Every so often a game designer decides to try something different. Sometimes these games work, and sometimes they don’t, but the spirit of experimentation and of pushing the boundaries, should never be discouraged. Coming from Radiationburn Games, the latest in the catalogue of “something a bit different” is Dead Exit; a card based, zombie survival game. Set in a post apocalyptic world, the idea is to gather resources, and escape the city. The big question is does this style of game translate well to the Xbox One, or is it better left on the PC that spawned it? Let’s find out!
First up, and something that is vital in a game like this, is a tutorial. There is a video to watch, that explains the basics of the gameplay – it doesn’t explain them well, but at least there is a reference to look back at when it all gets too confusing.
There is also a guided game level tutorial, where you are instructed in the finer points of the card based battling. It’s just as well to be honest, as the cards themselves are quite confusing. The cards have one effect if they are played inside your base, but they have a different effect if they are played outside your base – and they can be stockpiled and sacrificed, which can again trigger an effect. With cards including vehicles, food, fuel and survivors, which have to be stockpiled in order to effect your escape from the city, and also “Stop” cards that can affect other players, these other cards can have a big effect on the game, such as moving the zombies from your base to someone else’s, reducing the number of turns they have, and many more.
So, having conquered the undead hordes in the tutorial, I was all ready to dive headfirst into the single player campaign, known as Solitaire in this game. The single player mode is split up into three different games, which sees things play out in slightly different ways. These are City Escape, which is basically you against the dead in a race to collect enough resources to escape, and Survival, which sees you facing off against Raiders and the undead in an attempt to, well, survive! The last game mode is called War, which allows you to control one or more bases in a race to get more resources than the Raiders. Interestingly, this can be won by flooding the enemy bases with Zombies, as if they are overrun, then they lose. So those Stop cards can come in really handy.
The common factors among all the game modes are the layout of your base(s) and the cards. The base is always laid out the same way: there are three slots outside your base, and three inside. There is also a stash pile, where you can stockpile the resources that you need, and a sacrifice pile, where you can dispose of cards you don’t want. The last is that of the trade pile, where players can put cards that they wish to swap with the other players.
As I mentioned above, the same card can have different effects depending on where you play it, inside or outside your base. As an example, the Hunter card, if played outside, will kill one Zombie card and help reduce pressure. If played inside, the Hunter will allow you to flip a Zombie card, and if it’s a zombie, place it outside a different base, otherwise you can place the card in your stash. If you choose to sacrifice the Hunter, it will allow you flip all the Zombies at your base, stash any resources and move any Zombies to the bin in the centre of the table. And bear in mind, this is one card!
There are a lot of different cards to use and learn what they do, so it’s safe to say that this is not a game that will be learned in five minutes. An interesting thing I discovered accidentally is also worth mentioning as a Top Tip: if you sacrifice fuel, it burns all the Zombies outside your base! That’s worth bearing in mind if things are looking a little busy outside…
As the game begins, each base is dealt a number of cards, with the rest of the cards deployed in the centre of the table. If you manage to use all the cards in your hand, you can replenish them from these piles in the centre of the play area. However, as with all things, it is not quite as simple as that. Some Stop cards allow you to turn the cards in the centre face up, which makes them safe to pick up. If you have to pick up a card that is face down, you can do so, but a zombie will follow you back to your base and take the first free slot, even if that is inside the base. So obviously, taking a card that’s face down when there are five zombies around your base is suicide. It’s a risk and reward balance that has never felt so keen…
So, the scene is set, and the game is on. On each turn, you can perform three actions, whether that be stashing resources, deploying survivors or getting cards from the centre. Once your three actions are up, it moves to the next phase in Solitaire, or, I imagine, in Multiplayer the next player takes their turn. I say I assume as it has proved impossible to get into a multiplayer game for Dead Exit. The online world seems to have succumbed to the zombie plague, sadly. As a result, this review will therefore have to be largely based on the single player game, as although the opportunity is there for local multiplayer, I deemed this game a bit scary for my six year old co-reviewer. Moving on with the game then and turns are taken until the dead overrun you or you reach the resource target in City Escape.
Away from the actual gameplay mechanics and graphically the game isn’t stretching my shiny new Xbox One X at all – in fact, it barely broke a sweat. I think serviceable is the best I can say about the graphical prowess on display here, but that kind of misses the point. It doesn’t take much to draw a square play area, and move some static cards onto it and around on it. The real brain power of this game is in the millions of possible combinations of cards, where they are played and how they interact with each other. The AI difficulty quickly ramps up, and on the higher difficulties can prove almost impossible to beat if you don’t get an awesome opening hand, so there is a real long term challenge here. Learning what each card does, and how best to play them is going to be very tricky, and in a way, this is almost a drawback as the time investment that is required is prohibitive. Can I recommend that you sink hours into this game, rather than into Assassin’s Creed Origins? Especially given the barren wasteland of the multiplayer? Of course I can’t, but that is like comparing apples with Volkswagens.
All in all then, I’ve enjoyed my time with Dead Exit, even though the learning curve resembles a vertical line and the possible permutations of cards and situations makes my head spin. It’s not a pretty game, but it is a very clever one, and one that will challenge you if you choose to dive headlong into its murky world. Be in no doubt, there is a lot of game in this small package, but it will ask a lot of you. If you can invest the time, it will reward you, but it’s a bit too deep for its own good as far as casual players are concerned.