Zombies, and their mutated ilk, are used so frequently as an enemy type that their familiarity has led to desensitisation. It is therefore necessary for games like Nation Red to provide more than just basal shooter mechanics and gore, and whilst the screen is often bathed in blood this game manages to avoid being just another brainless foray into the land of the undead.
DiezelPower’s Nation Red is a top-down action shooter that pits you against an endless supply of zombies with, as many of you will have presumed, a vast array of weapons, powerups and perks to obtain along the way. The weapons, that drop randomly from fallen foes, consist of genre staples such as shotguns, assault rifles, pistols and grenade launchers as well as a few quirky additions, such as the skin removing Steam Hammer, that add character to a game that could have easily slipped into anonymity. Accompanying these guns is a fairly robust range of melee items, such as the Freeman-esq Crowbar, and equipment like grenades (which can be upgraded to Molotov Cocktails), dynamite and mines. There are also a myriad of powerups ranging from temporary turrets and cloaks to more interesting variants such as zombie repelling turbines and the deadly apparition creating Ghost. These powerups are once again dropped by the double deceased and their random nature ensures that each attempt, whilst similar, has a slightly different flavour.
The game boasts 70 different perks which, whilst accurate, perhaps infers slightly more diversity than there actually is as many of them are upgrades. However there is still more than enough breadth here to complement the game’s presumed ethos of variety, and many of the perks are genuinely entertaining to unleash. The perks can be offensive or defensive, permanent or fleeting and as the selection screen, available once you reach a new experience level, pauses the game it allows for tactical and informed perk selection. Each of the gameplay modes, that I will discuss shortly, can be played with random, strategic (you can choose whichever 20 you wish) or automatic perk drops; the latter option allows you to create a list of perks that the game will then automatically dole out whenever you level up. So clearly there are a multitude of options to suit numerous playing styles, and this is further complimented by the availability of four different character types, again covering the expected roles, with differing stats and weapon bonuses.
Continuing the theme of variety, though unfortunately to a lesser extent, are the enemies themselves. Joining the more traditional zombies are bosses, that wield either a specific weapon (Minigun, Machinegun, Grenades) or specialise in melee combat, and ‘mini-bosses’, such as suicide bombers and crawlers, both of which help to create a rather menacing menagerie of cannon fodder. Disappointingly all of the bosses are essentially dealt with in the same way (avoid and bombard with bullets) in spite of their slightly different attributes. Similarly the number of levels is rather lacklustre with only a handful present and each struggling to meaningfully distinguish itself from the others. The levels themselves are little more than squares with only a modicum of movement in each direction, but their enclosed nature ensures that the game remains frenetic and that there is nowhere to hide from the zombie hordes encroaching upon you from all directions.
There is a lot of content on offer with free play, barricade (base defence) and survival (no perks or powerups) game types running alongside an 18 mission campaign. The campaign itself, whilst bereft of any narrative element, is scaled well ensuring that each subsequent mission feels notably more challenging than the last. Getting through the 18 missions, which are around three minutes in length, won’t take long but each one can be replayed numerous times at ever increasing difficulties, and in some instances the dynamic of the level changes substantially.
The gameplay, whilst familiar, is done well with both control schemes (keyboard/mouse and gamepad) offering responsive and intuitive controls. The weapons have a surprising amount of weight to them considering the perspective used, as it is nigh on impossible to convey elements such as recoil from a top down viewpoint, and this is mainly due to the satisfying and distinct sound effects. Similarly the soundtrack itself is impressive as the high tempo, guitar led tracks complement the games pace and tone perfectly.
The review thus far may seem somewhat contradictory as I eluded to some depth, some intelligence to this game and have done nothing but describe clichéd game elements underpinned by solid mechanics. What makes this game more than just a typical jaunt into this genre is the developers themselves and how, through community lead suggestions, the game continues to improve and evolve. DiezelPower are part of an all too small group of truly attentive developers, who are not only prepared to make changes but seem to relish the opportunity to do so. Many of the weapons, achievements and features have been added post-release due to community suggestions, and this includes a surprisingly accomplished online co-op system. The game has gone from a restrictive one gun limit to having two lockable weapon slots, this simple feature greatly enhances the scope for strategic play and is one of the various subtle changes underlying the more grandiose additions to the game.
The game shipped as something that could have easily been lost in the milieu of the medium which, in all fairness, may have been an appropriate fate. However what isn’t fair is that this game is still somewhat impeded by its inglorious infancy. The numerous post-release additions coupled with the refined mechanics creates a game that provides more than enough entertainment for its normal price of £7.99, and is a no brainer (I honestly tried to negotiate my way around that pathetic pun but succumbed to it in the end) at the current Steam Summer Sale price of 66%.