Review: Dead Effect 2

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I was not expecting much here after the first Dead Effect. The stiff animations, clunky action, and constrained upgrade system all turned me off to more zombie shooting in space, which is exactly what this one promises. But Dead Effect 2 also promises a much broader progression system, filled with randomized loot and upgradable powers and an open mission structure. This, it turns out, was enough to hook me, and the minor tweaks and improvements made elsewhere in the game were enough to keep me mowing down space zombies despite my misgivings.

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I don’t know how Dead Effect The First ended on account of how miserable it was to play, but the second picks up there and catches you up right quick. You can choose to play the same shootman or shootlady as before, or a third ninja-ish fellow if you’re feeling less shooty. The evil scientist antagonist is dead but the giant colony ship you’re on is still filled with zombies, you’re still stuck on it, and now there are soldiers gunning for you. A mysterious lady with mysteriously pert nipples rushes to your aid and helps you set up a base of operations, from which you recruit other survivors, work to take back the ship, and learn more about your own unusual past.

The hub is at the heart of the key changes to the formula, offering you a place between missions to talk with characters, buy and upgrade equipment, and pick what kind of zombie-mashing you’d like to partake of next. The open mission structure is a huge boon here, doing away with the stock standard linear progression of the first game in favor of story missions, repeatable missions, survival, wave assaults, and other modes that can be attempted at any time. You can tune the experience through mode selections and difficulty options to exactly what you want to be doing, and make progress doing it by scoring more experience, items, and money that can be used to help you advance in other areas.

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In terms of character progression, the two games are barely comparable. The first Dead Effect offered you different weapons at exorbitant prices and small upgrades to each. Dead Effect 2 has character levels, skill trees, randomized weapons, armor sets, cybernetic upgrades, and a crafting system. Leveling up gets you points to unlock new powers, both active ones that function like Mass Effect biotic powers and passive ones that let you carry more ammo or switch weapons faster. These powers give some much-needed variety to the combat, allowing you to ragdoll zombies en masse or shield yourself from annoying commandos. They also feel tuned to address some of the complaints I had about the first game, such as the slow pace of your actions.

As for the rest, this is very much an ARPG-style loot game now. Gear drops in different color grades and has its own levels, which can be raised in weapons by purchasing upgrades for that weapon. There’s a wide variety of guns and melee options now, everything from chainsaws to flamethrowers to railguns to revolvers. They drop like candy in missions and can also be purchased with your giant stacks of currency, if you don’t need to spend them on other upgrades. Codex items can be slotted into gear to provide additional effects like improved accuracy or movement speed. Effects like that are also found on armor pieces and cybernetic upgrades, which are their own vast realms of randomized, color-coded loot.

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You may have noticed I haven’t even gotten to the actual gameplay yet, and that’s because it honestly feels secondary to all the customizing and collecting you can do. Dead Effect 2 is built around essentially the same core as the first, which means gunning down shambling zombies in samey sci-fi corridors. Enemy variety and animations have been punched up a little, but it still feels like a low-budget shooter that’s lacking in variety. That variety is supplied this time by the loot you get and the mission options you have, and that’s enough to make me look past the actual combat but it might not be enough for you. Definitely don’t come for the story either, because three hours in very little has happened and the voice acting is terrible in a way that fails to wrap back around to funny. At this point all I really want to know is why Danette is so conspicuously cold all the time.

Dead Effect 2 is an absolutely fascinating way to do a sequel, because it sticks closely to what (little) worked in the first game and went far afield for everything else. While not everything has grown by the same leaps and bounds the important parts have, and they keep me coming back for more gore and goodies. The character progression is the star of the show here and only gets better as you find more exotic guns to upgrade and more armor sets to collect. It all still feels very low-rent and unpolished but it doesn’t try to hide what it is, a zombie grinder that constantly rewards you with new trinkets to play with. And if you don’t ask more of it than that, you definitely won’t be disappointed.

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