Review: Dead Pixels

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There’s no shortage of ways to kill zombies on Steam. 2D, 3D, low-res, high-res, first-person, third-person, there’s something for every would-be hunter of the undead. Dead Pixels is an attempt to capitalize on the retro 2D zombie market, giving you no end of shambling husks to gun down. But while it has some bells and whistles that elevate it beyond a mindless shooter, it also has some problems that run right to its core.

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Dead Pixels sets you as a lone survivor in a city of the chemically-reanimated dead. There’s an evacuation underway on the other side of town, and if you want to get out with all your limbs attached you’ll have to power through plenty of zombies. Along the way you’ll find houses and shops to loot, traders to exchange goods with, and all manner of undead standing in your path. Your survivor comes with upgradable stats and a full inventory to manage as well, if blasting zombies wasn’t enough.

And it’s not. The core gameplay of Dead Pixels has you navigating streets, tunnels, and shopping malls, dodging or gunning down zombies as you travel from left to right. The levels are featureless, save for doors to static scenes at the top of the screen. That means every part of your journey is going to be the same, with just the number of doors and zombies changing things up. Every 10 levels has a unique zombie to gun down, but that’s the only thing to look forward to once the undead grind wears out its welcome.

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This might not be so terrible if levels were short or there were significant random elements, but you’re out of luck here, too. Each section of street takes a couple minutes to traverse, even if you plow straight through. You move painfully slowly (as do most zombies), and while the combat breaks things up a bit it’s not even necessary most of the time. You’ll want to avoid fights for the most part to save ammo and potential scrapes. Repeat this 20 or more times (depending on the difficulty) and you’ll be aching to break up the monotony with something, anything more. But it’s all the same.

There are two additional game modes to mention, though one is the same as the base but with no shops and set stats and the other is just a horde mode. You might come across some more creative weapons like freeze rays and lightning guns, but only on higher difficulties. And they’re not very well balanced, either… you can become functionally immortal with just the chainsaw. Speaking of balance, the money flows like water so it’s not much of a challenge to max out your speed and weapon power and trivialize large portions of the game.

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There are plenty of things Dead Pixels does wrong, but still a few it does right. The presentation is a clever pastiche of film-grain B-movies and 8-bit retro aesthetics, if you didn’t notice the Mega Man thousand-yard-stare protagonist. The sound design is fine as well, and splattering zombies everywhere is pleasantly messy. If the core gameplay just had a little something else, something to spice up the endless eastward run, Dead Pixels could be a recommendation. As it stands, it’s sure to wear out its welcome after just an hour or two.

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