You're down to your last clip of ammo. The plan was to make it to the train station just ahead and hold out until help came. But your comrades have already fallen. Poor Billy. Poor Sarah. The despair of the zombie apocalypse had been the catalyst they needed to confess their feelings for one another. If you can hit that next shambler in the head, you may just be able to make the sprint to safety, for now.
Sadly, Dead Sky cannot properly capture the inherent dread of such a scenario. When you think of survival shooters, and zombie games in general, you expect a little suspense and tension, and actual fear of death. Unfortunately, Dead Sky is just masquerading as a survival shooter. Instead, it is a fledgling tower defense game that never grows out of its daydreams of being anything more.
The game's menu greets you with ill-suited blaring rock music that doesn't fit the tone of the game that follows. (When you're trying to survive the zombie apocalypse, your first step is probably not to turn on a soaring guitar solo to draw attention to yourself and your roving gang of gunmen.) The single-player campaign is a quick six-mission distraction to introduce you to the core multiplayer action, with only two missions actually reflecting that core experience. The game opens up with you defending your buddy's escape plan (his car) from a meager offering of slow-moving, mostly nonthreatening undead.
Once the car starts, you must drive away on a long street littered with zombies just waiting for you to plow them over. The mission is failable, but only if you come to a complete stop. And though the road is winding, you can drive straight until the very end for one final turn in order to beat the stage. Once you come to the end of the street, the game introduces you to a caricature hillbilly who tinkers in scrap metal (the game's resource) in order to turn it into more usable forms, like a gun turret or a strange bug zapper that stuns the encroaching zombie horde. Wyatt, the aforementioned redneck, isn't a humorous portrayal at all; he's simply an overacted representation of Southern stereotypes. This character is grating, and he's present throughout the multiplayer game.
The campaign attempts to get to survival shooter roots with a trip through the zombie-infested sewers, but because the zombies are uniformly spaced apart, there's almost no tension in the journey. The sewers play more like an attempt at capturing the gameplay of an action role-playing game like Diablo or Torchlight (minus any exciting character skills) than a shooter, and the randomized weapon drops further push the game in that direction. You don't find weapons in preset locations; they drop randomly from the zombies. Their temporary boost in power is great, except that the amazing power of the rocket launcher and railgun is wasted in a sewer with no more than two to three zombies approaching you at a time. There's no epic carnage or cathartic mega-corpse explosion extravaganza.
Once you've completed the introductory campaign, the game pats you on the back and instructs you to try out multiplayer. "OK, let's go!" you think to yourself, as you click Join Game. But, alas, you see naught but "Finding lobbies..." on your screen. "No problem, I'll check again in a minute." You keep telling yourself someone will host a game soon. And finally, a game appears. You click to join. But a fate far scarier than the game's tepid zombies slaps you in the face: "Failed to connect."
The random monster selection can make your otherwise fine defense arrangement useless, because you cannot prepare ahead of time.
Should you be lucky enough to find a game, you either must defend a building, or simply stay alive. You start with a bit of scrap metal you can use to upgrade your trusty pistol or purchase a few stationary defenses, which come in handy when you end up settling for a solo attempt on one of the maps intended for multiple players.
The multiplayer maps don't have a final objective, but instead require you to survive or to defend the objective for as many waves as you can. Zombies randomly drop machine guns or shotguns for you to wield, but since you have limited ammo and no ability to stockpile weapons for later, they don't change combat for long. Once you pick up a new weapon, you can't switch back to your pistol or to a separate weapon, which greatly drags down the shooter aspects of the game.
The shallow shooting might have been more serviceable if the tower defense elements had been fleshed out, but unfortunately, you have only three tower options: a gun turret, a flame turret, and the bug zapper. Other static defenses include a very fragile wall, a bear trap to snare a single zombie, and a mine to clear out a few zombies at once, but to purchase any of these ineffective tools is to throw your scrap metal away. You also have the option to upgrade your character with better offense, defense, or support capabilities, but these upgrade costs quickly outscale the amount of scrap metal you're getting once you consider the upkeep and replacements necessary for your turrets.
The "stronger" monsters that assault you starting in the second round are randomly generated. In some games you may encounter just a few zombie dogs and zombies with burning attacks, but other attempts at the game may unleash a legion of explosive gas zombies or zombies that pull you out of your comfort zone and into a group to maul you. The random monster selection can make your otherwise fine defense arrangement useless, because you cannot prepare ahead of time.
Dead Sky's only saving grace is its inclusion of a leaderboard that lets you see how your attempts fare when stacked against the others defending Wyatt's backwoods cabin or the abandoned wastelands village. Otherwise, everything that Dead Sky does or tries to do, other games do far better. There's little room to experiment from game to game, and there's only so long that fighting to have your name ranked among the few hundred other zombie slayers can keep you grinding in this poor excuse for a tower defense game.