Inspired by zombie horror flicks of the ’80s, Trapped Dead is a tactical strategy game where players control multiple characters in a small, zombie-infested town in the US. The game was developed by Crenetic and published by Headup Games. Originally released in German, it was later translated (rather well) into English, and was released on February 25, 2011.
The tale of Trapped Dead takes place in fictitious Hedge Hill, Missouri, just outside of Kansas City, in the early 1980s. A genetically modified type of corn creates the unnamed virus which eventually infects the entire town, save a few survivors, which the player eventually meets. The game starts off with two college boys, Mike and Gerald, making a pit stop for gas and beer, where they encounter the not-so-living staff of the gas station, and from there the adventure begins.
While definitely remaining true to cheesy ’80s horror, the story is interesting enough to keep the player going, but without giving too much away, I did find some aspects to be slightly lackluster and very predictable. This is made up for, however, with several nods to the zombie horror genre, and a corny feeling all around, which turns out to be quite suitable to the theme.
The bottom line in regard to the story—if you are a fan of cheesy ’80s zombie flicks, you will find it endearing. If not? Well, you still get to kill zombies.
Trapped Dead is not a typical zombie game. The game requires tactical planning and strategizing, and is quite the breath of fresh air, taking a step away from the myriad of zombie shooters out there today. The game starts you off by controlling a single character, and by the end you can control up to four out of six different survivors, giving it a slight RPG feel to it, as well. Each character comes with their strengths and weaknesses, and can be equipped to carry different items and weapons. For example, Mike, one of the college boys, can swing a fire axe very well, but for some inexplicable reason cannot use a shotgun, so you’ll need one of the other characters to take care of the shotties.
The same applies to healing using first aid kits, and unfortunately, the best ‘healer’ in the game is a doctor in a wheelchair. Unfortunate because when you’re controlling four characters, the wheelchair is great at screwing up the pathing and getting everybody stuck. Whenever I had the doctor with us (which was as little as possible once I unlocked another character skilled at first aid), he sat in the back by himself until he was needed. Having four characters bumbling over one other in circles while fifteen zombies approach from all directions does not bode well. I quickly learned that making all four characters sprint for a moment (keyboard shortcut: CAPS lock) would line them up in a way so that they weren’t stepping over each other, but it still proved somewhat irritating during combat. Despite these minor annoyances, I found it interesting to be presented with such situations not normally encountered in a video game, such as taking alternate routes because one of the characters can’t walk up stairs.
The game itself is fairly polished, yet lacking in certain aspects at the same time. The comic book style artwork and general mood are excellent, as is the horror-flick music during different sequences, and I will elaborate more on those later. The game falls short, however, in teaching the player certain tricks to help control the characters better. The controls themselves are a bit tricky to master, though having played The Sims 2, it was easy to tell this game was built off the same engine, and I thankfully knew my way around a little. There are some keyboard shortcuts that are not listed anywhere in the game (eg: F5 selects everybody), and it would have been nice to have an added level of customization normally found in the controls of most strategy games, such as setting groups up with Ctrl-1, Ctrl-2, etc. I would have liked to be able to hit one key to select my melee characters, and another to select my gunfighters. That said, it became fairly easy to just hit F5 and de-select whoever I didn’t want to control once I got the hang of things.
There are several traps that can be used throughout the game, and they were fun when I got to use them. There were times when everything was already dead before I even realized I could have used a trap. That said, when everything comes together and a trap works well, it’s pretty awesome. I often found myself going out and kiting several zombies, luring them over to the trap (if reusable) just to blow more of them up. Watching fifteen prisoner zombies fry in a puddle next to an electric chair brought definite satisfaction in my experience.
The one major tragedy in Trapped Dead is multiplayer mode, which is unfortunate because the single-player campaign is fairly quick to finish, leaving only multiplayer as the final option at revisiting the game. One can re-play the game if they so desire, however if you do, you will lose all characters, levels and items previously unlocked, so you’ll have to get them all over again. The game warns the player of this, but I found this to be a major turn-off with the game. I earned the characters, I shouldn’t lose them if I want to re-play one of the single player missions. The fact that there is no ‘true’ co-op for multiplayer was also a letdown. While the multiplayer mode is technically co-op (in and of the fact that it’s not deathmatch or team versus mode, or anything of the sort), it does not actually progress the campaign or save any items or characters. It’s basically a one-shot of whichever level you choose, and when you’re done, it’s over. Speaking of which… one of the more annoying things I encountered was every single time I finished a multiplayer game, it played the end credits. Every. Single. Time. And you can’t get out of them. Believe me, I tried.
Further on the multiplayer issues, it’s no easy task to find games. I’m not sure if it was because nobody else was playing, but the only time I ever saw any games was when I set one up with friends. There was never a random game I could jump into with strangers. Not only that, but actually getting multiplayer to work was a feat in itself. Be prepared to open ports on your router and configure your firewall before hosting a game, or nobody will be able to connect to you.
In a nutshell, the gameplay itself is great once you get the hang of the controls and pathing. The multiplayer is horrendous to set up, and not all that great once you actually get to playing. Hopefully, with future patches and updates, they’ll fix up the multiplayer to the point where there is more replayability than its current state.
Audio & Visuals
Trapped Dead does not offer the latest, state-of-the-art graphics. This is something most players can see before even purchasing the game. It’s not to say the game isn’t easy on the eyes, however. The gameplay graphics and level design are probably the game’s strongest feature. The amount of detail that went into the level design is phenomenal. The use of shading and dynamic lighting adds an added level of depth, making the zombie apocalypse almost pleasant to look at. The game is played in a top-down, isometric view, while remaining fairly flexible in that the player can zoom in or out, rotate and pan all over the map to devise their strategies. The art style is also very well done, with custom drawings scattered throughout the game, giving it a very professional look. Crenetic’s art team did an outstanding job in that regard.
The audio in the game is incredibly well done. The sounds of zombies gnawing on body parts were surprisingly good, to the point where I could tell when they were chomping down on flesh or cartilage. When things get intense, the musical soundtrack also ramps up, keeping the player on their toes.
The voice acting in the game is obviously bad. At first I thought it might’ve just been Germans speaking English, as the emphasis on words seems a little bit off, but this makes it rather thematically appropriate, and it’s not so bad that you have to turn the sound off. It’s actually quite entertaining, in the end.
Trapped Dead is a different type of game that might not be for everybody, but I’d absolutely recommend trying out the demo, as it can provide a good amount of entertainment and a different take on the zombie apocalypse. The £19.95 / $19.95 price tag is not unreasonable, although an improved multiplayer experience and fixed pathing would better justify shelling out the cash. If you’re looking for a more strategic approach to killing zombies, and are willing to accept the flaws while enjoying its strengths, Trapped Dead may be the game for you.