There is a reason I play games for a good few hours before I sit down to write a review and games like Dead Effect 2 are the reason. Some games impress you straight out of the gate and immediately pull you in with slick controls, shiny graphics and straightforward progression. Other games require the player to be patient; to fiddle, configure and get around quirks and bugs. Dead Effect 2 is the latter but perseverance really does pay off in this case.
The first hour I and my co-op cohort, Marc, spent in Dead Effect 2 were mostly dedicated to placing four-letter curses on the heads of the developers. We played through the first co-op level (the initial two levels of the story mode are solo to get you through the setup without distractions), we crashed to desktop a few times and the frame-rate was awful. Marc couldn’t navigate with solely a gamepad and often couldn’t click menu options. Somehow the game was even disrupting Skype chats and we were often left with huge communication delays. Eventually, for the sake of not getting a huge migraine or any angrier we just had to stop.
Dannette a science experiment inexplicably dressed like she’s going clubbing
But we didn’t give up. We made a cup of tea. We tinkered with the settings. We consulted the Steam discussion boards. We tinkered a little more. Slowly we got things running smoothly enough that we could begin to see a glimmer of what the game actually had to offer. At the end of the session we got to a point where it seemed like the game could run okay with minimal graphical concessions (if you picked the right settings). We agreed to return the next day for another attempt.
To provide a little context to all this, Dead Effect 2 is a futuristic RPG-style FPS not entirely dissimilar to Deus Ex in approach. The setting, however, is on board an abandoned spaceship full of zombies so there’s a definite feeling that the developers have been inspired to some degree by the Dead Space series. Unlike its inspiration, Dead Effect 2 has a much greater emphasis on co-op play and alternative gametypes. Fans of Gears of War’s original ‘Horde’ mode or Left for Dead 2 will find it easy to adapt to some very familiar scenarios.
Spawned from mobile roots, it’s still very easy to discern elements that are hanging on from the game’s origins. Menus and text are all way too big for a desktop monitor and the game’s dependence on currency betrays what must once have been quite an IAP economy. The various mini-games used to open doors and activate computers are also very reminiscent of those that require a touchscreen.
As we were starting again from scratch, I spent the intermission playing through that initial solo phase with all three available characters. Dead Effect 2 lets you pick your protagonist from a roster of three core options; a gun-toting Duke Nukem wannabe called Gunnar, a no-nonsense female soldier called Jane or a sword wielding techno-ninja called Kay. I’d already played through with Gunnar and although his back story (or lack of) wasn’t particularly inspiring, he was generic enough that I could pilot him through with little issue. Jane is essentially a female version of Gunnar and literally every word out of her mouth is deeply cringeworthy (“Some women collect shoes, I collect MAGNUMS!”). The experience with Jane was very similar to that of Gunnar, except with less wisecracks to the female NPC that guides you around. Then I started playing as Kay. Kay is described as being only for ‘experienced players’, likely due to his starting melee weapon but what did I have to lose? It’s no small statement that I believe Kay is the key piece of the puzzle that, at least for me, turned this whole thing around.
Kay is fun as hell.
His swords are totally overpowered and the overhead slice feels like you’re cracking someone over the head with a broom but the ludicrous combo of hilarity and destruction make it intensely playable. As you progress, Kay gains the use of a bow which again provides a welcome alternative to the usual pistol/assault rifle combo. there’s little more satisfying than detonating someone’s head with a well placed arrow.
So, having had a break we returned to have another crack at what co-op offering there was for us in Dead Effect 2. Lumping initially for the story mode, it soon becomes apparent that you are gradually unlocking or rescuing a number of NPCs that will, once back at the hub, become stores and upgrade merchants for various aspects of your character. Initially you have a Danette who lets you augment and build your special skills using XP (and who’s also a science experiment inexplicably dressed like she’s going clubbing). After that you acquire similar gang members that open up shop allowing you to upgrade and purchase weapons, armour and even better augmented body parts. these all cost money which you can collect in the non-hub combat zones. As I mentioned earlier, this heavy reliance on currency is no problem when the dollars are virtual, but I would have hated to invest too much of my own when this was a mobile title.
The level of customisability really wins out here. The guns on offer are varied and just weird enough to impress alongside an impressive selection of crossbows, bladed knuckle dusters and trip-mines.
We played through a large chunk of the story and at some point realised that we were actually really, really enjoying ourselves. With the technical issues mostly behind us we were getting to what makes Dead Effect 2 good. Mindless, monster slaughter and an array of weapons to do it with. We stopped playing the story and switched to some of the alternate gametypes. These are mostly variants on a procedural theme and use closed environments to throw waves of monsters at you. It’s nothing ground-breaking but it’s hours of chaotic fun and the game is very generous at showering you with tons more cash, weapons and gear.
Dead Effect 2 is a flawed gem but I have high hopes. For an early access game the developers are very attentive and respond well to the community which is appreciated given the bugs and other issues. In return, the players that keep coming back are patient too and are often rewarded with new content (I’m really excited for the update that brings in chainsaws). Make no mistake though, there is some serious work to be done here to optimise performance if they want to appeal to gamers with less patience. I remain cautiously optimistic.