Suppose you are out flying a hubbacopter… no wait, sorry, I live with a two year old, let me start again. Suppose you are out flying a helicopter and you crash it into the ground like most of us probably would because we aren’t pilots. Now suppose that this was not the worst thing to happen to you that day because you happened to crash into a, murky, foggy, zombie infested field in the middle of nowhere. What do you do? If the zombies are trying eat you it means you have brains so the answer to the question is run. Or, as they say where I live, book it.
That is exactly how Into The Dead starts. A torn up chopper, a hoarde of hungry zombies and you with your runners on and not much else.
Into The Dead is an endless runner, a genre which has decent representation on the Gear VR, but isn’t overrun like the turret/stationary shooter genre. Other notable games in this genre are Archiact’s Lamper VR and Imangi Studios’ Temple Run, neither of which are bad games but will probably never find their way onto anyone’s “must play” list simply because there just isn’t a lot to them. You run or fly. Endlessly. Until you die. Then you do it again and try to beat your score.
Into the Dead is different. The only end it has is when you can no longer dodge the zombies and they feast on your tasty, tasty brains, but before you reach that end you can pick up weapons to kill zombies (…er, rekill zombies?) and befriend dogs who will violently tear their faces off for you.
Initailly I thought putting a gun in your hand was little more than a cheap trick to make the game seem more involved than it actually is, and if that was all they did it would have been. But there is quite a bit more to Into The Dead than that.
There is a lot to unlock here. So much that I haven’t been able to do it all and I suspect I would need several more hours of gameplay to manage it. Seventeen different guns ranging from pistols to grenade launchers, five different dogs of varying agression and blood-thirstyness, and five game modes to unlock. The weapons and dogs can be unlocked by spending gold, but to unlock game modes you have to beat missions like a commoner.
The unlockables are great but the missions are what really keep you coming back. There are three per level and they range in difficulty from overly easy to ‘you gotta be kidding me that’s not possible.’ Thankfully you can spend gold to buy your way past the tasks that are either too difficult or just too time consuming. There were several times that I had to take this route, including most recently when the task was “run 5000 meters without killing a zombie.” I can’t run ten meters without killing a zombie so that wasn’t going to happen. The further you are into the game the more expensive it is to buy your way past missions. As you complete or buy past missions things unlock. Usually guns, but every five levels or so it’s new game modes.
The first new game mode to unlock is Stand Your Ground. It basically turns Into The Dead into a turret style shooter, but one with more atmosphere and tension than exists in any of the others that I’ve played. Before you begin you get to pick three weapons that you want to have with you and some perks. Perks include things like having explosive barrels around that you can shoot, killing many zombies at once or one called Head Start which has you begin from wave five, which can be useful if you have to kill a bunch of zombies at once. The perks you want to choose will depend on what tasks you have available to you. For example, if one of them is “kill 20 zombies with exploding barrels” it might be a good idea to use the explosive barrels perk.
When Stand Your Ground begins you are on a farm. It has the same dark, foggy atmosphere that you’ve come to expect from the previous mode, but you aren’t running. You are surrounded by trucks and buildings and corn fields and there are zombies out there. You have three weapons and limited ammo. The only way to get more ammo is to survive the wave at which point they will add a seemingly random percentage of your ammo back. Once you’ve unlocked this mode tasks will start showing up that require you to play it. It doesn’t get it’s own set of tasks.
There are three other modes to unlock as well. One that I have unlocked called “Massacre” which is another running mode except that in this mode it tracks how many zombies you’ve killed instead of how far you have run. There are also explosive barrels in this mode, which are absent from the first mode. And two that I haven’t unlocked yet, one called “Flashlight” and the last is called “Hardcore.” I haven’t played them yet so I can’t comment on them.
As the song goes, every rose has it’s thorns and Into the Dead is no different.
It would have been nice if Pik Pok had varied the environments a little bit. Even if there were two or three settings instead of just one. The one setting we get has several zones, such as open fields, corn fields, forests and so on, but they all feel like one space. Which is great, they should. But it would have been nice if after several levels there was a town, or a city just to change things up. I’m not hitting them too hard for this one because what they do have looks fantastic, fits the game very well, and somehow I didn’t get bored of it. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to see more.
Also there is a perk for making more crates appear which doesn’t seem to always work. I hadn’t really noticed until one of the tasks was to pick up 5 crates and I turned it on and ran through field after field without seeing a single crate. I even ran through houses, which the help text on loading screens says is where you are supposed to get weapons from, and found none. Other times I would use the perk and couldn’t even use all the ammo in one weapon before I was running over another crate.
Finally there is the blood splatter. When you kill zombies it is supposed to look like blood has sprayed across your face, but you can clearly see the edges of the plane they applied the blood texture to. It’s hard to let this go because it seems like it should be an easy problem to solve. Just make the plane bigger or move it closer to the camera. Even still, it is by no means a deal breaker.
Into the Dead is creepy endless runner with a few tricks up its sleeve that will keep you coming back to unlock that next weapon or complete that next mission. It would have been nice of there were more areas to explore but at least the area we do get sets a good mood for the game and looks great doing it. The varied game modes and the fact that missions are shared across them was a fantastic idea and breaks up the gameplay so you don’t get worn out. There are a few bugs that could be squashed but overall, it’s a well made experience that is worth your time.