Lumbering towards mediocrity
I find myself in an odd predicament with Madifnger games. One one hand, they inarguably produce some of the best visuals I’ve ever seen on iOS. Their work easily matches (if not surpasses) benchmarks like Infinity Blade, and blurs the line between console and handheld. And yet, after playing their generic shooter Shadowgun, and now their newest visual feast Dead Trigger, I feel they might have the same problem your zombie hunting protagonist does: lifelessness.
Tantalized by the opening screenshot as I boot up Dead Trigger, and with thoughts of a portable Left4Dead swirling around in my head (after all, the App Store description does promise “console-quality FPS action”), I dive right in. As promised in the screenshots, I’m thrown into a world that has collapsed, with the text telling me I’ve been caught outside my vehicle on the run from a zombie hoard with nothing but…well okay, I’ve got a gun. The setup is light, unobtrusive, and makes way as it should for the gameplay that follows.
Running through the first level with my semi-automatic, I’m absolutely floored by Madfinger’s presentation here. Lighting is spectacularly moody, ragdoll effects are hilarious and gory as I take headshot after satisfying headshot on the undead, and the whole thing feels like a tense adventure that catches me between mowing down and running from the walking dead. With that said, I really hope you like that first level – because you’ll be playing it for the rest of the game.
Not literally perhaps. But like an undead baddy left out in the sun for too long, the wow factor slowly starts to rot off of Dead Trigger as you delve deeper into the game, for several very important reasons. First and foremost is the game’s unwavering dependability on formula. For certain the “story” that surrounds each level is different, told through text (and occasional cutscene) on your way from one part of the game’s world map to the next. The core flaw however is the huge disconnect between what you’re told is going, and what you feel like you’re actually doing.
The average level amounts to three to five minutes of surviving oncoming waves of zombies, successfully blasting away a certain amount, or making it from one end of the level to the next. Nothing spoken about in the story informs your activity from level to level beyond maybe picking up a mentioned item, and what’s left is a plodding romp through the same twisty corridors and staircases each and every time.
Even the visual variation begins to wane as you notice the sheer amount of reused background content and environmental flare. I fully appreciate the need to develop smartly and efficiently, but something’s gotta’ give. Games like Rayman Origins make up for the predictable reliability of platforming by delivering gorgeous environments to platform through, while titles like Left4Dead address the monotony of the environment by delivering spectacular storylines and varied missions. Dead Trigger does neither, hoping instead you remain content by the gorgeousness (and believe me it is gorgeous) of the game’s presentation, and the satisfaction of seeing the same blood and splat animations repeated.
And certainly, there are tons of different ways to cause the carnage, with Madfinger offering up a veritable treasure trove of cool weaponry. Though even here “offering up” fails to describe the game’s ever-present stranglehold on your wallet. Every level recommends some ideal weaponry as you’re about to head in, and Dead Trigger does a good enough job of enticing you to check out all the world has to offer in the way of tools of destruction.
From here, however, everything is priced so ludicrously that you have to either buy repeated in-app currency packages, or grind already-repetitive levels into dust looking to earn money naturally. The end result, for me? Either frequent deaths at the hand of my insufficient arsenal, or boredom at my inability to experience the cool weaponry locked away behind pay walls.
At the end of the day, Dead Trigger feels much more House of Dead than it does Left4Dead. A generic zombie shooter that may as well be on rails, if perhaps the most gorgeous one I’ve ever seen on a mobile device. The story’s text promises of epic moments and interesting character relationships never come to fruition, and the parts of the game that would be most fun feel hidden from you by way of blackmail – watch these in-game adds for extra currency! Buy money from the store! If it’s enough to get your jollies seeing zombies go splat, I can’t think of a prettier way to do it. I just wish Madfinger had spent as much time on substance as they did on style.