Deadhead represents something a little different for the burgeoning gallery shooter genre on the Gear VR. Whereas Gunjack and countless other examples focus on lightning reactions that are locked to the direction you’re facing, here’s a title that takes a slow, methodical approach to its action, with slower aiming and enemies that advance at a crawl. It’s appreciated to be able to play something with even a hint of variety in this crowded space, though Deadhead perhaps leans a little too heavily on those differences.
So, yes, Deadhead from Level 2 VR is another first-person shooter (FPS) of sorts in which the player is rooted to one spot and forced to fend off waves of enemies with weapons until they eventually succumb to the mounting pressure. This one sees you fighting hordes of zombiefied creatures that at first appear tiny, but will easily dwarf the player once they climb the mound that they stand on and start to hack away at them.
This horror aesthetic mostly works in the title’s favour. While the minute-to-minute gameplay doesn’t much in the way of scares, the title does shroud the area that the player isn’t looking at in darkness. As such, it’s amusingly shocking to shift your head from one side to the other to find an enemy in your face, and the VR support does a great job of really making you believe they’re in front of you. As with their scale, some of the enemy designs don’t appear threatening from far off, but it’s another story when they get up close.
But while that immediate gameplay may not be very scary, it also isn’t all that engaging. Deadhead‘s mechanics can best be described as floaty, and they leave something to be desired. The targeting reticule lags behind the player’s head movements, in what was presumably a move give the combat more of a laboured, stressful atmosphere. It works a little too well; the unnerving disconnect between the two doesn’t feel right for control as intuitive as head-tracking.
Some relief comes from using the better weapons. A machine gun makes up for the aiming speed with its own fire rate, while a grenade packs the kind of punch you’ll find missing from the stake launcher, which doesn’t give you the kind of punch you’re looking for when blasting away bad guys. Overall, though, you’ll be longing for something with a little more response to it, especially when enemies start to pile up.
It’s a shame, because some of the ideas here are genuinely interesting. A melee mechanic, for example, is activated by tilting your head to the left, while returning to your gun and reloading is done by tipping to the right. Again, it’s not as instantaneous and satisfying as it would be to do this with buttons, but with more polish it could be. The same goes for the essence system, in which players can gather different coloured mists to build up levels of power ups.
Level 2 VR also deserves credit for giving the title some staying power. Gathering gold in each run will allow you to purchase different classes, which come with their own perks and assistance from a skull that sits next to you.
As such, Deadhead has the concepts and progression systems in place that so many other Gear VR gallery shooters are missing. That just makes it all the more disappointing that it’s not the most engaging example of the genre on the platform. A middle ground between this title’s charm and longevity and the core gameplay of something like Gunjack could make for the best shooter on Gear VR yet. Sadly, Deadhead isn’t quite there.