Zombie Apocalypse stories have existed for long enough to start out as cool, get used up, become subject to parody… but not die out, because this undead premise can justify lots of cool action without actually murdering unarmed people. Drop Dead is one of such games, and the only one available on Oculus Quest so far.
The game was available already on Oculus Go, but the player had only one weapon that was held in front of his/her eyes so the single 3DoF controlled was used only for aiming like in a FPS game for PC. Its Dual Strike edition for Oculus Quest allows carrying two weapons and moving them freely around which feels much better.
The game is totally gameplay oriented and it’s gameplay is great. That’s what makes this game good and why better controllers make this game much better.
Plot (no spoilers included)
As of 2019, it’s impossible to write a serious zombie apocalypse story. Drop Dead does not try, and it’s good it doesn’t. The plot serves mainly to justify alternating objectives and game mechanics. The authors knew it and did a good job at not taking it seriously. The dialogue is full of jokes and puns, which spill also into mission objectives and elsewhere. Don’t expect any high quality humour, but it will make you smile. But remember, this game is about killing zombies, not about a complex story narrated through a zillion cutscenes that would work better as a film.
The story takes place in year 2021. A rogue CIA agent, Doctor Monday (despite his name, he has a Teutonic accent), has become a pure blooded lunatic and created a disease that turns humans into mindless zombies that crave human flesh and the virus has somehow infected almost everyone. The player controls Agent Cipher, another CIA agent, who can travel back in time, which he uses to go back in time if he gets into a bad situation. Cipher has two allies, Billy-Bob, a veteran CIA agent and Celia Jane, who is, who could have guessed, also a CIA agent. They have equipped Cipher with a special helmet (that provides HUD) to record data and assist him in combat. The game starts in the final area, but with insufficient weaponry and no means of winning. When defeated, Cipher goes back in time and marches against Monday again and again, each time better prepared for the final confrontation (which conveniently explains why the campaign goes through the same levels three times with some alterations).
For a mobile game, it has relatively good graphics. There are highly detailed textures with normalmaps, occlusion and roughness maps. Shadows are dynamic. Many areas have their surroundings filled with ominous shapes rather than continuing countryside, both preserving computational power and improving the atmosphere. Zombies have good ragdoll effects proportional to the expected force of impact.
However, many parts are quite neglected. While the characters and weapons look very good, some environment objects look quite good too, while most are just low poly models wrapped in low resolution textures. Some of it feels more like insufficient resources when making assets than like engine limitations. Zombies are less detailed too (possibly because the engine could not render many zombies in good detail).
To fight the undead hordes, the player uses guns and melee weapons. Guns run out of ammo and melee weapons break, but there is always one default gun that has infinite ammo (reloading is still necessary). Movement is automatic, when the area before is cleared. Cipher walks slowly and to further reduce the likelihood of nausea, even that can be replaced by teleportation. Getting hit reduces Cipher’s health, five hits bring him down. Other characters die after getting hit once. Levels have no checkpoints, but are sufficiently short.
There are many types of zombies that often play specific roles in the shambling horde (the names are not official):
- regular – an undead redneck that walks slowly and attacks in close range, they have about 10 possible appearances and may carry farming tools and use them as weapons, though that’s just cosmetic
- spitter – a zombie in a hazmat suit that spits acid from distance
- fast one – a small and squishy zombie with some mechanical devices mounted on their legs to run fast; they however don’t attack fast
- big one (called Big Pete by Billy-Bob) – a big, extremely slow zombie that takes many headshots before it dies
- miner – relatively fast zombie carrying a pickaxe and a helmet that causes it to survive one extra headshot
- rocketier (called rocket-launching zombozo by Billy-Bob) – a zombie soldier that fires rockets that act much like acid spit, but are harder to dodge and explode when they hit something, also wears a helmet
- jetpack spitter – a spitter with a jetpack, hovers at one location, can lose legs without dying but in most cases, it’s just easier to hit than a regular spitter
- heavy infantry – a large cyborg zombie that has a shield that can take a lot of damage, needs to take several headshots when it’s not holding the shield properly in order to die (happens for example if the shield is shot at)
- tuneller – a horribly large and resilient zombie with two large tunnelling drills instead of hands, kills with a single hit
A large number of regular zombies can be quite easy to take down, but a few big ones assisted by spitters and fast ones needs constant switching of targets and careful assertion of priorities what to shoot at.
The variety of enemies is sufficent to challenge the player’s skills in multiple ways and prevent the player from getting bored. The developers clearly tried hard to have the player face nearly all possible combinations. The downside of this is that sometimes, this results in a massive difficulty spike that makes one group of enemies a showstopper that require extra practice that trivialises other content.
The game offers a nice collection of weapons. The player can carry at most two weapons plus the default one that automatically attaches to the belt and they don’t share ammo (actually, ammo for reloading is tied to each individual weapon, so it’s not possible even to move ammo from one gun to another gun of the same type), so it’s rarely up to the player to choose.
The player can use a tractor beam in Cipher’s helmet to pull weapons far away from him to deal with the problem of unreachability of some of them. This mechanic allowed the developers to hide some weapons and reward the player if he actually looks around without being limited by the lack of freedom of movement.
Reloading is done by moving the hand down, near the belt. It can be accelerated by pressing the trigger during a short period of time that is displayed in the centre of view, pressing it in the wrong time causes the weapon to jam, causing it to become unusable and unremovable for a while. This can also happen if nervously trying to shoot before the reloading is over, which often results in taking a lot of hits of not having another weapon in the other hand.
The weapons available in the game are:
- revolver – a basic gun, when it’s the default weapon, it has infinite ammo; its low damage challenges the player to try for headshots all the time
- axe – a melee weapon with good damage and durability, can be thrown far and pulled back using the tractor beam in the Jedi style
- baseball bat – a melee weapon that can be used to send enemy projectiles back at them or at other enemies (other melee weapons just block them, guns don’t do even that)
- farming tools – shovels, pitchforks, pickaxes and other stuff that zombies carry, they tend to break fast and get stuck in enemy flesh
- shotguns – the game has three types of shotguns of different damage and firepower, good spread and damage at short range, suck from distance
- assault rifles -the game has three types of assault rifles, all have relatively good precision and continous fire, a really basic one is the default weapon in some levels
- sticky bomb gun – shoots grenades that stick to surfaces and do high damage (explosions can’t harm Cipher)
- charge-up gun – a sci-fi style gun that charges up when the trigger is pressed and shoots when released, pressing the trigger rapidly deals so little damage that it’s good only for shooting down projectiles, a fully charged shot takes down the big ones, does not consume ammo; it’s the default weapon in some levels
- Gatling gun – the ultimate tool of restoring civilisation
The variety of weapons is meaningful because the ammo scarcity means the player cannot just run through the game with the assault rifle that fits his or her needs the best. It’s nearly mandatory to use all weapon types in game, while micromanaging the available weapons. This adds to the zombie apocalypse survivalist feel. Often, it’s beneficial to shoot enemies with the basic gun (which is somewhat special because of its need to aim for headshots) and use the other weapon only while in trouble. Even if there is enough ammo, it can be good to shoot the worse of two guns while always keeping the better one in reserve. The need for reloading requires the player to shoot with his or her off hand while the weapon in the main hand is being reloaded.
Unfortunately, there are few occasions requiring using both hands. Enough ammo is generally enough to deal with nasty situations.
In addition to weapons, the player can also carry energy drinks (drinking one slows time for a short while) and grenades. These can be collected and used when the situation gets hard.
Missions in the campaign require the player to reach some place, protect some people who did not become zombies yet, protect Billy-Bob or Celia Jane while they do something important, shoot off some number of zombie limbs and killing lots of zombies while at it. This is meant to provide some variety, but it often presents a difficulty spike because the person is attacked from multiple directions by enemies moving perpendicularly at the line of sight, often quite far away, while accidentally hitting the person means automatic defeat.
The player has no control of Cipher’s movement, but can make small movements to avoid acid spits or rockets. It’s not allowed to move in all of the available area, only around a selected spot (that can be placed at current position by holding the O button). This prevents the player from making the game too easy by running around slow enemies and circle strafing them, but it tends to get annoying if one forgets where that spot was.
The game’s music, while not amazing, is unobtrusive and doesn’t become annoying (unlike in Divinity: Original Sin). It serves one thing: to fill the background. And it does it well.
The game has some bugs. The most annoying of them causes the tracking of hands to fail much more often than usually. There are some other bugs, but they are quite rare and appear randomly enough not to prevent something from working.
In addition to single player campaign, the player can also fight against waves on enemies in arenas based on some of the more developed areas of the campaign (farm, cemetery, desert canyon, enemy lab). This mode, called Horde mode, can be played in multiplayer.
In Horde mode, the player(s) face waves of enemies that become progressively stronger and drop weapons. The quantity of enemies and dropped weapons is proportional to the number of players. The players have their health added into one global health bar, so they need to save each other’s asses all the time. One point of health is restored at the end of each wave. The game usually ends when one player fails to stop an advancing horde while other players have enough trouble fighting their own enemies. The goal is to get the highest score possible. Each player has his own score, so a weaker player won’t pull his team down (actually, they may get extra points by shooting his share of enemies).
The game has very little lag issues. It seems that each player plays his game with the actions of other players injected in it and some synchronisation rather than using the usual host/client model. Interaction with other players would probably be messy if done this way, but players never interact directly with each other. If a player suffers from a lag spike or minimises the game, other players’ game is paused. If it takes for too long, the game continues without him/her.
The multiplayer mode is great fun to play cooperatively with friends, sharing weapons and protecting each other, while still competing for score.
Drop Dead is yet another zombie shooter with a plot that doesn’t even try to take itself seriously. Its main focus is the gameplay that is great with two hands and 6DoF and doesn’t become boring. Even while replaying old levels, fun is assured by its variability of enemies and scarcity of ammo that often requires using all weapons available. It has great cooperative multiplayer to enjoy with friends.
The game is no AAA title and it’s visible the team had limited resources, but its core, the gameplay, shows that the game developers behind this know their trade well. Although the game could have been better in some secondary aspects, my score is 5/5.