STAFF REVIEW of Dead Alliance (Xbox One)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Dead Alliance Box art A few years ago it seemed nearly every game had some sort of zombies attached to it, but lately it seems if the zombie frenzy has calmed down a bit, as it’s nowhere near as prevalent as it used to be. Everyone knows that to kill a zombie you need to bash its skull in or shoot it in the head. This way of dispatching zombies is found in Dead Alliance, the game being reviewed here, but there’s an interesting twist on the tried and true formula that makes up one of the main pillars of its gameplay. In Dead Alliance, you’re able to temporarily make the zed’s your ally, hunting your enemies and earning you kills. This really intrigued me, as I was expecting some really interesting core gameplay changes, being able to turn hordes of zombies against my enemies. What I got instead was a great idea wrapped in a poor package of disappointing gameplay and design.

This is where I would normally delve into the plot and campaign, starting with the single player, but Dead Alliance does something really interesting; they offer the single and multiplayer as separate purchases (though you can purchase a bundle of them together). I would normally applaud a forward thinking move like this, as it means that people that only truly care about multiplayer can simply purchase the section of game they want, with the ability to upgrade later on should they desire.

The core fault here though is that the single player offering is essentially useless. Given that Dead Alliance is a multiplayer team based game, the single player modes are essentially bot matches of the same core multiplayer game. There’s a horde-like mode to survive against endless waves of zombies, but the core single player experience is simply mimicking the multiplayer experience offline with bots. There’s no campaign, no plot, just bots if you want to play alone.

Trying to mimic huge successes like Halo and Call of Duty, Dead Alliance is putting all its eggs in one basket, hoping that gamers will flock to the game with its focus solely on the multiplayer experience. That would be well and good if the gameplay was balanced, if it had unique gameplay modes, and the gameplay was refined and the graphics looked good, but every one of these qualities is unfortunately missing here. What makes Dead Alliance stand out mechanically is that the map is constantly filled with zombies spread around the map, making your standard running and gunning a little more challenging than it normally would be in other shooters.

You would think that shooting zombies who are in your way would be the best tactic, but this is usually the worst thing you can do. Firing your weapon alerts zombies to your position, along with other players, so you can be swarmed quite quickly resulting in you having to try to shoot your way out of a bad situation. It’s a good thing you have a knife that can instantly one-hit-kill regular zombies, that is if the hit detection actually decides to work.

The better, and unique, solution here is getting swarms of zombies to join your side for a short period of time, hunting down your enemies, earning you score from kills. This is where your P.A.M. grenades come in, as zombies caught in its blast will temporarily fight for you and rush your enemies. There’s a handful of unique items and equipment you can use to focus on this style of gameplay should you wish, such as an L.R.A.D., which is essentially a noise making device. This will cause any zombies in the area to focus on it, either allowing you to pass a heavily infested chokepoint, or, if you’re clever, gathering a horde of them in one place before using your P.A.M. grenade.

This is the type of gameplay, which if it was executed well, could have made Dead Alliance really stand out amongst the others in the vastly overcrowded genre. Zombies that turn (see what I did there?) to your side will have a green highlight around them, and any enemies on the opposing team that have turned will highlight their temporary allies with a red outline. There’s a handful of equipment that is really interesting, such as a grenade that will only turn one zombie to your side, but it will be much more powerful than your standard zombie, with increased damage and health. All of these zMods make for some unique loadouts, but you’re going to have to grind for quite a while to unlock the top tier equipment, traps, attachments and perks.

There are three classes for you to play as: Light, Medium, and Heavy, all of which are completely stereotypical and standardized. There’s an option to make a custom class, choosing from your currently unlocked perks, weapons, attachments, zMods and score streaks, but the two default potions for each class they give you will have to be used if you actually want a chance at defeating other players and winning. The custom classes should only be delved into once you’ve unlocked every item and perk, which again, will take a long time to do so.

You’ll earn in-game cash and experience for finishing matches, with more being awarded for kills and wins obviously, but you’ll need to horde that cash if you want the best equipment, so prepare to repeatedly play the same maps and modes for quite some time. There is a decent progression system, but it’s nowhere near as refined or exciting as something like Call of Duty pulls off, constantly trickling upgrades to you to play with and become better.

You’ll are given the standard Team Death Match, Free For All, Capture the Flag, King of the hill and Attrition modes to select from. What caught me by surprise was the mode that melds FPS and MOBA together. This is set up exactly like a MOBA, with towers that need to be defeated in order for you to take over the enemies’ home base, with the minions being ‘friendly’ zombies that rush the towers. There’s even zombies that are literally called lane and jungle zombies, so there’s some interesting gameplay here for those that really want to delve into it, but you’ll need to suffer through the actual gameplay and myriad of problems to play it, or any mode for that matter.

If you’re unable to find a match online, as I was a handful of times, you can still play offline with bots, allowing you to earn experience and money, so you can grind easily this way if you don’t want the hassle of poor or laggy online gameplay to unlock all of your equipment.

Sadly, this is where I need to go through the laundry list of problems that I found with Dead Alliance that really drags down the whole experience, regardless of what mode or how much you try to enjoy its gameplay. Until you unlock the majority of the equipment and weapons, you’ll often find yourself overwhelmed with zombies, cornered without much of a way to fight back effectively. Even though the zombie AI is completely brain dead (maybe ironically by design), sometimes you can shoot your weapon and nearly everything in sight will start charging at you, other times you might shoot an LMG beside a pack and nothing will notice you (yes, this happened to me).

Presentation wise, many animations are either simply missing or poorly made. Zombies can attack you in close range seemingly without an animation showing them moving, while attacking with your melee knife isn’t a smooth experience, and if you try and vault over a hip-height ledge, you kind of simply slide and warp over it instead of seeing an awesome animation. This is very jarring, yet goes hand in hand with the incredibly low quality graphics that I would have expected to see last gen.

Hitboxes at times feel like they are completely broken, both for players and zombies alike. Many times I attempted to knife a zombie right in front of me, since that’s the best way to take them out, but more often than not nothing happened, the attack completely missing them. The same goes for players, as I’ll pump a clip of ammo into them, complete with a red cursor, yet they won’t go down. That’s also if you can manage to fight the poor controls. While I don’t advocate for mass auto aim on consoles, you become accustomed to it in every other shooter, but it’s not present here at all, so it takes quite some time to get used to it.

Sprinting seems to be completely random, as at times I'd seemingly run forever, while other times I'd be out of breath after a few moments. There’s no stamina meter displayed anywhere, so it’s difficult to judge how long you’ll be able to run away from players and zombies. Animations are probably one of the worst offenders, as the majority of them are very basic, or completely nonexistent, and it kind of takes away from the whole experience.

Just like Call of Duty, you can earn score streaks, many of which are tactical, such as radar for enemies and zombies, and there are even weapons you can deploy on certain parts of the map. The issue with this is that there’s no animation or indicator of such. You pick a zone of the map and someone will simply die if they are in range, so you can imagine how aggravating this is when it happens to you repeatedly, especially since score streaks aren’t challenging to obtain.

It’s a shame, as Dead Alliance has a really intriguing premise and idea behind it, as using hordes of zombies in your favor temporarily is kind of interesting and original, but there’s not enough emphasis to push that as its main focus. The MOBA-like gameplay is also really interesting, but not fully realized, as it nowhere does it teach you the mode and how to play properly.

With a myriad of issues, especially extremely outdated visuals and poor performance, sadly this is a very bland shooter with awful execution. Normally I don’t tend to focus on the negatives, but instead talk about what a game does well, but there’s simply not that much done well here aside from a neat idea with poor gameplay execution. At the end of the day, and like its enemies contained within, this game should stay dead like its zombies.

Overall: 3.0 / 10
Gameplay: 2.0 / 10
Visuals: 3.0 / 10
Sound: 4.0 / 10


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