Indie Studio Mobrite returns with a followup game to their original zombie hit Dead Ahead. Fight rather than flee in this combat focused squeal.
Dead Ahead: Zombie Warfare is the follow-up game to the mobile game simply titled Dead Ahead from developer and publisher Mobrite. It is available on IOS and Android and is free to play. Dead Ahead is a simple game where the player is tasked with escaping the zombie hordes that are chasing them in a side-scrolling, obstacle-filled driving game for mobile. Zombie Warfare features the same unique visual charm, with a huge array of new characters, enemies, weapons and locations to enjoy the apocalypse. As the name implies, Zombie Warfare’s gameplay is focused on combat, but with a heavy coating of micro-transactions it’s hard to focus on its interesting gameplay and graphics.
Setting and Graphics – An Expanded World for Dead Ahead
One of the main ingredients that made the first game a joyful experience to play was the game’s graphics and subtle world building. The first game’s opening cinematic creates a sense of dread but also shows a glimpse of the world the player will be inhabiting. Its characters are hand drawn and have a cute, almost chibi quality to them. The player drives a pizza delivery scooter, and most of the zombies have cute (even mildly sexy) designs, making Mobrite’s apocalypse a fun, playful and unique world to survive in. This followup game features even more of the same high-quality pixel art, and creative character and enemy designs. There are a large collection of survivors to unlock from civic employees and civilians like the shotgun-wielding farmer and the armored Fireman to fully armed military and police units. There are plenty of new zombies and even human enemies as well. Your squad will occasionally go up against roaming gangs, some of which are half infected with the zombie virus and brandish ranged weapons or special armor.
Overall the art style and environment in Dead Ahead: Zombie Warfare is high quality for what is there, but does seem to be lacking a bit of the charm that was present in the first title. This specifically is felt with the game having no cartoon cinematic into, and the campaign feels very much like a set of levels, not a continuing journey, and there is no story at all. This would be fine but it seems like the game is trying to have a larger scope than the first title, though it really is just in level variations and not in an overarching story. It’s hard to not be a bit disappointed by this, as it seems like a missed opportunity, especially as the world map gives the feeling of being in a whole world of zombies to explore. This is not a major mark against the game though, as the levels feature a high variety of enemies and visual palettes.
Gameplay and Mechanics- The Game has Good Bones, with Flawed Execution
Pushing any non-gameplay issues aside, there are great things to say about the backbone of the game. The concept of a PvZ style strategy game in the universe of Dead Ahead works well on paper. Seeing the small pixelated characters running off their battle bus into the zombie hoard is great. The basic game rules are that the player has 2 main resources to manage: “Courage” (blue meter) and “Rage” (Red meter). All units and abilities cost one of these resources and the player will have to choose a “hand” of 6 units/abilities out of their total unlocked (or bought). As the level timer ticks on the player slowly builds courage, while every kill builds rage, both of which are used to drop units and objects onto the battlefield. all units attack and move automatically, and the player must deal a certain amount of damage to the enemy barrier to win. Unlike PVZ though, units behave somewhat as if they are in lanes, but there is no way to control which of these invisible “lanes” they will move to attack or defend it. The player units have AI behavior that is designed to have them respond to threats ahead of them or when enemies are in close proximity, but sometimes the AI is not very responsive, which is a huge problem in a game where taking ANY DAMAGE to your battle bus at all will cause the player to lose their 3-star score. This has lead to many frustrating times of my units allowing a single weak zombie to run past, or to not fire at the most critical target because they moved to another lane automatically. This could be fixed with set lanes, or with the addition of manual focus fire or move orders, but neither of these are in the current build.
Price and Micro-Transactions – Mid to Late Gameplay is Very “Pay-to-Win”
The promising qualities of great art, a good gameplay premise, and the pedigree of an enjoyable first game make Dead Ahead: Zombie Warfare all that more disappointing when the whole product is taken into consideration. In order to actually enjoy the positive game elements, the player will be loaded down with having to watch a lot of ads that remind them that the game is going to be unbalanced if they don’t start paying real money. I will say that when playing this game to review it for this article I did not pay any money but rather just relied on the daily login bonus and set out to grind for any currency I lacked. This made the experience start off as a fun game with a simple loop of fighting and upgrading my units. As with most games that feature an XP or currency-based upgrade system the amount of currency or XP required for a level up or upgrade is increasingly high for each new tier. This increase in upgrade prices is unreasonably steep and causes players who are not using micro-transactions to essentially be soft-locked out of the higher level units and even the final worlds of the game. At this point in the game’s progression, it is becoming obvious that the game is designed to have players pony up more than just a few bucks now and again to be able to continue playing.
Is having to pay for a mobile game really that absurd? Well no, it would not be if there was a way to pay one time to remove adds, but there is not. It wouldn’t be so bad if the paid products where at least priced well so that $3.99 (what I would pay for this title if the progression was balanced) got you enough gold to buy all the “base” units, but it is not. Not even close. For example, if someone pays $2.99 they get 500 coins. Several of the low power units cost around 700 coins, and the ones you’ll need halfway through the game’s progression are usually 3,000 – 15,000 coins. See? Not even close… Also to really put the nail in the coffin, the most interesting units are not only super expensive, but they can ONLY be bought with real cash, like the pic below of the super OP SWAT unit bundle, demanding $30.
All the extra bits – everyone loves bonus content!
The development team did seem to add some clever extra bits to the game that are worth mentioning. These extra features are not particularly robust or game-changing but are still worth mentioning. Elements like a simple auto battle PvP mode to get a few extra coins, a bonus game mode that cycles through several options a month, and a community discussion board in the game app that allows people to post fan art, and discuss strategy are all good ideas that add just a little extra content to the game. The bonus game modes and the PvP game show the differences between paying players and free players very obviously, and it is unlikely that non-paying players will be featured on any high score boards.
When considering that the game is soft-locked at higher difficulties unless players pay a unwarranted amount of cash, combined with the clumsy inaccurate nature of the enemies and units, along with essentially all resources being on timers rather than allowing for meaningful or satisfying progressing, Dead Ahead: Zombie Warfare is a game that has many compelling gameplay elements, but in the end is more frustrating to play than it is fun.
Final Score: 5/10
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Happy gaming friends!