Friday, March 25, 2011

Trapped Dead Review

Trapped Dead, developed by Crenetic Studios and published by Headup Games and Meridian4.
The Good: Multiple characters with separate inventories and varied abilities
The Not So Good: Excruciating slow pace, one-click automated combat is very boring, ineffective weapons, linear missions, sporadic checkpoint only saves
What say you? A tactical zombie game with dull fights and a sluggish tempo: 3/8

The zombie apocalypse has replaced World War II as the go-to setting for computer games. I don't need to list all of the games involving these undead beasts, but I will because it will make my review longer: Left 4 Dead, Zombie Driver, Plants vs. Zombies, and Larva Mortus, just to name a few I have reviewed (with more on the way...don't worry!). Trapped Dead, an import from the strong PC playground that is Germany, combines the thirst for hunting decaying humans with an old-school tactical game. That seems enough to separate it from the ever-growing pack, so let’s see if fending off the horde results in a good time.

The graphics of Trapped Dead are serviceable at best. The environments are varied and occasionally exhibit a nice amount of detail, placing your characters into a plausible setting. The characters could be better animated, and, for a zombie game, the gore is toned down significantly (possibly due to the German developmental roots). Special combat effects are rare: most of the time, you’ll just see a health bar trickle down and zombies fall over. The overall presentation is very reminiscent of those classic tactical games, although Trapped Dead does come in all three dimensions. The sound design is below average: middling effects during combat are coupled with generally terrible voice acting, which is honestly not surprising for a foreign title. Overall, there is nothing to write home about on the graphics and sound fronts.

Everyone’s a zombie! Uh oh! Trapped Dead is a tactical strategy game played from an overhead perspective, where you must lead an intrepid group of characters towards safety. The single player campaign offers a number of levels but in very linear, restrictive layouts. In addition, the game lacks difficulty settings and you can’t skip the opening credit sequence. The game also restricts when you can save: there are only very occasional save points where you will respawn if you die. Must be the extreme lack of disk space on the PC. Trapped Dead offers cooperative multiplayer that is so popular in other zombie titles, although I was never able to find another game in the server browser (I wonder why). With limitations in several areas, Trapped Dead’s features list could use some enhancements.

The controls of Trapped Dead are a bit odd, freely switching between the left and right mouse buttons to accomplish tasks. You left-click to move and right-click to interact, but use the right mouse button to box select enemy units. At least the game hints at the correct key in the lower-right portion of the screen when mousing over various objects in the game. The camera view can be locked to your characters or moved freely using the WASD keys, and you can easily toggle between walking slowly and walking very slowly. The function keys are used to select the different people that become a part of your team. You’ll eventually meet six characters (though you’ll only have four at a time) that exhibit a nice variety in abilities, specifically agility, accuracy, strength, and stamina. While the differences aren’t too significant, it does allow for some consideration when planning the next attack. Characters do not improve their abilities over time, however, and you cannot customize their skills or add new talents during the campaign. Each character has an inventory where they can carry weapons, ammunition, and items like grenades and health kits. Trapped Dead features a good-enough selection of weapons: chainsaws, bats, axes, swords, pistols, shotguns, rifles, and crossbows.

Unfortunately, fighting in Trapped Dead is outrageously boring. All you need to do is right-click on an enemy (or box select a group of enemies and then click) and your characters will do the rest. This does cut down on having to click the mouse every second, but it doesn’t make for scintillating gameplay. It’s like an action RPG where the game does all the work for you. Of course, in role-playing games, you are also given spells to vary up the action, but Trapped Dead lacks any sort of variety in the fighting. Most of the weapons also have terrible accuracy and low damage, making close melee fighting the better option. The game usually does a terrible job selecting the most appropriate target if more than one enemy is box-selected. But as long as you don’t alert too many enemies at once, you’ll do fine. Coupled with the bland combat is the glacial pace of the game: walking (and even running) everywhere takes such a long time, and you see your enemies long before you can walk over to them, removing the suspense common in zombie games. The game lacks transparent walls, so your view is routinely obscured by the level layouts, although you can miraculously see into rooms you have yet to enter. Also, opening a door holsters your weapon (apparently it takes two hands) and changing a weapon stops your movement and erases any commands you might have issued. The game is difficult not because of the AI, but because the weapons are so terrible: it seriously takes twenty shots to land enough bullets to take out a low-level enemy. In addition, only two of the six characters can actually use health packs: an insane design decision. The small glimmer of hope Trapped Dead offers is when you have to compensate for the deficiencies of your characters (like the wheelchair guy not being able to use stairs), but these instances are few, scripted, and obvious. The AI is quite simple, only becoming a threat when present in large numbers. In short (too late!), Trapped Dead is an uninteresting chore to play.

Trapped Dead is a good idea on paper translated into a tedious game experience. The problem is two-fold: the game’s slow pace and hands-off combat. Simply walking around and engaging zombies is a drawn-out process because everyone moves so slowly (even when running), from the survivors to the zombies. While this might add time to make important tactical decisions, the combat doesn’t require any thinking: all you need to do is select an enemy and your characters will continuously hit them on their own until the zombies fall over. Thus, Trapped Dead simply becomes a matter of not getting overwhelmed, isolating a couple of zombies at a time. The weapon variety and different character attributes add some spice to the mix, but it’s not enough to save the title as a whole. While the game does offer cooperative multiplayer, I never found anyone to play with, and the use of fixed checkpoints that are not preserved if you exit the game are an arbitrary and annoying limitation. The somewhat unconventional control scheme also doesn’t help matters. Simply put, the zombie invasion of Trapped Dead just isn’t interesting.