I’m sure you can figure out where I’m going with this review already, at least if you’ve taken in the extended title. Yes, Dead End Job is a game full of ghastly nasties to be hunted, and brilliantly it contains plenty of other more subtle pop culture references too.
You are Hector Plasm, a pretty ugly chap who is armed with a plasma gun and a vacuum. If that doesn’t give you a flavour of what corner of pop culture has inspired Dead End Job, there is no hope for you. You’ll need to climb the progression ladder by completing numerous jobs, earning plenty of money as you do.
You’ll set off to work around town finding available jobs, and each will have a sticky note attached which indicates how many ghosts you’re likely to encounter – which in turn tells you how difficult the job will be. Each job also has a delightfully puntastic name, but I feel it would be wrong to spoil that for you here; just be sure they are pretty great. As well as battling against ghoulish enemies you’ll also be left trying to rescue civilians who are literally scared stiff. They’ll only be safe once you’ve cleared the area and neutralised the threat.
Now, it would be remiss of me not to mention that Dead End Job comes with a striking similarity to Luigi’s Mansion. I’m sure as soon as you read the word vacuum you were thinking it too. What both games have in common is the method in which you deal with your ghastly foes.
You move around with the left thumbstick, and fire by pushing the right stick in the desired direction. It’s a twin stick shooter setup, but not in the usual guise of a gunship battling through space. You can’t continually fire for too long or your gun will overheat, leaving you defenceless. Each ghost has a little stamina bar, and when you’ve depleted it by shooting them you’ll then need to use the LT to suck them up.
Some tougher ghosts you encounter will have their own little animation too, such as the “Secrescary” and “Office Assisthaunt” (hilarious right?). This will flash up just before you face off against them. In Dead End Job you’ll happen across all sorts of different ghoulish enemies, and frankly the character design is fab.
You’ll also notice a small vertical bar that fills as you vacuum up ghosts. When it hits the max you’ll get promoted and can choose a perk, which is basically a power-up or attribute. The ones you have acquired will be listed on the pause menu and, nicely, they stack, making you stronger as well as earning you a fancy new title.
The rooms in Dead End Job are procedurally generated; in other words randomised just before you enter them. It’s slick and a neat way of keeping the gameplay varied. “Room Cleared” will also pop up to signify you’ve vanquished all the ghouls that have been hiding inside. You are blessed with a handy little room map up in the top corner of the screen to track which rooms you’ve explored.
As you investigate each room you’ll notice pretty much all of the scenery can be destroyed, and doing so will sometimes yield money as well as special items. There are over 100 of these to find and use but you’ll need to be careful as they will not always help you. However, their names will always almost certainly be familiar, such as the holy hand grenade. It’s a joy in itself to discover and recognise these.
In Dead End Job you only have three hearts, so you’ll need to be careful as the action hots up. Some items will heal you and it is these which prove essential if you find yourself surrounded. You can only carry a maximum of two though, so at all times you’ll have to manage them carefully – or at the very least use them quickly.
If you lose your hearts, the job you are taking in will end and you’ll take away your earnings, but at the same time get demoted. This will take you back down to the bottom of the career ladder, and cost you all your perks. However the day will still pass and you’ll be able to take on your next job. It’s a good way to avoid things becoming repetitive by retrying the same mission over and over, because you aren’t forced to. Death in Dead End Job isn’t the end, but it will set you back.
After completing your first job you’ll gain access to your handbook. This interactive record of your progress tracks the ghosts you’ve vacuumed, items you’ve found, achievements you’ve unlocked and more. What’s particularly pleasing is the humorous description of each ghost, which once again adds to the charm of Dead End Job.
As you play you’ll also get alerted to the “help wanted” internet board. This will offer rewards for meeting certain targets whilst on jobs, such as clearing a certain amount of rooms, or using so many items. It’s a minor addition but helps flesh out the gameplay ever so slightly.
Another neat little feature is the built-in streaming option. This allows you to toggle streaming on and off, and supports both Twitch and Mixer. In the spirit of audience participation, those watching your stream have the ability to choose power ups on your behalf, if you’re feeling brave. It’s a good idea, and another little flourish of creativity from Dead End Job.
There is also a drop in/out local co-op mode for two included in the game. This means a friend can seamlessly join you in the main adventure mode, and you can quickly carry things out without them if they no longer wish to continue.
Dead End Job on Xbox One is colourful, wacky and a huge amount of fun. All the music comes from Will Morton of Grand Theft Auto fame, and in one word it is groovy. It sounds great. In fact, everything comes together to showcase a game that has plenty of attitude and above all is a ruddy hoot to play. I also have to call out its sharp sense of humour which is woven in throughout, and makes the entire experience genuinely funny.
Dead End Job has bags of charm, and is lots of fun to play. Despite it not being the most challenging game and borrowing a few ideas, it’s crazy and loveable enough to keep you entertained.