Zombies, Landsharks, and Disembodied Friends Take a Bow
2011’s Metal Dead was a much-needed and much-loved high octane addition to the point-and-click adventure genre. Starring metalhead Malcolm and his best (and deadest) friend, Ronnie, Metal Dead challenged players to escape from the center of a gory, yet consistently hilarious, zombie outbreak. For the recently announced sequel, Metal Dead: Encore, developer Walk Thru Walls Studios has turned it up to eleven, placing an even greater emphasis on plot, character development, and heavy metal badassery.
“Metal Dead: Encore is shaping up to be the game we wanted the first to be,” co-founder and -creator Liam O’Sullivan told Gamezebo. And that game begins with a disembodied Ronnie head getting brand new, mechanical spider legs.
Let’s take a step back. As a quick recap, you should know that Ronnie dies early on in Metal Dead and is preserved as a reanimated head that rides around in Malcolm’s trousers, acting as your in-game hint system. This should become obvious quickly, regardless of your Metal Dead experience. “Both Metal Dead games are designed so players can enjoy them without playing the other—the first game is a contained, complete experience, and the second game sums up the story of the first rather neatly within the first ten minutes,” says O’Sullivan. “That said, players will get the most out of the story if they start from the beginning, and since we consider storytelling to be of paramount importance, we decided to include the first game for free to make sure players have that option! Metal Dead: Encore starts directly where the first ended, and we find out how Malcolm and Ronnie get back together…”
That reunion is the first puzzle in Metal Dead: Encore and sets the stage for the type of challenges that appear thereafter. Like its predecessor, Encore‘s puzzles avoid the classic point-and-click logic traps so many developers love to set. “Like most people, we’ve always felt that one of the most common flaws in adventure games are illogical puzzles,” O’Sullivan says. “Remember that time when all you had in your inventory was a weasel, and you had to figure out how to combine it with a TV antenna in order to open the door to a washing machine so you could free the elf imprisoned inside? Yeah, I know you do! In creating the first game, we made sure to avoid those kinds of moments while still making players think outside the box.” Helping Malcolm assemble Ronnie’s new spider leg transport system is “not as straightforward as you might first think. The new game will stay true to our rule about illogical puzzles, but this time things will be a little more complex. Of course, Ronnie is still your hint system for when you get stuck, although he’s now partly an all-terrain vehicle.”
In the world of Metal Dead, though, robotic spider legs don’t even graze the peak of Mount Weird. In fact, the game’s primary antagonist is a genetically mutated landshark with his own set of supplemental pincers. [METAL DEAD 1 SPOILERS] “The shark in Encore is the spawn of the first game’s antagonist, and this time the threat has evolved. As the story goes, a mad scientist succeeded at creating a landshark, with the minor side-effect being that it was also able to control the undead,” says O’Sullivan. [END SPOILERS] “While retaining its mother’s mastery over the horde, the landshark in Encore has a new ability which allows it to enter the dreams of its victims. Once inside their mind, it takes on different forms and strips them of their hopes and aspirations, turning them into another member of its growing zombie army. Not only will we learn a lot about the shark, we’ll get to delve quite literally into the minds of Malcolm and Ronnie!”
With its themes of dream-haunting landsharks, disembodied best friends, zombie-bashing, scalp-borrowing, and hard-rocking, it’d be easy to forget Metal Dead is ultimately a comedic series focused on humor first and foremost. Its visual style helps keep this theme in mind: “The tone of Metal Dead is lighthearted for the most part, so we wanted to steer away from the usual greys and browns usually associated with the zombie genre. We’ve tried to create characters with unique and vibrant personalities, so having a colorful environment for them to exist in was a necessary design decision,” says O’Sullivan. “And let’s face it, when the proverbial hits the fan, it has an interesting impact when the victims are cute, wide-eyed cartoon characters.”
This cheerful, tongue-in-cheek approach to the heavy metal zombie apocalypse is a fitting choice for Walk Thru Walls, who cite Tim Schafer as a powerful influence: “Brutal Legend was one of the first games to depict heavy metal subculture in a correct and frankly awesome way.” When asked if they were offering a challenge to Schafer, O’Sullivan responded: “Rather than a direct challenge, we’d prefer to think of Metal Dead and its sequel as love letters to Tim Schafer. What can we say? He likes the same stuff we do!”
And despite an affinity for classic point-and-click adventures Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max Hit the Road, Full Throttle, Leisure Suit Larry, and Space Quest, O’Sullivan says the first Metal Dead‘s structure”was definitely influenced by Ron Gilbert’s classic Maniac Mansion. [Sierra and LucasArts] built such rich cartoon worlds filled with irreverent humor and strange characters, and they’re still remembered today by gamers all over the world for good reason. We’re trying to capture that old school magic, just with more zombies and heavy metal!”
Walk Thru Walls’ two-man team already accomplished this goal in Metal Dead, and Encore looks poised to pull off an even better show. With additional team members on board for the sequel, O’Sullivan is confident in the level of polish players can expect. “Artist Kai Hulme is providing us with beautifully detailed backgrounds, and our new animator Josh Davies is making sure everything moves as smoothly as a shaved zombie. While we’re based in Brisbane, Australia, we’re working with Alejandro Tiscornia, an amazing musician hailing from Argentina. He originally contacted us as a fan of the first game and its midi soundtrack (provided by our good friend Josh Birch). Alejandro offered to score the entire sequel for us, and if you’ve heard his music in the Metal Dead: Encore teaser trailer, you already know why we were happy to bring him on board! The game revolves around a fictional heavy metal festival, so it wouldn’t be complete without a real heavy metal soundtrack.”
It also wouldn’t be complete without Malcolm and Ronnie, whom fans are bound to be attached to after two full games. The metalhead and the undead best pals could stick around for a trilogy…or maybe not. “If we never get to make a third, that’s fine, since we feel the ending of Encore is strong enough to be a nice exclamation point on the story. That said, we’ve certainly toyed with the idea of making it a trilogy. We love these characters so much, it’ll be hard to say goodbye to them, so never say never!”
Until then, both Metal Dead and Metal Dead: Encore are up for vote on Steam Greenlight. If you can’t wait for the free copy of Metal Dead that comes with Encore, you can snag it for an ear-bleedingly low price over at Desura or Gamersgate. Turn it on, crank it up, and ride out the zombie apocalypse with your new best buds.