Review: Dead Age

Dead Age is a rogue-like turn-based zombie RPG. Ambitious then, and playing it flicks between your emotions of ‘it’s quite good’ to ‘not very good’ – I think depending on how badly you want a zombie rogue-like with turn-based elements will depend on how much you like Dead Age.

You’re introduced to the basic mechanics through a notebook with various tabs for different menus and quests. It’s cumbersome although nicely drawn, and this pretty much sets the tone for Dead Age. Whilst the artwork is nice, it all feels a bit budget – but this isn’t a major issue.

The gameplay revolves around turn-based combat and is most similar to the traditional JPRG format. Your team lines up against a team of zombies, and take it in turns to attack each other selecting what weapon to use, heal or other action. It feels slightly weird to me to be attacked repeatedly by a zombie without the fear of ‘turning’, in this context zombies are really used mainly as a backgroup for a post-apocalyptic setting than a major threat (although they serve a purpose as antagonists). It is odd though as you defend against one or two, rather than hordes of beasts waiting for headshots to put them down.

The switch to combat introduces 3D graphics as well, which is a bit at juxtaposition to everything up until that point but it looks nice enough although I think I would have preferred to keep with the hand drawn artstyle in the notebook.  It very quickly becomes repetitive, with longer missions forcing you to combat repeated small groups in a battle to see who gets worn down first. In reality, there’s a third casualty which is the player, as your attrition becomes tested in this conflict too.

Inbetween missions you have to manage your cohort and the notebook aids you in this survival management simulation. Oddly, one single market trader offers all your options for buying supplies, but you do have to decide who is on a mission and who is scavenging which does provoke some interesting choices on making sure you have the right people for the job. It feels like a basic version of State of Decay 2’s character abilities application (released recently on Xbox One too) but whilst the lack of third-person combat might provide a setting for much more detailed and intricate decisions, it becomes a bit of a click-and-wait exercise before you’re back to the (marginally) more interesting combat.

Dead Age began it’s life on mobile devices and it shows. It has that homebrew UI feel rather than custom designed menus, which isn’t usually a big deal except a lot of this game takes place through navigating menus. Even though the 3D models look reasonable, your actions are still driven by menu selection. It gives off a slightly cheapish feel but ultimately it’s substance over style.

Despite an apocalyptic soundtrack it’s hard to get the feeling of an actual zombie apocalypse with Dead Age. The dissonance between what a zombie onslaught should be and the odd turn based battle where you face the zombies as they bumble about is overwhelming. Permadeath adds a level of finality to your efforts but doesn’t really do much to add to the overall enjoyment.

Dead Age is worth a look if you’re desperate for a zombie themed JRPG, otherwise it’s perhaps one to avoid.

Reviewed on Xbox One

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