Review: Dead End Alley
The human race as a decidedly dangerous fascination with the zombie apocalypse. Sure, it means the end of the world, but it would also lead to the creation of a new one in which survivors can smash heads with baseball bats and wade through hordes of undead, getting up to their knees in gore. It’s no surprise, then, to find some developers bringing the concept to virtual reality (VR) platforms this early on. Dead End Alley creator Cry Havoc Games is one such studio.
Dead End Alley is another gallery shooter of sorts for the Gear VR mobile-based head-mounted display (HMD). It’s a simple, minigame-esque experience in which players are rooted to one spot, given a chainsaw and nail gun and are allowed to let loose as waves of zombies shamble towards them. Like many other early Gear VR titles, it’s also a port of an existing smartphone title, which is well liked. Sadly, the experience doesn’t really survive the transition to VR.
While initially appealing to look at and not without its moments, this is an ultimately shallow and unpolished take on zombie action. The one level available consists of a straight alley with one turnoff. Most zombies appear from the far end and the only other enemy type, a behemoth known as the tank, arrives from around the corner every so often. Even with the limited level design, you might hope that pitting yourself against scores of vicious undead scrambling towards you with only makeshift weapons to defend yourself could prove to be tense and exciting.
And for the first few minutes of play, you think Dead End Alley might deliver such thrills. The title boasts a cartoonish look, with zombie design strikingly similar to that of Popcap’s Plants vs. Zombies series. There’s a satisfying hook to trying to balance your nail gun ammo with thinning the approaching crowd and which choosing zombies to handle with melee attacks. And, when zombies do start to pile up right in front of you, this VR port delivers a great sense of chaos, even if it is only for the few seconds before your health drops to zero and you start over from scratch.
In fact, with some key adjustments and extra polish, Dead End Alley could have been a fun distraction, but it feels lacking in some crucial areas. The controls, for example, don’t translate well from the touchscreen-based play of the original. You can either use a gamepad or – should you lack such a device – the on-board touchpad. The latter option, you might think, would simulate the original version best, but there’s an uneven correlation between moving your finger around on a pad on the side of your head and dragging your chainsaw along on-screen. In pressured moments, Dead End Alley can be frustrating to control, and it feels like a head-tracking-based scheme would have been the better option.
Action also suffers from a lack of impact. Your chainsaw awkwardly floats in front of you and will cut away enemies that are clearly out of reach. When a zombie is right on top of you, the weapon just magically floats over them to slice them to pieces, instead of getting stuck in. It feels more like this was meant to be a zombiefied take on Fruit Ninja. In fact, that’s pretty much what it is in its original format. As such the gameplay would have been better suited to swipes rather than dragging the chainsaw back and forth and messily having to restart it with upward flicks when it overheats.
Other elements are more bizarre than necessarily bad. NPCs will walk in front of the player, dropping ammo refuels and health if they can be protected, but they simply walk out of walls and then disappear back into them. An aiming reticule is available to target enemies, but it only appears when looking at a zombie, making it something of a distraction as it flicks on and off throughout.
With so little variety in enemy design, Dead End Alley‘s difficulty also spikes very quickly. Playthrough’s usually end just a few minutes in, basically when the title has decided it’s time to die, as the screen quickly fills with enemies. There’s not much to see or learn here, and Dead End Alley hopes to kill you off and get you to restart before you realise that.
Will expanded mechanics, reworked controls and more punch to the combat, Dead End Alley could have been another great Gear VR title for zombie fans. As it is, however, it wears out its welcome in just a few minutes. Cry Havok Games hasn’t created a terrible VR port, just an unengaging one.