I had a heck of a time playing and screenshotting Dead Pixels this week. Last weekend, I spent most hours of the day alternately shivering and sweating in bed with the flu. I managed to read most of the book Gone Girl, but did little else. Looking back, I’m amazed that I managed to stumble downstairs to the computer Saturday morning and put together a coherent bunch of words on Valiant Hearts. It all seems like a dream.
And then it’s been a busy week at work. Which is to say, I’m going to fill this post with excuses on why I didn’t actually play that much of Dead Pixels. In addition, the game didn’t seem to want to cooperate with the Steam Overlay at home, making it onerous to take screenshots, which is why this post will also have less images. But all right – aside from the fact that I didn’t play the game and didn’t take screenshots of it, what was my opinion of it?
It’s a tale as old as time: in 1983, as I would have been celebrating my 5-month birthday halfway across the globe, a toxic something-or-other spill causes the dead to rise and attempt to masticate the brains of the living. Alone on one side of a medium-sized town in New York, a man has mapped his way to a survivor encampment/helipad and must fight his way there. Along the way, he has nothing except his wits, a large array of pistols, shotguns, and automatic rifles, a dizzying selection of grenades, flares, molotov cocktails, and literal sticks of dynamite, various valuables of different weights that are useless except as barter for said guns and grenades, and a surprisingly copious number of merchants who have set up impenetrable storefronts willing to take teddy bears in exchange for military-grade incendiary grenades.
I spent most of my time telling my little pixelated man to go right, ever right, faster right, sometimes zig-zagging to avoid the slow-moving zombies that were attracted to my musk. Every once in a while, I’d shoot a few of the undead for novelty, or to clear a path, or to collect the money that they’d drop once dead. It was money that would infuriatingly disappear after a few seconds, as if zombie money disintegrated unless put into my special fanny pack. I would then use the money to buy grenades and ammo at the various merchants I’d run into, though sometimes I’d splurge for an upgrade to a core stat, like speed, health, or gun damage.
There are a lot of things that I could do while puttering through this zombie-infested town, but none of it felt meaningful. As I got closer to the supposed chopper, new more dangerous zombie types started appearing. But I was also going door-to-door and scavenging from various hospitals, apartments, and department stores, building up my arsenal with firearms that everyone had discarded amongst batteries and bottles of adrenaline. I eventually had way too many guns, no real incentive to shoot zombies that I could simply saunter by, and a cash stash from all the random “valuables” and extra guns I was selling.
There was always plenty. Plenty of zombies to shoot – buy why do it? Why expend ammo to off the zombies, only to collect the money that popped out of their falling bodies, just to turn around and then spend that money on more ammo (or faster legs to avoid shooting future zombies)? Plenty of guns to scavenge and buy, but why keep more than the single shotgun or automatic rifle with the best damage? Plenty of valuables to find in random buildings I came across, but why bother paying attention to what they are or what they weigh if all I’m going to do is take them to a vendor and sell them as soon as I can?
Each vendor wants a specific valuable, which they’re willing to pay more money for! Who cares? There’s a kill combo meter that shows up when killing zombies in quick succession! Who cares? You can melee zombies if you get close enough to them! Who cares? None of it matters.
I played on normal and then started a new game on easy (as the game seemed to imply that the main difference between the difficulties was only how many streets I’d have to survive to win) to see if I could complete a run. I got to the end within half an hour or so, but as I went right one final time, steps away from the rumored group of survivors with a helicopter who would take me away from this horrid town forever, a single screen came up that told me I’d have to eliminate the “beast” before I was let into their safehouse.
What? What beast?? I moved, against my better judgement and all my design instincts, to the left, only to find that the last street seemed to just endlessly pump large groups of zombies from both sides of the screen simultaneously; it was something that I could manage while continually moving right, but confusedly shuffling to the left, looking for some kind of boss zombie that never appeared regardless of how many grunts I killed, I eventually would just die over and over again.
Then, I quit the game. There’s a lot of stuff here, but there’s just no directing hand, nothing that tells me why I should engage with any of it. Dead Pixels – full of zombies, devoid of life.