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Dead Ground Review

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You don’t have to break the bank to find a great tower defense game, with the Kingdom Rush series being a prime example. So I had hope that the super cheap price tag on Dead Ground would lead to it becoming the bargain of the century. Especially as developers ShotX Studio have thrown in procedural generation and roguelike elements to help their creation stand out. 

Does Dead Ground deliver plenty of bang for your buck, or will you feel short-changed by the concept?

Dead Ground Review pic
The hordes are coming!

Set in a post-apocalyptic future, Dead Ground has you trying to scavenge the wastelands for supplies in order to survive long enough to seek out the last remaining unscathed area. That’s essentially all you’re getting in terms of a premise or purpose for the tower defense offering. But then again, it’s quite common for games of this ilk to be bereft of an engrossing narrative, so let’s see how the actual gameplay holds up.

The tutorial goes over a few of the basics rather swiftly, which first involves the pre-game campfire where towers are unlocked using currency and items can be bought from the shop. There’s nothing noteworthy here yet though because, seeing as you’ve just begun the campaign, you’ll be pretty broke. Upon venturing out into the wasteland to gather resources, the idea each day is to stop waves of marauding enemies from reaching the end of the pathway. And this presents an immediate problem.

You have control of a hero, Jonny initially, with movement and aiming done via each of the analog sticks alongside a trigger to shoot. The aiming reticle is also the cursor, meaning you have to guide it to the preset building spots to erect or enhance towers. It’s extremely counter-intuitive and a total hindrance to your chances of success as hordes of raiders, mutants and beasts continue to come. Poor Jonny is left vulnerable while desperately trying to spend the water resource on towers, causing an overwhelming situation. If he dies, it’s ‘game over’.

Dead Ground Review pic 2
The calm before the storm…

It doesn’t help matters that most of the damage dealing onus is piled on to the hero character, who’s pretty rubbish by default. Only by doing well and completing a full day will you earn rewards such as new weaponry, special skills and augments. Even then it’s pure luck as to what loot drops at the end and any scrap you earn is likely to be needed for tower investment. Hence, visiting the shop for better elemental guns, cool AoE skills, or stat boosting augments, is a fruitless activity.

There are four different towers to unlock – Camp, Bunker, Dragon and Watchtower. Only the camp tower is available at the start, which trains infantry to stand on the path and attack oncoming threats, while slowing down the herd. As for the other towers, the bunker is akin to a missile launching facility, the dragon is a fire-breathing building, and the watchtower houses gunners. Truthfully, they’re all bloody useless until you spend currency into their branching upgrade routes. Then you’ll get vicious dogs, deadly gas, toxic nukes and even ice blasts to aid in your survival.

Due to the steep difficulty, over-reliance on the hero, and the rubbish job towers do early on, most players won’t manage to get past the first few days. The control setup piles on the misery and further limits the chance of living long enough to reach the promised land. When you fail, it’s permadeath too, so you’ll lose pretty much everything except for the roguelike parts. Dead Ground is crying out for difficulty options and possibly a build mode to switch to mid-battle when you wish to tinker with towers. It’d solve a fair amount of the problems.

Dead Ground Review pic 3
It’s all getting very hectic here

Honestly though, I’m not sure how useful the roguelike elements are because you actually have to succeed in defeating specific bullet-sponge bosses to obtain the carryover artifacts. Which boss you face off against at the end of a day appears random. And therein lies an issue if it’s not one of those. In one playthrough I earned a health increase, yet the next I cleared another four bosses only to yield no further artifacts. The other persistent element across each run are the characters you’ve unlocked, but with just the four in total and daily milestones required to acquire the three locked away, it’s a bloody tough ask.

On the visual front and I quite like the quirky, often slightly grotesque designs for the standard enemies, as well as the bigger bosses that arrive on the scene. The maps themselves are pretty bland however, with barren wasteland after barren wasteland – yes, I get that’s the setting here, but sprinkling a few cacti, barrels, and crates around doesn’t really cut it.

Ultimately, Dead Ground has a lot of cool tower upgrades, skills and guns to show off; perhaps a lot more than you’d expect for under a fiver. Sadly, the gameplay slams on the brakes before you even get to experience them. Putting too much focus on the hero instead of the towers is its biggest problem from the outset, especially when combined with the finicky controls and brutal difficulty. I’ve no doubt that this is going to stop a ton of people from seeing the positive aspects, which may turn up too late. 

I’d only recommend considering Dead Ground as your next tower defense venture if you dislike towers and prefer to take matters into your own hands.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Great tower upgrades
  • Elemental weapons
  • Cheap
Cons:
  • Roguelike elements
  • Steep difficulty and finicky control setup
  • Too centred on the hero
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Purchased by TXH
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (reviewed), Xbox One, Switch, PC
  • Release date and price - 9 June 2023 | £4.19
James Birks
James Birks
Been gaming casually since the SNES as a youngster but found my true passion for games on the Playstation 1 (the forbidden word ooo). My addiction grew to its pinnacle with the purchase of an Xbox 360 & Xbox Live Service. A recovering GS hunter that will still play literally any game.
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Great tower upgrades</li> <li>Elemental weapons</li> <li>Cheap</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Roguelike elements</li> <li>Steep difficulty and finicky control setup</li> <li>Too centred on the hero</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Purchased by TXH</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (reviewed), Xbox One, Switch, PC <li>Release date and price - 9 June 2023 | £4.19</li> Dead Ground Review
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