It's no secret that the zombie apocalypse has been in vogue for the past few years and experiencing a multimedia renaissance that would warm George A. Romero's heart. Dead Block is the latest downloadable attempt to reap this fertile harvest by cultivating a different take on the undead end times. On each level, you find yourself trapped in a building. You must explore this building, gather resources, barricade windows, and set traps to fend off the incoming zombie hordes until you can kill them all with rock and roll. It's a strange, campy twist on survival horror, and the clever traps that the three playable characters can deploy fuel some light strategy. Unfortunately, "light" is as deep as the strategy gets. Furthermore, almost all of the actions you perform involve simply holding a button, mashing a button, or tapping a button in an ill-calibrated timing challenge. Repetition creeps in from all sides, and boredom sets in for the duration. Even adding a few local friends into the mix doesn't liven things up, making Dead Block one zombie apocalypse that's best left unsurvived.
Every level in Dead Block plays out in much the same way. You find yourself inside of a building littered with objects and furniture. Zombies lurk outside of the building, eager to gain egress through windows. You must destroy furniture to get wood to build barricades. You must also search objects for items required to beat the level, access new rooms, utilize environmental hazards, and build specialty traps. If zombies get in your face, you can kill them in hand-to-rotting-hand combat, but it's preferable to destroy them with traps and hazards. Once you've collected three key items or killed a set number of zombies, you can beat the level by playing a rhythm game or hitting a button, respectively. You can earn medals for destroying all the furniture, searching all the objects, killing a set number of zombies, and remaining alive throughout the level, all of which add to your score and improve your standing on the online leaderboards.
Initially, it seems like balancing resource collection with zombie slaying could provide an engaging challenge. If you plan things well, you can wreak havoc on the interior decor of each room while letting judiciously placed traps destroy or weaken incoming zombies. Once the room is clear, you can waltz out with your pockets full of resources, and either seal the area off or funnel the undead to specific, booby-trapped doorways. Depending on which character you are using and how far in the campaign you are, there are a variety of fun traps to deploy. Some kill zombies outright, like the microwave and bomb traps. Other traps soften the undead up by turning them into weak old zombies or smacking their skulls with a rolling pin. Still others co-opt the zombies to your purposes by sending them on furniture-smashing sprees or making them targets for the predations of their own kind. Though things can get hectic, it isn't hard to get into the groove on a level and feel like a zombie-annihilating machine.
The neat satisfaction of such skilled play, however, is doused by boredom. When things are going well, you are running a few feet at a time and then tapping the B button to destroy a piece of furniture (a barely animated visual disappointment) or alternately pulling the triggers to search an object (always the same lame junk-flinging slideshow). These repetitive actions take up the majority of your time, and you interrupt them only to reset a trap or reinforce a barricade. Both of these tasks occur automatically once you initiate them, but you can accelerate them by either holding a button or tapping a button when a sliding indicator reaches the target zone (or more accurately, slightly before it reaches the zone to compensate for input delay). You spend almost all your time in Dead Block smashing, searching, and setting traps, and all of these actions are boring. Even attempts to liven things up go awry, as illustrated by the poorly calibrated end-of-level minigame that plays like an insult to the memory of Guitar Hero.
If your plan gets fouled up, you soon find yourself beset by more zombies than your relatively weak melee attack (and constitution) can handle. You can attack zombies by tapping the right shoulder button, but you have to run in, hit one a few times, and then duck out before you get smacked, or else you won't survive long. It's all the excitement of smashing furniture with the extra fun of clumsily running back and forth in a cramped space! Using environmental hazards like jukeboxes (most nearby zombies dance themselves to death) and televisions (all nearby zombies are enthralled and stand motionless) can help you handle the hordes better, as can each character's smart bomb ability. These abilities stun or kill a certain number of zombies, and they can be upgraded by searching objects. There is an inherent satisfaction in clearing out a group of zombies with your abilities, but it also means you have more time to get the dull smash-search-set grind back on track.
The 10 levels of the campaign can also be played cooperatively with up to three local players, and having other humans on your team makes you much more efficient (the AI allies who intermittently join you on single-player levels only help out in limited ways). Unfortunately, the more efficient your team is, the clearer it becomes that Dead Block is shallow and repetitive to the core. The campy B-movie vibe and cartoon aesthetic aren't good enough to add much appeal, and the few clever ideas get lost in a sea of relentless button tapping. In an actual zombie apocalypse, Dead Block's simple zombie-clearing tactics and industrious fortification construction would be desirable, but in this video game zombie apocalypse, they're just dull.