Madfinger’s Dead Trigger series stands peerless in the world of mobile first-person shooters. In focusing on crowd-control rather than fine aiming, and quick, bite-sized challenges rather than huge levels, it felt enhanced by the mobile factor rather than hindered. For their next title, Madfinger has given the Dead Trigger series a rest, but make no mistake, Unkilled is Dead Trigger in all but name.
Madfinger’s latest retains pretty much all of the core gameplay from the Dead Trigger series. You’ll be squaring off against crowds of undead crawling in from uncrossable barriers around the edge of the stages, running backwards as they swarm toward you. Controls are simple and elegant, with the left side of the screen being used for movement, the right side being used for aiming, and firing handled automatically. This last bit helps to distinguish the game from a lot of other clunky, failed attempts to translate FPS gameplay to touchscreens. Since you’re fighting the undead, most enemies are melee based and mindlessly aggressive, and this becomes a game of constant movement and crowd control, rather than methodically hiding behind cover and taking precise aim. It’s more Serious Sam than Call of Duty and it works fantastically well with the controls.
Of course, if you’ve played Dead Trigger 2, none of this is news to you. Unkilled plays virtually identically to its predecessor, but it distinguishes itself in a few ways. First and foremost, Unkilled’s single player campaign is far more developed than anything in the Dead Trigger series. Where the first Dead Trigger had hardly anything in the way of unique campaign stages, and the second had a brief, if entertaining romp through a scant 16 stages of story missions (at launch, anyway), Unkilled has over 100 story missions to plow through, and while it still has optional random side missions, they’re no longer the star of the show.
Of course this story highlights a surprising change in the game’s tone, despite its nearly identical theme. Rather than a tale of a rag-tag group of survivors in a global zombie outbreak, Unkilled chronicles the adventures of Joe, a member of a pseudo-military unit called WOLFPACK tasked with containing a zombie outbreak in New York City. No longer occupied with trying to be scary, Unkilled is mosly full of bright and colorful environments that don’t look much like New York, and – perhaps more troublingly – some really terrible dialog.
It’s difficult to convey just what an abjectly terrible character Joe is. Seemingly modeled after the marine from the infamous Doom comic book, he spouts out random “cool” catchphrases with an alarming frequency that seems to belie some kind of mental disability. Joe will happily comment “Shit damn, that was sweet!” (Joe thinks many things are sweet) or boast “Call me Mr. Death,” upon killing a wave of the undead. All of these are embarrassingly awful, but many of them also make so sense whatsoever (“Slip and slide time!” sounds more like a demand to go to the waterpark than a taunt). Between stages, there’s more bad dialog stringing together the scenarios. While one wouldn’t expect a game like this to be story-driven, the childish tone makes it feel like a missed opportunity.
Unlike its predecessors, Unkilled is launching as a free-to-play game, but fortunately Madfinger hasn’t gotten too greedy with its hooks. There’s the usual dual-currency system, but you can easily earn cash by playing levels, and gold by watching ads. Upgrades do seem more expensive than in the past, and there are level gates to impede progress. While upgrading weapons was important to progress in past DT games, it was organic, enforced by challenge. Here, a level will flat-out deny you entry if you don’t have the recommended hardware.
When it comes to genuinely fun to play mobile first-person shooters, Unkilled’s competition is scant. You’re not going to find a better-looking, better-playing FPS for your phone. That said, this doesn’t feel a generation ahead of Madfinger’s previous work. The massive campaign is a great addition, and the free-to-play hooks only a minor hindrance, but it largely feels like more of the same, with the addition of a slightly deranged Duke Nukem impersonator babbling in your ear. I’d have happily traded half of those hundred levels for a better written, better presented story, and maybe some real scares.
Those looking for more Dead Trigger are going to like what they find, but there’s not much in the way of evolution or refinement beyond a bigger campaign.