered together. But then the zombies start throwing grenades. There’s no point where the game teaches you about this mechanic. There isn’t a “holy shit that zombie’s got grenades” bit of dialogue, or a “watch out you’re about to blow up” warning. At a certain point of the game, you just wake up, and suddenly there are explosions. “Weird,” I thought, “this room must have been damaged when that boss was smashing against things. That’s some cool background action.” Then I thought “what the fuck??” because for some reason I was dead. Okay, so the exploding machines kill me, I’ll stay out in the open this time, no big deal. Nope! Dead again! After dying twice to these mysterious explosions, I happened to spy a zombie throwing something, and then I was dead again. “Okay!” I think, “Grenade zombies! That’s annoying but I just gotta be quick on my feet.” So I try the same level for the fourth time. Now I know there are enemies somewhere in the room that are going to murder me instantly and without warning. Unfortunately, they’re wearing armor with a dark gray palette, which makes them very difficult to spot. The grenades that they throw are the same color, which makes them almost invisible, and your only warning if you don’t see it spinning toward your stupid eyeballs is a barely audible “clink” that you have to listen for above your furious, panicked gunfire. If you don’t start sprinting out of the way in the next half-second, that’s it, you’re dead. For the first few levels after the introduction of grenade zombies, it didn’t matter how close I was to the grenades; if I was within, say, five football fields of the explosions, I was just dead. Later they either killed me or left me with one bar of health left. I honestly have no idea if I just got better at panicking and running for my life or if they were dialed back in later levels. Either way, while I could deal with every other annoying mechanic, it was the grenades that ultimately made me quit in frustration. I’d spend thirty minutes combing through a level, exploring nooks and crannies for hidden money or tablets, and then suddenly I’m dead from an errant grenade thrown by a zombie hiding around the corner, and I’d either have to lose a majority of my upgrade money to keep going or restart the entire level. That’s not fun.
There are a couple of other quirks in the game that I wasn’t a fan of, but nothing that would turn me off the game totally. Let’s go over them in a list.
- Similar to the grenades, the game introduces some enemies without any warning whatsoever. There’s no introductory enemy across the room to show you how they work, you just waltz into a room ready to pop some heads and whoops there’s five demons in here that are going to sprint at you and ruin your day.
- Your inability to jump leaves you in a few stupid situations, from being unable to access a certain area to getting stuck on terrain while trying to avoid enemies. There was one area of the game that I can only assume I missed a path for, because you’re stopped from entering a room because of a step that is literally four inches tall. Other than that, there were a few cursory moments where I thought “I wish I could jump up there to see if that works,” but nothing major.
- Your sprint bar exhausts itself very quickly, which is annoying for the long hallways that you need to backtrack through while you’re activating power supplies or looking for money. The sprinting also feels a little lurchy, jerking your camera back and forth as you activate it, but that’s minor.
- The “lockpicking” mechanic is too lengthy. I wouldn’t even complain about this if you were actually doing anything other than kicking the door to a cabinet open. Do I really need the camera to zoom out and lock me onto an object in order for me to smash E repeatedly and shake the camera a little? If it was its own mechanic that wanted me to spin my mouse a little to push some tumblers, I could understand that, but it’s just an extra two seconds to allow me to start pressing E. If I wanted an arbitrary cutscene for everything that I do, I’d play Legend of Zelda.
- Walls and objects love to grab your character. If a space is one centimeter too small for you to go through, or if you don’t come at it at exactly the right angle, your tactical retreat from a zombie horde is immediately halted. Sometimes it’s just a box that you can juke around, sometimes it’s a gap that is perplexingly difficult to convince your character to squeeze through, as if your space marine’s claustrophobia is just slightly stronger than his fear of being eaten alive or exploded by a stupid grenade.
Overall, for the price, Dead Effect really is a fun game. The weapons are just varied enough that you want to try them out, which makes you want to play more so that you can get more credits and gold. The basic “run and shoot” mechanics are solid, and it honestly looks amazing for a game that was ported from mobile. The ammo is far too plentiful to give you any sense of desperation, but it never really feels like it’s trying to scare you anyway. If you liked Doom 3 or Dead Space 3 and you want something in a similar vein for very cheap, Dead Effect is a good option. Just watch out for the grenades.