Developer: Mobirate Games
Genre: Side-scrolling Vehicular Zombie Homicide Simulator
Every now and then, when cruising the app store, pawing my way through game after game, I like to take survey of just how great ‘gamers’ really have it. At literally any moment of any day, I can hop on my iOS device and for a little less than the price of a Starbucks coffee, find a gaming experience tailored to whatever whim I want to indulge. Strategy, RPG, CCG, Platformer, Shooter, MMO, Flight Sim, Puzzle – not to mention all the subgenres and hybrids. Simply put, if you ask me, we are in the golden age of gaming accessibility. But ease of accessibility breeds entitlement, and with nearly limitless options, it’s difficult for one title to stand out. So it’s with much delight, and a dopey smile on my face, that I’ve chosen to describe Dead Ahead, the new side-scrolling vehicular zombie homicide simulator, with one word (and a punctuation mark): Wow!
If you combined the animation of Invader Zim, The gameplay of the NES Classic Excite Bike, a bit of homage to Akira and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, plus some classic side-scrolling beat em’ up tropes, and you have the core of Dead Ahead.
Following a fairly haunting cut-scene that plays on start-up, you’re presented with a motorcycle, a weapon, and an endless stretch of road. But Easy Rider this ain’t. That endless road is filled with debris, broken down cars, trucks, buses, potholes, the occasional jump, and, oh yeah, hundreds of sortadorable zombies eager to nom-nom on your face parts.
And I mean sortadorable. Dead Ahead’s anime-influenced art style is an absolute treat, packed chock-full of numerous little details that add up into something closely resembling a soul. From the way your character’s shirt flaps in the wind, to the hilarious way in which the hordes of undead will waddle-run after you, flailing their arms in front of them like a toddler eagerly reaching for a bottle, to how each of the different kinds of zombies: Cops, nurses, bikers, construction workers, have different little animated nuances – it’s easy to get distracted admiring the game’s ability to mix the endearing and the disgusting with ease.
Which can be problematic since the actual game part of Dead Ahead is excellent in it’s own right. It’s a capital V, capital G, Video Game that would have been right at home in a 1990’s arcade cabinet, perfectly content to nom-nom-nom on quarter after quarter like the zombies on screen. The mechanics are tight, with your main controls being the ability to move vertically on a 2D plane by moving your finger up and down on the right hand side of your iOS device, and a shoot and boost button on the left. You’ll use these buttons quite frantically, shooting the zombies that come up behind you, then hammering the zoom button to plow through zombies ahead of you as your boomstick reloads, all the while navigating around road obstructions across 5 seemingly endless levels.
These three elements: shooting zombies, plowing through them, and avoiding roadblocks would probably make for a decent free-to-play game, something to be played for twenty minutes and forgotten. But the beauty of Dead Ahead is in the way it combines these perfectly serviceable elements into an addicting sort of poetry, thanks in part to an objective system that ties directly into how you progress through the game. Being challenged to make it 1500 meters without using boost, or score 20 kills with a pistol before dying in order to go up a level extends the replay value exponentially. When you toss in boss zombies, a hefty selection of weapons, and a few upgradable bikes to try out, it’s easy to drink Dead Ahead’s Kool-Aid.
But, surely there must be a catch. Is this Kool-aid loaded with the empty calories of pay-to-win carbs and IAP sugary-substitute nonsense? No. It seems developer Mobirate has gone the noble route with Dead Ahead, literally providing the entire game free of charge, and hoping that the gaming community will choose to buy something as a show of support. I’ve put about five hours into Dead Ahead, and outside of a few advertisements, I’ve advanced in the game completely unabated. The game’s only currency is coins, and you’ll earn plenty just from playing – though you can buy some with real cash-money if you’d like. Similarly, a wicked cool looking Akira style bike, along with the two most powerful weapons in the game (who are actually additional riders on your bike), are only available via in-app purchase – which is perfectly fine considering the karma Dead Ahead earns in every other facet of the game. A guy’s gotta make a living, right?
Ultimately, Dead Ahead scratches an increasingly elusive itch that arcadeish classics like NARC, Mega Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Battletoads, and X-men used to pinpoint like the fingernails of a goddess. The addicting, I know I can do better nature of the difficulty, the power-ups, the style, and a certain simplicity of design that did a few things excellently, instead of many different things decently – created some truly exquisite games. But, for better or worse, gaming has evolved in complexity. Simple pinpoint back-scratches became antiquated in favor of more elaborate, but ultimately less satisfying massages. Even the re-releases of those arcade classics lost something in the translation, so it’s kinda of profound that Dead Ahead nails it so flawlessly. I’m tempted to use a cliche about how Dead Ahead is greater than the sum of its parts, but in truth, the parts are excellent on their own, and the fact they fit together so well is gravy.
Five Stars (out of five)
note: I attempted to post this review on a popular IOS review outlet
that rhymes with Smuch Marcade, and they informed me my opinion was wrong. I ultimately quit that paid writing gig because they told me I liked the game too much.
Since the game is free, It’d be nice to see if I’m the only person on
the planet who thinks this game is awesome)