Price: $ 2.99
App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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Something that has always bothered me about zombie games is how so little of them actually feel like a struggle. A lot of games simply focus on having you blast them away over and over again, which has never really been the interesting part of zombie fiction to begin with. In Dead Age, you definitely get a taste of the struggle to survive during the zombie apocalypse, and–while it might not be amazing at what it does–it at least provides some fun and interesting challenges along the way.
The easiest way to describe Dead Age might be to call it a rougelike role-playing game. You manage your own character and a group of survivors in a small campsite you've set up. Staying alive in this arrangement involves going out on hunts for supplies and food while you fight off zombies roaming the land via some basic turn-based combat. The longer you stay alive, the more experience you accumulate, which you can then use to make your team a little more resourceful and resilient.
Aside from simply sustaining your group, Dead Age also provides you with procedurally-generated missions and events which might ask you to go specific places and loot specific things for rewards like bonus experience for your character. You may also find yourself picking up new survivors, which means more helpful hands around the camp, but also more mouths to feed.
Days gone bye
An important aspect of Dead Age's challenge comes from the game's time cycle. Every action you do in the game causes time to pass, meaning that you need to make tough decisions about what you're going to do next. You may not be able to take on a new mission you've received because you have to hunt for food, for example. Each day that passes also consumes a certain amount of your supplies, which adds extra pressure to make everything you do count.
If this weren't enough, Dead Age kicks up the difficulty even more by limiting the amount that your characters can heal by resting. Each day, your characters can heal up to 20% of their total health, but anything beyond that requires some medical supplies.
These mechanics make surviving in Dead Age feel actually difficult. It's extremely easy to die in the game, and that's when Dead Age's roguelike mechanics kick in. Whenever you want to jump into a new run, you have the option of spending upgrade points you've earned from your last playthrough to give yourself a leg up the next time around.
In my time with Dead Age, I found the concepts behind its survival mechanics to be fascinating and challenging, but the game's overall execution leaves quite a bit to be desired. The “notebook” interface for controlling everything is pretty inelegant, the combat graphics are pretty rudimentary, and there's a consistent bug that crashes the game every time you die.
I also have an issue with the game's focus on combat. Dead Age goes out of its way to differentiate itself from so many brainless zombie games and then centers all of its scavenging and missions around playing tons of combat scenarios.
The bottom line
After any given play session with Dead Age, I walk away from the experience with ambivalence. The game's survival mechanics are really compelling, but the things you have to do to engage with them are generally pretty weak or problematic. Unless there is some part of you that desperately needs a zombie game that prioritizes survival (and you haven't already played Death Road to Canada to death), Dead Age–though interesting–is missable.