If you are going to break into the zombie survival horror genre at this point, you can't really play it by the book. Dead Horde is praiseworthy in that it has a well-made engine, especially for an independent developer. However, the actual gameplay is square in the middle of territory than many other games have already treaded. For all the things that it tries, Dead Horde simply doesn't alleviate the feeling that it's all been done before, and it never does much to stand out among the other games in the genre.
Dead Horde is fairly bare-bones on the plot, other than that you play as a soldier fighting off an army of undead mutants. You start off pretty well armed, with an assault rifle that's decked out with an underslung grenade launcher and flashlight. While the grenade ammo is scarce, the bullets and flashlight's power is unlimited, letting you spot your shambling foes more easily so you can gun them down. You can also press the space bar to leap forward and roll in the direction you are moving; this empties your stamina bar but also lets you quickly move out of the reach of a pack of zombies.
As you kill enemies, you gain credits, which can be spent at weapon stores to upgrade your assault rifle and purchase and upgrade other weapons. With some weapons, you upgrade their maximum ammo count or how much damage they cause; with others, such as the assault rifle, you can also increase the clip size and rate of fire. Money can also be picked up in the game world if you find hidden caches of it, and between that and the waves of foes you put down, you generally have enough money to keep your guns upgraded and experiment with new ones.
However, it is wise to spend the bulk of your money on upgrading your assault rifle. With it, you have unlimited ammo, and once it's fully upgraded, you can easily take out half a pack of zombies with one clip. Other weapons in the game are limited by their ammo count, at times being only a single shot. With ammo rare to find in a level and expensive to buy in the shop, it puts other weapons on unsteady ground. Since the other weapons don't perform that much better than the assault rifle, spending money on them sometimes feels like a waste. Even the grenades are surprisingly ineffective, as even in the best-use situation of lobbing them into a crowd, they wound more often than they kill.
Regardless of your weapon selection, you'll have plenty of targets to use them against, as every level is practically filled with enemies. As you make your way through the largely linear levels, you will often find one or two zombies shambling around that will charge when they spot you or when you shoot them. The music sometimes picks up to signify that a horde of zombies is coming your way, attacking from one or more directions. Escaping these hordes is usually done by using your jump as often as you can, and since you can reload during a jump, you can often unload a clip, jump away as you reload, and then continue firing from your somewhat-safer distance.
While there are a few different enemy types, they don't act very different, thus increasing the level of sameness that you feel as you make your way through a level. You have basic shamblers, who can run pretty fast and take varying amounts of firepower to put down, depending on what they are wearing. You have other enemies, such as bloated monstrosities that look like they wandered away from a level in Left 4 Dead, and they're only capable of taking clip after clip of punishment before keeling over. There are other monsters that are harder to kill and almost seem like level bosses, but even they're not that difficult to defeat. Use your jump as often as possible, make sure you don't back yourself into a corner, and hold down your gunfire against them.
What cements the feeling of sameness is the incredible repetition found throughout the levels in Dead Horde. Levels reuse assets far too often, making them look like a vaguely industrial compound with a few trains, some imposing warehouse buildings, and some power relay stations. Such heavy recycling of content makes completing a level feel a lot less satisfying than it should be; you know that after the load screen, you're going to be fighting through the same streets and obstacles that you've already seen before.
What helps break up the monotony are brief vehicle sequences, where you happen upon a drivable vehicle such as a Humvee or a buggy. These vehicles are effectively unstoppable and let you mow down tons of enemies at once — either by gunning them down or running them over. These sequences are often far too short, and sometimes you've barely reached the maximum speed before you encounter an impassible barrier that requires you to dismount and proceed on foot. When playing multiplayer, one person can drive while the other shoots, but again, with such a limit on the amount of time, the fun of doing so is pretty short-lived.
Graphically, Dead Horde has a fantastic engine for a top-down shooter, with really good lighting effects, such as the shadows cast by enemies and the environment alike when you shine your flashlight on them. A smooth physics engine makes objects scatter around realistically but is used pretty sparingly. Enemy designs are well done, but they suffer from stilted animations, making their movements look stiffer than their speed would imply. Sound in the game is similarly hamstrung, with much of the gunfire lacking punch and the mutant sounds seeming fairly canned. The music in the game does a good job of setting the mood, but like the levels, it suffers from repetition and overuse.
Ultimately, Dead Horde is in an unfortunate position. It is a technically well-executed game, and its flaws are easily overlooked when you consider its budget pricing. However, the game doesn't really try anything different, and many other games have done it better in the past. The heavy reuse of assets makes it a chore to get through levels after you've done a couple of them, and the gameplay boils down to little more than using jump as often as possible and shooting your assault rifle, regardless of what you're facing or where you are. The title isn't particularly bad, nor is it particularly good; it finds itself in an uncomfortable middle, where it lacks glaring flaws as well as any memorable qualities.
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