The year is 1983, the place, New Hexington, NY, a once-bustling city now mostly deserted of the living but the recently-christened epicenter of the undead, after a toxic spill seeps into the groundwater and results in the zombi-fication of the masses. A small group of survivors (meaning you, and a friend in local co-op) are looking to escape, obviously, and have pieced together the best route out of the city.
Difficulty levels present themselves in the amount of randomized streets (like enemy waves) you’ll need to cross before the end, from 10 on easy, to 30 on hard, all done in a loving 8-bit, side-scrolling style that’ll fill you with that warm and cozy NES feeling you remember, accented by a film grain, B-movie style and fitting intermission show (make sure to turn this ON in options before you start).
Sounds like fun! Looks easy, right? You’ve probably played zombie shooters before, you’re a veteran, the only thing missing is your medal showing as much, so you think it’s rather elementary how things go from here. You rock some pretty nice weaponry (the gun ‘brands’ in Dead Pixels are named for beloved Resident Evil characters), you stock up on a cubic shit-ton of ammo, and you blast your way out of this zombie Mos Eisley. ‘Step aside,’ you say, rash and over-confidently, ‘I got this.’
But wait, how come you’re not finding all that much ammo? Why are the traders (the only humans left in New Hexington, dialogue like the merchant in RE4, Moonlight Sonata playing in the background) charging so much for it, and ultimately have so little of it? What’s going on here!? This is not what I signed up for! I’m better than this! I should have a medal, dammit! Well, because this is, saying it lightly, an emergency situation, that’s why. Ammo here is more valuable than gold, and while traders you’ll find scattered along the route can sell you the equipment you’ll need, proof that even at the End of Days there’s salesmen willing to part you from your money, that doesn’t guarantee they’ll have it in stock. Delivery trucks aren’t pulling in on the regular, if you get what I’m saying.
Having an itchy trigger finger results in you frantically charging through the later streets, sensing that ammo, NEEDING that ammo, rationing your shotgun shells and begging for a shop or abandoned building to search. Like your luck in real life, it’s likely here that the game will punish you with an insurmountable group of walkers. Because getting surrounded in Dead Pixels is what you don’t want. There’s no breaking free, no bullet-time, super move, last ditch effort, heroic gasp of luck trick to save your sorry ass, only a split second to debate whether you should have stocked up on ammo two streets ago (when you could) instead of boosting your weapon damage, yes, both good ideas, but only one that really would’ve made the difference here.
That’s the real genius of Dead Pixels. Not the zombies, or all the grindhouse art trappings and horror references, the awesome music or ‘love letter to such and such’ graphics, but the sheer reality and strategy necessary to escape New Hexington with your life intact.
Besides ammo management, you can also put your well-earned coin (as in the Scott Pilgrim game, zombies drop their couch change when defeated) into various upgrades via a RPG-light but meaningful Stats list, boosting character-specific things like speed, luck, or health, or weapon-based; damage, melee strength, and the like. There’s also a deep loot and inventory system that awards you for seeking out new, stronger weapons, but penalizes greedy hoarders. Like Fallout, carry too much above your weight class, and expect to slow to a crawl, not a big deal until the first crowd of zombies shows up. While it makes sense to loot (precious ammo, anyone?), sell off what you don’t want whenever possible. You’ll enjoy the extra scratch, and you never know when you’ll stumble onto a better weapon and need that extra cap space.
And bigger and better weapons you’ll need. There are several types of undead in DP, from the swift-footed and acid-spewing, down to the walking tanks and boss-like zombies, designed to deplete you of your ammo. Worse news for you, they often mix and match themselves into groups, so you can never take for granted that you’ll know the next zombie threat to come on-screen. Running away works, for a time, until another horde stops you in your tracks, effectively walling you in with the dead. Success in leaving the city will involve some micro-managing and smart, careful progression… and of course having fun plowing through a lot of zombies.
Dead Pixels is an indie rarity, a game that does and pulls off enough things perfectly, you frequently forget you’re not playing an excellent XBLA game, fully expecting achievements to pop up or to find an ad extolling its Guaranteed Hit status with pre-canned quotes on the dashboard, it’s qualities are that good and deserving of praise. Speaking of sought-after prestige, it won our Catch of the Week back in September. If you’ve somehow missed out on it for the last month, you owe it to yourself to see what all the positive fuss is about.
And if you’re still on the fence after all this, know that Dead Pixels has upcoming DLC, not patches or minor tweaks, mind you, but two, full-on, ‘significant content’ DLC (more on that here), for free, thanks to fans who shattered tiered sales figures early on (16,000 sales in one month of release, a damn fine mark for XBLIGs). I’ve estimated Dead Pixel’s worth at 10X what it actually costs! I can’t make it any clearer than that, but let me close on this: It’s one thing to make an excellent, polished indie game with more than enough content for a dollar, it’s on an entirely different level that the developer continues to layer more of that awesome cake on top of what you’ve already feasted on, for gratis.
You can find a review for Dead Pixels’ DLC modes ‘The Solution’ and ‘Last Stand’ HERE.
Still more? Our interview with John Common / CSR Studios can be found HERE.