I would be lying if I said I was over zombies. They are a fascinating horror trope, and one perfectly suited to digital games. Some people may feel they have reached saturation point, but they can be such a versatile enemy. Dead Meets Lead uses zombies in a fresh setting, but does it do enough with its gameplay to fight the onset of necrosis?
Dead Meets Lead is a top-down hack ‘n’ slash by indie developers Keldyn Interactive. You take the role of a nameless British captain sometime in the 18th century. The island of El Mirando has been affected by a mysterious plague that has reincarnated it’s inhabitants. Being the god-fearing and resourceful type, you’re perfectly equipped to cleanse them.
It is this setting that is the most unique part of Dead Meets Lead. The island backdrop and creatures you face are inspired. The art design is promising for a small start-up, with a strong focus throughout. This means that there’s little in the way of story, and the game becomes a series of maps that melt into each other; the game gives you enough reason to be there, and that’s it. This is understandable, as voice-acting and a rich narrative are the least of your concerns when making a game of this scale. Or playing one for that matter.
You will pick up Dead Meets Lead for the opportunity to smash and shoot your way through waves of reincarnated corpses. The variety of enemies presents is welcome, rather than simple shamblers . Some foes have abilities, such as trapping the player or buffing the hoards with armor and speed. The onslaught often feels overwhelming, which is good, and certain combinations provide a real challenge. Being charged by armoured wolf packs while you’re tied down is scary, to say the least.
Thankfully the captain has some effective tools at hand to deal with the threats. However, there are only three melee weapons and four ranged weapons, resulting in a limited arsenal. Each weapon has the same secondary ability, a lost opportunity for variety. Some weapons feel situational, though when you unlock the cannon it’s effectively game over. This is disappointing, when more weapons would break the monotony of endless killing. But there is one more ability at your disposal: anger.
Specifically, an abstract resource called Rage. Rage builds as you kill, turning the captain into a crazed demon. It makes your attacks faster and more powerful, and it also let’s you use the secondary melee ability, an area of effect stun. Unfortunately, the choice between stun or power is rendered meaningless with how quickly you will build up rage again. It’s a rewarding mechanic, but a rather arbitrary one at times.
Speaking of which, arbitrary sums up the game nicely. The choices between weapons is small. The tactic against zombies is basically ‘Don’t get surrounded’. Random numbers appear, for some reason, when you attack. And worst of all, the small maps are made tighter by malaria. If you wander from the given path, you lose health. Linear levels are fine, but punishing the play for deviating is bad design, especially when you want as much room as possible. This is arbitrary difficulty, and endless repetition will see you through most maps.
Ultimately, this game meets expectations. There is much satisfaction to be had in cutting swathes of enemies down. At times you are made to think and plan, but not nearly often enough. If you are into achievements, this game has plenty to keep you going, but beyond that there’s no substance. Leaderboards at the very least would have added competition and drive. What we have is a promising, imaginative studio, and with focused gameplay choices, Keldyn could very well make a more engaging game. Dead Meets Lead is a bit mindless, but does show signs of life.
- Get what you pay for and what you expect;
- A mix of enemies that provide interesting/exasperating encounters;
- The art design and setting are unique and almost refreshing.
- Weapon outfits doesn’t provide quite enough tactics;
- Level design is punishing and maps are often too short;
- Confusing design decisions, such as fixed location power-ups but random damage output.