Despite my (completely justified) reticence to play another zombie shooter, Dawn of the Fred (80 MSP) has been a long time in the making. So long, I’d kinda forgotten about it. Developer Sticky DPad Games was running previews on other indie sites in an effort to promote the name and idea literally years before its release. Want more aging trivia? Dawn of the Fred was to be the survival-centric prequel to the more-fleshed out (with a story campaign, side missions and such) Night of the Fred, which I’m not even sure on the status of. Look for it in 2016, maybe?
I kid, I kid. The important bit is, Dawn of the Fred is here. It exists. And, yes, it’s a survival game featuring those loveable shamblers, popularly known as the zombie wave shooter. The game posits an unlimited number of rounds and brings together a varied roster of undead in familiar archetypes (think Acid, Screamer, Tank, and Regenerating zombies) on two maps. Waves play out according to different sets of rules. In some rounds, you need to defeat a set number of enemies. In others, you’ll face off against larger groups, or more of a certain type. Zombies drop cash, which you can then redeem for ammo or health at vending machines scattered around the battlefield, or visit the gun shop.
With a generous stockpile of 70+ weapons and numerous combinations thereafter (you can equip two guns at once), it aims to be more Dead Rising-lite than traditional wave shooting, which definitely works in the game’s favor. Granted, a good chunk fall into the usual weaponry suspects (SMGs, shotguns, pistols, just with increased stats), though you do get a more diverse set of guns on offer in the ‘wonderful’ and ‘weird’ categories (…a toaster, for instance).
While those beefier (or bread-ier, ha!) options don’t typically come cheap, the key to survival is in trying different loadouts; something ventured, something gained, if you will. The ideal setup for me was alternating an SMG / rifle with a launcher of some sort, trading off firing speed for area-of-effect whenever a crowd or the heavy hitters gathered. This improvisation works out well, as the mix-and-matching amounts to most of the fun you’ll have in Dawn of the Fred.
There are some small concerns. Occasional depth-perception issues with the background pop up (it can be hard to discern doorways and paths, especially with the gore filter at max), and with health refills locked away behind an absurd amount of coin ($5000!? And it doesn’t top you off for the trouble!?), I struggled to even reach the fifteenth wave on some playthroughs. This is less of a critique should you play it locally with a friend, no doubt the best way to enjoy and progress in the game.
Still, Dawn of the Fred makes the best of its lengthy development cycle, separating itself from the rest of the pack with dozens of unique weapons. The gameplay and a few shortcomings here and there remind you that at its core it’s just a gussied up zombie wave shooter, albeit a fun one with a piranha launcher. Not very many can say that.