Dead Alliance Review
A derivative, flawed FPS with some lifeless gameplay
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a game that managed to revolve around a such neat concept, while at the same time falling so flat. Dead Alliance is an ultimate example of a title that resides on a level far short of the high ceiling of potential for which its gimmicks provide. What we’re left with is a game that’s so generic that it almost feels like it was created ironically - as a sort of edgy satirical commentary on the many tropes of modern day shooters.
To be fair, developers Illfonic and Psyop Games can claim bragging rights for taking advantage of a couple of fun concepts that have largely gone unexplored by most - using zombies as weapons. But this is pretty much where the ingenuity ends. Dead Alliance is a first person shooter in a post-apocalyptic world crawling with the undead. So basically - take multiplayer battles from Call of Duty in their most stripped down form and throw in some zombies ala Left for Dead, and you pretty much have Dead Alliance. In addition though, you can summon zombies to fight alongside you for a short time using a variety of methods, in order to give you an edge during your shootouts. This is an undeniably neat idea that adds an interesting - and sometimes even fun - dynamic. But unfortunately, these features exist within the realm of Dead Alliance’s uninspired environments and repetitive gameplay - along with mechanics that are shaky at best and border on broken at worst. These factors unfortunately taint what could have been a much more exciting gameplay element.
Right from the outset, you’re thrown only a few options to play around with, one of which is called the “Hideout.” Sounds cool, but it’s deceivingly naught but an options menu from which you can score upgrades with money earned in the game, and customize character classes to your liking. Though this option menu actually contains a decent list of goodies, it takes quite a bit of time to earn enough xp or money to snag most of them anyway - time that is better spent elsewhere.
Essentially, you can either jump into a randomly generated online match via the “quick play” option, start a private match with a friend - should you happen to find one that actually owns this game, or go solo against bots. The enemy AI is so absurdly easy and stupid though, that the latter option is virtually pointless. But thankfully, you’re also given Dead Alliance’s basic version of a campaign, through a solo survival mode. Since you’ll want to get yourself acquainted with some janky controls, as well as familiarize yourself with the stages, this is probably the best place to start.
To its credit, Dead Alliance does a decent job of differentiating the campaign from the mostly straightforward multiplayer battles. For one, this mode forces you to keep moving by spawning various “safety bubbles” which you must continually rush to. What are you trying to take cover from? Well, besides the ever-prevalent danger of crowds of sauntering zombies, you must shield yourself from a deadly pheromone gas which an oppressive coalition called SCP has unleashed. This gas is designed to deal with the infestation of zombies, but it can also kill humans. The SCP has apparently saw fit to saturate the entire area with this deadly toxin, which will end you in a matter of seconds if you step out of your forcefield safe-space.
There is also an opposing group of fighters, known as the Texan Confederation. Like their sinister SCP counterparts, we are never told much about them, or our hero for that matter, other than they are supposedly the good guys. There are some distractingly loud and cheesy exchanges over the radio during your missions involving a couple of people who have gone rogue from SCP and seek to aid you in getting your hands on the pheromone - presumably to expose the company. Though, beyond these vague bits of exposition, there’s virtually nothing in terms of a narrative or backstory.
Sadly, the gameplay doesn’t prove to be much more inspired either. While I did have some moments of exhilaration as I scrambled from one bubble to another whilst gunning down zombies, this formula quickly grew a bit stale. The structure is largely as follows - run to a safety bubble, shoot and/or knife clusters of clumsy zombies, snatch some ammo, high-tail it to the next bubble, shoot more zombies, grab a better weapon, and repeat. Each stage consists of roughly 20 waves, escalating slightly in difficulty as you progress. After earning various upgrades from the hideout, such as increased health and bite resistance, the first few stages prove to be pretty simple - even when fumbling with some stiff and clunky controls. The zombies aren’t a huge threat as long as you’ve got a beat on them. The only problems arise when you find yourself backing into, or become surrounded by a group of them - which actually occurs quite easily and frequently. Then, strangely enough, these brain-eating pests suddenly become quite cheap and overpowered. Normally, it was the deadly combo of exposing myself to the toxin too long whilst backing into or being blindsided by a few overly aggressive zombies that brought my swift and untimely demise.
A few late stages began to ramp things up, and threw in a few more powerful varieties of zombies - including plenty of runners, crawling blob-like mutations, and even explosive zombies. The game also tosses in the occasional rifle-packing soldier seeking to gun you down, which mixes things up a tad. The maps, all of which are recycled and reused in their exact form for multiplayer stages, are pretty lifeless, generic, and wrought with some of the dullest colors imaginable. It didn’t help that the graphics and aesthetics looked like they belonged in a basic shooter from 2002. The last few stages - which include a maze of sewer tunnels and a massive warehouse housing clusters of crates - manage to at least be a bit less generic and a touch more visually appealing. Yes, those are in fact the more interesting stages, believe it or not. By the time I hit this point in the game though, the roided-up zombies and better maps did little to break the monotony that had accumulated after several hours of grinding and dying. And, if you’re like me, you’ll also perish much more often in the later stages, making it all the more difficult to return for another go of the same routine. Despite being only a handful of levels, the campaign felt quite lengthy - and not in a good way.
Of course, as you’d expect from any shooter, the real meat of the gameplay can be found in the multiplayer. But don’t expect a filet mignon, or even a sirloin here. Hell, even a cheeseburger might be too generous a comparison. There were certainly hints of fun to be found under the right circumstances, but they were usually hindered by some annoyingly distracting glitches, choppy framerates, and otherwise flawed gameplay. The awkward controls and mechanics are especially apparent here, as you’ll need to react quickly to the chaos of human opponents and ruthless zombies, both weaponized and neutral. Many times, in order to land an effective shot quickly and most efficiently, I would merely aim somewhere in the vicinity of my opponent and strafe around to land my reticle closer to accuracy, rather than relying on the slow jankiness of the aiming. You can at least tweak your aiming sensitivity - which exists as one of the few customizable features, but it does little to overcome the clunkiness.
It’s a shame, because the multiplayer does provide some moments of fun and exhilaration amidst all the flaws that muddy its waters. There is something satisfying about tossing a PAM grenade amidst a crowd of zombies, and watching these newly summoned minions take out unsuspecting opponents. But for the most part, the weaknesses in the gameplay are just too prominent to shake off. On top of some poor frame rates, lag hiccups, and disconnects, I also had to deal with the many strange quirks and flaws within the game design itself, which come to the forefront during the heat of multiplayer battles. As is the case in survival mode, you are granted only a limited range of actions - which include a crouch and ledge jump - both of which are mostly useless - as well as an awkward knife slash. Usually you’ll just be running and gunning, while tossing PAM grenades into crowds of zombies and hoping for the best.
Scattered randomly about the closed-in stages are a liberal dose of run-down buildings and cars, crates, cement blocks, debris, and other typical FPS obstacles. These clustered areas make it quite easy to get stuck and often engulfed by relentless zombies who will quickly overwhelm and kill you. The undead themselves are frequently buggy on almost a comical level. They will sometimes get stuck on ramps or stairways, freeze in place after being killed, and generally tend to whig out and act erratically, attributes which are compounded by some simplistic and awkward animations. But the undead aren’t the only source of this bug infestation. I’ve had matches where bases refused to be captured, PAM grenades failed work, and skill streaks didn’t appear to trigger. Spawn points also could use some major tweaking, as I’ve often appeared directly in front of a herd of zombies, or right in front of an enemy all too eager to take advantage.
There is at least a bit of depth to play around with via class creation. You’ve got a few premade classes at your disposal, along with the option to customize one to your liking. Though, ultimately, every configuration revolves around 3 major classes - light, medium, or heavy. As you might expect, light troops are weaker and move about more swiftly, while defaulting to smaller, less effective weaponry. These include a light sniper rifle known as the Drakon, and a crossbow; the latter of which is one of the few weapons that manages stand out and actually proves semi-fun to mess around with. The medium class is balanced, and starts players out with assault rifles, including the M4 and AK47. They are quite generic, but they’re probably the easiest and most effective to use pound for pound. Heavy classes are slower, can absorb more damage, and wield bulkier, more powerful artillery. Among these are the massive machine gun M249 and a impactful shotgun, the Zed 12 - both of which come with frustratingly long reload times. Aside from these attributes, classes are essentially interchangeable in terms of customization.
In typical modern day FPS fashion, the game utilizes secondary weapons (usually a pistol), various types of explosives, devices, as well as perks and skill streaks to help beef up your character. Some of the items and skill streaks can be enjoyable to toy around with - like the air drop of a crate containing juiced-up zombies. Yet most that don’t involve the summoning or manipulation of zombies - like the advanced radar and blinding grenade - seem as though they’re ripped directly from Call of Duty. However, it’s nice to at least be given some semblance of depth here, since it is sorely lacking in most other areas of this game.
Even if you toss out the element of glitches, the multiplayer mode still leaves plenty to be desired, as it isn’t exactly brimming with tons of great content. There aren’t many game modes to chose from - just randomly generated 4 v 4 matches, which lack virtually any sort of customization to speak of, outside of the class creation and loadouts. As mentioned, the maps are the same handful of mediocre environments found in the solo survival mode, and are only selected at random. You got your team deathmatch, free for all, capture the flag, king of the hill, etc. The straight-up “kill your opponents” modes tended to be snooze-fests, even with the zombies creeping about. I did have some exciting romps of capture the flag and capture and hold (which is basically king of the hill with multiple bases), as the style of these games manage to compliment the use of zombies in a more exciting and integral way. These modes also force you to keep moving, ramping up the pace of what’s otherwise somewhat of a dragging experience.
Attrition mode was generally the highlight during my time with the online multiplayer. It’s a MOBA-esque battle that requires you to capture various enemy-held checkpoints. Locking down these points which will eventually trigger the emergence of a final base at a farther distance, which you (and ideally gaggles of zombie minions) can capture to win the game. Despite proving to be the highlight of my Dead Alliance playthrough, it was often bogged down by - you guessed it - another major bug. Half of my online Attrition matches featured checkpoints that remained uncaptured despite two or three of us sitting there for a great deal of time wondering what was happening.
I wanted to like Dead Alliance. And I do maintain that amongst this cluttered mess of glitches, shoddy mechanics, and bland, derivative gameplay, there exists a semi-decent, occasionally enjoyable shooter buried within it. But at the end of the day, Dead Alliance just feels like it was rushed out, and much like the undead that populate its bland environments - it comes across as incomplete and lifeless as a result. This is a shame because the weaponized zombie concept does hold some potential. Perhaps if the developers cranked out a major patch in the future, this game could be at least partially redeemed and resurrected from its zombie ridden wasteland.