Version Reviewed: 1.2
Device Reviewed On: iPad Air
Graphics / Sound Rating:
Replay Value Rating:
2013 saw the release of both Candy Box and Cookie Clicker, two games about endlessly repeating a monotonous task to earn money for upgrades that made said monotonous tasks more efficient. As novel exercises in repetition, they were cute and quirky ways of dissecting how so many games, especially freemium ones, trick us into doing things that simply aren’t fun. In The Counting Dead however, all that novelty is gone.
Instead of collecting candies or baking cookies, in The Counting Dead the player’s endless task is to kill zombies by tapping the onscreen weapon silhouette, the game’s only visual. Tap fast enough to give yourself repetitive stress injury along with cash to exponentially increase your killing potential. Players buy weapons to kill more zombies at once, like a chainsaw or a rocket launcher that get stronger with more use. They can then hire and train assistants like cops and soldiers to kill zombies automatically without tapping. And since zombies tend to attack in large numbers, player can also build defenses to keep resources safe after an invasion.
It’s frighteningly easy to lose yourself to addiction, forever tapping to reach the next milestone only repeat the looping process again. But just a few seconds of thought will reveal how hollow the whole thing is. The light RPG element of climbing the upgrade tree is the only thing here deep enough to resemble real gameplay and its sole purpose is just to facilitate more mindless tapping. It’s an endless, naked Skinner box with an inexplicably obfuscated menu system. But perhaps the most cunning mechanic is the prize wheel that randomly punishes or rewards players after a spin. Cash stops flowing when it appears, forcing players to be somewhat engaged with the game instead of leaving it idle in the background since it requires virtually no attention otherwise. Plus, the wheel always comes with an ad that players will almost always click out of muscle memory. But at least the freemium features aren’t too obnoxious.
Candy Box and Cookie Clicker were arguably trying to make some kind of point about how empty the idea of “progress” in games can be. But The Counting Dead completely misses that point and unironically embraces those same empty tropes, making it just dead inside, and its dystopian notion of a “clicker genre” is the scariest part of all.