Zombies, eh? They seem to be everywhere these days. After starring in a seemingly endless flood of low-budget gore fests in the seventies, the festering undead enjoyed a period of well-earned rest before recently being reawakened thanks to Capcom’s popular Resident Evil franchise and a slew of ‘me too’ Hollywood movie remakes. Now they’re shuffling their way to the (very) small screen courtesy of independent French developer Dream On Studios, formed by a group of ex-Infogrames/Atari Lyon staffers.
Taking more than a little inspiration from the classic Sega arcade hit ‘House of the Dead’, the delightfully named Dead ‘N’ Furious attempts to replicate the tense atmosphere of the aforementioned light gun title using the touch-screen technology found in Nintendo’s ultra-successful handheld console. The premise behind all the carnage is simple – you’re an innocent man incarcerated in the dark, dank recesses of a US penal facility when something goes horribly wrong and your fellow inmates start to develop a peculiar preference for the taste of human flesh. Over the course of several chapters you have to fight your way out of the penitentiary to safety.
As was the case in the aforementioned Sega coin-guzzler, the action is strictly on-rails with the player following a predetermined route through each level whilst attempting to fend off the advances of a horde of ravenous, decomposing corpses. To fire your weapon all that is required is a simple ‘tap’ on the section of the screen you wish to fire at. Reloading is achieved by ‘dragging’ a new ammo clip from one side of the display to the other and you can switch your current firearm using the d-pad.
Dream On Studios are evidently proud of their new ‘1337’ 3D graphics engine, and it’s easy to see why. The visuals in Dead ‘N’ Furious are extremely impressive. In fact, it wouldn’t be stretching it to call it one of the best looking 3D titles currently available for the DS. Although the prison itself is a pretty drab and colourless place (it could be argued that this is intentional – after all, jails aren’t famed for their outrageous decor), the size of the locations and number of enemies on-screen at once is nothing short of remarkable. It’s not unusual to face off against five or six different zombies at once, yet things still move smoothly with no noticeable drop in frame rate.
The zombies themselves are rendered well and react differently depending on where they are shot – for example, pop a cap into the shoulder and they whirl around, buying you valuable time to reload. As any gore fan knows the weak spot on your average flesh eater is always the head. True to form, the best tactic in Dead ‘n’ Furious is to ‘pop’ the cranium of your foe. Obviously this is the hardest part to successfully strike, so it’s fortunate that advancing zombies can also be felled by removing legs or arms, but a few more shots are usually required. The game rates your performance after each chapter based on how many ‘amputation’ shots you achieved during the mission, so a bit of experimentation and risky shooting is encouraged.
Each chapter has a boss character to contend with and in terms of design the developers have really come up with the goods here, although most of them are fairly easy to defeat once you become aware of their attack patterns. The most challenging aspect of the game is avoiding damage when playing the actual missions themselves. At times the screen can be literally flooded with enemies and you find yourself frantically tapping and dragging in order to shoot and reload before they get close enough to lash out. You’re given a generous dose of health to begin with and shooting various boxes scattered around the prison yields even more vitality, but as you advance to the later missions things become extremely challenging so these bonuses are essential. The zombies get faster and stronger, but thankfully supplementary weapons also become obtainable. These are further augmented by upgrades, which boost the power of your shots and allow you to reload more swiftly. Regardless of the extra firepower you will often find yourself relying on the trusty (but weak) handgun when things get hectic, thanks to the fact that it has unlimited ammunition (although it still has to be reloaded when each clip is empty). On some of the later levels proceedings become pretty frenetic as you swap between armaments in an attempt to conserve valuable bullets, using your handgun to bring down the less threatening foes and saving your bigger guns for the more pressing enemies.
The stern challenge represented by the multiple chapters means it’s unlikely anyone will breeze through the game in the space of a few hours. Once you do finish it, additional modes such as ‘Furious Mode’ (where the zombies are more aggressive and resilient) and ‘God’ (unlimited ammo on all weapons) do much to encourage repeat play. There are also multiple routes and secret rooms to explore which further enhances the appeal of playing again – many of these bonus areas require the player to shoot a specific area of the screen within a small window of opportunity, so it pays to be eagle-eyed. When you have truly exhausted the single player side of things you can then turn to the multiplayer mode, which allows you and a companion to take on the undead army co-operatively.
Unfortunately Dead ‘N’ Furious isn’t without faults. The constant tapping and dragging can get extremely repetitive after a while - although the steep difficulty and spooky atmosphere usually keep you interested enough to enjoy it. The visuals can also get somewhat monotonous, with many textures being re-used throughout the levels. The dialogue in the cut scenes is terribly corny but this could be seen as a playful homage to the equally poor writing present in Sega’s House of the Dead. Some people may take issue with the absence of in-game music, but this actually does much to heighten the tension.
Dead ‘N’ Furious has been released with very little fanfare and as a result it has come as something of a pleasant surprise. We’ve already seen how light gun games can work on the DS – Namco’s Point Blank proved the console is capable of imitating the ‘point and shoot’ gameplay to a satisfactory degree – but Dead ‘N’ Furious is a much more successful demonstration. The biggest compliment you could possibly bestow on the game is that if it had the ‘House of the Dead’ brand attached to it, fans of the series certainly wouldn’t be disappointed.
Dream On Studio has certainly put a lot of time and effort into this game. The rather repetitive nature of the gameplay will prove off-putting for some and if there had been a little more variety it would be a near-essential purchase. As it stands it's an interesting little title and anyone who has pumped coins into Sega’s House of the Dead series will be in heaven with this release.
Eidos have picked the game up for the US market and renamed it ‘Touch the Dead’ (which sounds uncomfortably like necrophilia) but it’s amazing that Dead ‘N’ Furious does not have a UK distributor at the time of writing. It’s available in the rest of Europe via Spanish publisher Virgin Play and undoubtedly represents a worthwhile purchase for fans of the genre.