In the gaming ecosystem, mobile phone games play an important role. They serve as entertainment when it’s not possible to access a dedicated gaming system like a PC or console. In general, the best mobile games are simple, addictive and accessible to a wide audience. Perfect examples of this type of game are Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies and Fruit Ninja. Ported titles occasionally succeed as well, such as XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but the limitations of mobile devices mean not every type of game works out on the platform.
Dead Effect is a first-person shooter for iOS that pits the player against various types of zombies: walkers, crawlers, sprinters, special armored zeds and spitters that attack from range. But the real enemies are the game’s awkward controls and shoddy hit detection, which detract from what could have been a decent, if not very original mobile title.
You play as either Jane Frey or Gunnar Davis, an elite soldier of Section 13. In a very Halo-esque opening sequence, the main character wakes up from stasis to find a virus has turned the entire crew of the spaceship Meridian into zombies. Wagner, a scientist who’s suspiciously survived the outbreak, eventually contacts you and tasks you with regaining control of the ship. It’s what you’d expect from a game called Dead Effect: largely derivative.
Your missions will include things like disabling a ventilation system that’s pumping poison into the air and finding a pass code to unlock a security door. Along the way you’ll contend with both the zombified crew, various bosses and the game’s lackluster mechanics.
It’s not so much a fault of the game itself– the controls of a mobile FPS will always feel awkward. Mobile devices generally struggle to produce the precision that shooters require to dispatch enemies. It’s especially obvious in Dead Effect, which places extra importance on head shots.
If the game compensated for this lack of precision with forgiving hit detection, it wouldn’t be so frustrating. But it seems to expect the player to replicate the accuracy of a PC or console shooter with a mobile device, which just isn’t reasonable when you’re being swarmed by multiple enemies at once. Bullet time compensates for this somewhat, but it only lasts for so long, and you’ll eventually be overwhelmed.
The game is equally unforgiving when it comes to player death. While each mission isn’t particularly lengthy, there are no checkpoints, which means if the game’s controls result in a mission failure at the final stage, you can expect to slog through the entire level over again. If the game’s mechanics were more reliable (not easier), this unforgiving aspect might even deserve praise. But considering the constraints of the platform, a certain degree of leniency is necessary.
Dead Effect does deserve praise in several areas. Most notably, it creates an impressive atmosphere for a mobile game, and many of the zombie encounters are quite suspenseful. A solid soundtrack accents the tense moments expertly and multiplies this suspense. Unfortunately, some of the game’s suspense is generated by the poor mechanics and a fear that they’ll doom you to failure.
Another aspect that should be recognized, if not applauded, is the game’s voice acting. While voice overs can greatly add to the immersion of a title, in this case their poor quality actually detracts from it at times. The worst example of this is Wagner, who sounds like someone doing a bad impression of someone doing an impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger (He actually says “Get to da elevatah!” at one point). The main character’s voice over isn’t much better, and it commits the cardinal sin of having the player talk to him or herself as a way of prompting an objective.
As mediocre as the voice acting is, it’s still a point in favor of the game simply by its inclusion, and the developers deserve praise for their ambition. Dead Effect’s graphics are also quite good for a mobile game, and the blood splatter animation for killing a zombie is very satisfying.
The game also offers a wide array of weapons, each customizable based on player preference. Credits found scattered across the ship are used to buy weapon upgrades to damage, armor piercing, reload speed and clip size. Whom exactly you’re buying these upgrades from on a ship full of zombies is unclear, but it’s a forgivable mechanic.
There is no multiplayer mode, but Dead Effect includes a survival mission akin to CoD zombies that adds replay value. Game Center integration is also included and a large number of achievements are available. Last but not least, Dead Effect includes no micro transactions and all purchases are made using in-game currency.
Dead Effect doesn’t do any one thing particularly well, and it doesn’t bring anything new to the zombie shooter genre. It can be both suspenseful and challenging, but the game’s frustrating and unforgiving mechanics generate most of that tension and difficulty. Dead Effect shouldn’t be easy, but it should accept the limitations of the mobile platform when it comes to first-person shooters and adjust its game play accordingly.