Dead Block Review (XBLA)

Posted by Jim Cook, Jul 19, 2011 05:49

Dead Block starts off with a lot of things in its favor, including a very strong concept that can best be described as ’third-person survival/defense against a zombie horde.’ The idea of boarding up areas, laying traps, and striking zombies down in a 1950s America is a good one, and Dead Block technically provides all of that. However, its range of activities are just too simple and lacking in variety to really keep the player’s interest. It’s really unfortunate, as making players repeat the same dull tasks dozens of times per stage ruins what could have been a fantastic co-op experience.

Dead BlockPlayed from a third-person perspective, Dead Block lets you control three different characters; a construction worker, boy scout, and traffic warden that each evoke an exaggerated 1950s motif. Each of the game’s eighteen stages (ten single-player, eight co-op) puts them in an enclosed area where they must gather resources, figure out good places for traps, and repel the zombie horde. Depending on which stage you’re playing, you’ll also be tasked with either finding parts for a guitar so you can outright destroy the zombies with a rock song or simply killing enough of them to activate a machine that finishes off the remaining undead. While it sounds silly, on its own there is nothing wrong with these ideas and Dead Block could have been a great game.

The problem is that you’ll be doing the same things over and over. While each stage has a few pre-made traps and health dispensers, the majority of the objects you find are just furniture to break apart for the materials to build traps. Doing this requires you to press B repeatedly, or LT and RT to sift through debris, or hold another button for several seconds to finish constructing a trap. This would be fine, but breaking and sifting through items takes up almost all of your play time. There dozens of containers in each stage, and you’ll have to break nearly all of them to find the guitar parts you need to really finish the level. The guitar serves as the objective for most stages, as you bring the parts to a specific area and then play a very short rhythm mini-game; success causes a rock song to destroy the remaining zombies. It might have worked as the basis for one level, but the majority of them work like this.

It’s fair to wonder why pushing buttons a lot is a bad thing for a video game, but the problem lies in that your actions in Dead Block feel like work rather than play. Instead of spending just a minute or two gathering resources, you devote most of your time to it and thus aren’t really doing much beyond watching your character do the same monotonous work again and again. While your traps and special abilities are an interesting mix of things like nail guns, bombs, giant rolling pins, swarms of hungry flies, and so on, they’re not enjoyable enough compared to the ’grinding’ you have to do to use them. Stages where you have to kill a certain number of zombies (generally at least a hundred of them) to proceed aren’t much better, as combat is very simple. Most zombies can be defeated by just setting up a trap to hurt them, running in and out to bait their attack, then moving back in to hit them. This pattern works far too well, and ensures that killing zombies feels as much like ’work’ as breaking objects does.

While each character has a different set of traps and special weapons that can be upgraded by finding certain items, they share a core set of capabilities. One may hit zombies harder while another might search through wreckage faster, but they generally play the same overall. This is just as well, since it lets you pick whichever one you like while the AI will control any unplayed characters. That said, the AI isn’t particularly smart and local split-screen co-op may be the way to go if you choose to play Dead Block. Online play is mysteriously absent, which could leave many players stuck babysitting the AI. Thus, what could have been the core of a good co-op game is held back both by repetitive game mechanics and a requirement for local play; not everyone has that many players (or controllers) immediately handy.

Ultimately, it is hard to say what’s worse about Dead Block, that it squandered the great idea of ’third-person zombie defense’ or that it’s just dull rather than spectacularly bad. Most of its features and controls work like they should and there aren’t many crippling glitches to worry about, so you can’t even have a ’so bad it’s hilarious’ reaction. You’re left with just poor game design, as requiring the player to mash the B button hundreds of times per stage to break furniture for materials becomes honestly boring. It’s hard to recommend something this tedious, despite the neat idea of defending against zombie hordes by laying traps throughout the building. Armed with an awesome game idea but terrible execution, Dead Block fails to earn its 800 Microsoft Point/$10 USD price and you might do well to check out any of several other Xbox Live Arcade or Indie Games titles if you’re looking for zombie-slaying action.

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Our Rating for Dead Block Review (XBLA)
2.5 Replay
Replaying previously beaten stages to improve your high score would normally be of some interest. However, mashing buttons over and over to gather materials for traps gets old quickly.
5.5 Graphics
While it does nothing special graphically, Dead Block at least does a passable job of making sure the player has all the information they need to understand the situation at hand.
4.5 Sound
Decent sound effects are joined by underwhelming voice work and repetitive music to wind up on the tolerable side of bad.
3.0 Gameplay
The idea of laying down barricades and traps to defeat the zombie hordes is a good one. Unfortunately these mechanics are too limited to hold your interest for long, and having to break nearly every object in each stage in order to proceed becomes annoying.
5.5 Multiplayer/Online Content
While online play is bizarrely absent, local split-screen co-op for up to four players is offered. It works as it should, though this doesn’t do much to save the game.
3.0 Overall
Repetitive to the point of genuine boredom, Dead Block starts off strong before quickly falling apart. Its charming ’retro America’ motif can’t overcome weak game mechanics, keeping Dead Block well below its competition.

Rating: 0.0, votes: 0

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