I have a slight obsession with all things-zombie. Zombie games, zombie books, the zombie apocalypse, zombie survival guides, Rob Zombie; the multitude of facets that make up this revolution of the dead always draws my attention. Whether they hold my attention is another matter.
Dead Among Us is an Android FPS where you play a bow-wielding survivor making his way through a city dilapidated by the zombie apocalypse. The bow aspect is a nice twist on the usual weapon selection (guns, grenades, and more guns). The focus on upgrading the bow rather than leveling up your own skills could be really cool, and enhanced by the slightly worn art direction of the menus.
It spins itself as a one hand shooter and runs in portrait mode: the character is a sniper, so it makes sense that the game posts you up at one location. On the other hand, because the learning curve is so low, it gets boring fast. It ends up feeling more like a rail shooter without the point-to-point movement. By the end of the city (the equivalent of a full level) I longed for more zombies to kill per mission, or at least a greater variety in the mission goals, considering the game’s other constraints.
Speaking of constraints, Dead Among Us employs quite a few freemium tricks. Stamina points, for instance, are an old ploy that limits the number of times you can actively play in a row. You get one every ten minutes. Succeeding at a mission rewards you with cash, and you get one gold piece for leveling up your character. There are also special abilities that you can buy; slow time, radar, and kill shot. Including stamina, the game has three currencies, unless you consider special abilities currency since they are only earned between levels, then you can make that six.
There are three mission types. Regular missions are easiest with the lowest reward, and are unlimited. Challenge missions are the second hardest, and there are a certain number of them; you get a bonus when you beat them all. Star missions are the “main” missions; completing them is the only way to progress to the next area. The differences between them are scant. Star missions are slightly harder, but challenge and regular missions have the same objectives –defend a static or moving NPC or object in your field of vision, or defend yourself.
You can’t continue – can’t even attempt any missions – until your bow level matches the mission’s requirement. Upgrading requires cash. So instead of feeling like a reward for hard work, upgrading your weapon eventually becomes yet another limitation. Even though it was interesting to break down the parts of the bow (again, instead of the parts of a gun), since each part has to be upgraded individually, increasing your bow’s power gets expensive very quickly. But that’s the idea. The more you need your currencies, the more likely you are to break down and buy one of their money packs from the in-game store, which has offers for fake, in-game, not-real-anything “money” at up to 100 real-world dollars.
Dead Among Us has many promising premises, but unfortunately squanders them all. The zombie apocalypse setting has been used a million times and though the concept still gives a little thrill, the execution has to set it apart for the first impression to last. In this case, it doesn’t. The bow loses its cool earlier than it should due to the way players earn its upgrades and the fact that it’s tied to mission progression. The one-hand shooter aspect could be challenging and freeing at the same time, but because the rest of the game is so content-light it comes across as a limitation. It’s kind of cool that there’s a running count of how many zombies have been killed by everyone playing Dead Among Us on the website, and the title itself is pretty great. It would be nice if it belonged to a better game.
Worse-than-average freemium sniper game wastes an excellent foundation.