REVIEW: Dead War

The protagonist of Bandana GamesDead War ($1.00) is hard to get a read on. She’s on Death Row for murder at the start of the story, saved (ironically) by the onset of a zombie apocalypse. As you venture forth, you learn more about her and her background, shaping the character in subtle ways. Some of those decisions on her personality can be made by you throughout the storyline, choosing when and who to help. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but then again, it’s not often that XBLIG presents semi-complex characters in its games (let alone a zombie title). This was an unexpected surprise.

It could be said that those same ‘lowered expectations’ might apply to the genre itself. Zombies are old hat; mindless fodder led to the slaughter against whatever vast array of weaponry you find and whatever trumped-up reasons you’re given to do so. Thankfully, Dead War trounces some of your preconceived notions about what the game may or may not offer. It is a zombie shooter, but like Survivalist, any comparisons to other games like it on XBLIG end after that.

The game plays from an overhead perspective and controls like a twin-stick shooter, presented across seven fairly-large and varied levels / chapters. These environments take you from the prison you call home to an abandoned hospital, to darkened subway tunnels and a university full of stranded survivors, as well as a few more places in-between. Given its undead denizens and arcade-ish control scheme, you’d expect it to play more action-oriented. To my delight, Dead War focuses more on exploration, driven by bits of story and real objectives, rather than just waves and waves of zombies1.

And though it borrows a bit from RPGs and squad-based shooters2 in the process, I kept coming back to the sense that Dead War felt more like a roguelike in places. You need patience and a steady hand. Little things like a simple map are a luxury you need to earn / find. Rooms and corridors are deliberately kept hidden from view until you open the door / turn the corner, essentially leaving you blind— and on-guard— for most of the game. This cleverly forces you to explore your surroundings carefully, and interact with other characters to advance and fill in the story gaps (and your map).

Even gathering extra ammunition (corpses only yield so much) requires some tact, with boxes locked behind amusing, reflex-heavy minigames. Need money for supplies or a better gun? Civilian entrepreneurs would love to sell them to you, but you’ll have to gamble. You can bet and win money at various kiosks in the world, allowing you to try your hand at Blackjack, play the Slots, or damn the odds and lay down money on horse races3 (see below).

Granted, it’s hardly realistic, but it all makes for a nice change of pace from the standard zombie killing that other titles serve up on repeat. And while nothing here is graphically-intensive, the game works with what it has, making effective use of lighting and claustrophobic rooms to create tension when needed. Dead War‘s locales also contain plenty of optional storyline should you desire it, stored on computers and TV broadcasts scattered around the world, including a few humorous anecdotes about other games and media (there’s riffs on Resident Evil, The Walking Dead, Metal Gear, even Destiny4).

Side activities considered, it’s tempting to dismiss the game as ‘easy’, when really it can be quite difficult at times. The game strikes a nice balance between you being well-armed for any situation and encouraging you to conserve ammo5. Either way, you’ll want to play smart. In another nod to roguelikes, should you die or fail an objective at any point in the chapter, you’ll have to start the level from scratch. This could potentially wipe out the last half-hour or so of your progress. It’s maddening (Chapter 4 can be an annoying ‘escort’ mission), but it’s also fair. Nothing comes easy. Try to rush through this apocalypse, and Dead War will make you pay for it.

Dead War - Screen

Part of the charm is in that challenge, of course, and it’s that challenge (as well as its well-done ancillary bits and minigames / side missions) that allows the game to rise above its crowded genre. All told, you’ll probably need 5+ hours to see it all the way through. And you totally should. It takes a good amount of convincing— and quality game design— to get me excited about another zombie game. Dead War manages that and then some.


  1. Although you do get plenty of those, rest assured. Aside from the standard ‘vanilla’ type, you get the ‘green’ acid spitters and ‘red’ exploding zombies, which can put an end to you (and your squadmates) really quick. Tread lightly, and carry a big shotgun. 
  2. There’s only one chapter that uses ‘squad control’ to any great extent, and it’s actually more of a hassle than fun. The commands are spotty, and the AI loves to throw itself at danger (and refuse to retreat), so really, you’re better off just lone-wolfing it. 
  3. ‘Big Thanks’ to Bandana Games for naming a horse after the site! I didn’t expect that either, so I’m honored. 
  4. Admittedly, it’s become an addiction. Even though it’s not what I’d consider a ‘great’ game, I can’t stop playing the damn thing. 
  5. On a ‘Normal’ playthrough, anyway. I can’t speak for things on ‘Hard’ mode, because… well, I’m not cut out for real trouble. 
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25 thoughts on “REVIEW: Dead War”

    1. No problem! Thanks for making a great game, and for reblogging the writeup! I saw that as well during the horse races (she cost me $50 on a bad bet, dammit!). I’m sure Cathy would appreciate it just as much. She keeps herself busy with a lot these days, but you never know.

  1. Mama, just killed a Zed
    put a gun against his head
    pulled my trigger, now he’s dead

    Hey, that sounds like some fun game, can’t wait to play it. And my Xbox will be happy, too. That poor thing hasn’t been in use for over a month.

    PS You… you used that word again [sigh]

    1. Nice lines! No bullshit, I was just listening to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ a few hours ago, so that’s timely.

      And yeah, that’s right. I used that word. I love using that word. And you’ll see when you play it, it’s got that flavoring all over it. Actually, the visuals, perspective, and music all remind me of the STRACO series, so there’s that. But it’s totally a roguelike too! You’ll see! You’ll be sorry then!

      “Goodbye, everybody
      I’ve got to go
      Gotta leave you all behind
      … and eat some turkey! It’s Turkey Day!”

    2. Yay, good old Bohemian Rhapsody. 😎

      And the graphics do indeed look a bit like STRACO. [goes to Gmail] And regarding that word [opens ‘Dead War Code’ mail], see, all I can say is [reads mail]… WTF, you even put roguelike in all caps?! 😀

  2. Well, I’m all full of snot today due to a nasty cold (please don’t put that in my XBLIGer dating account), so I think I’ll treat myself to buying and playing Dead War for the rest of the evening.

    1. Hey, I’d add it to the account— you never know. You might meet a nice young lady with year-round allergy problems. Could be a match made in snot heaven… … The game is a nice consolation prize, too. 😀

  3. Want to wake up to a zombie apocalypse and break out of prison? Want to blow through doors with C4 and bet on the horsies? Test your reflexes every time you pick up ammunition? Of course you do, because that’s fun! Seriously, it is. I’ve got two codes for Dead War to give away, thanks to Bandana Games. Simply drop a reply, and its yours!

    1. @ImTheMetalLord: You did! And you can post that on your XBLIGer account! Ladies love a winner!

      @Soosh: He lives! He lives! It’s a Thanksgiving miracle! Guess I can recall the search party now, but I’ll still have to buy them donuts / coffee, I guess. :/ Oh, and code will be sent, too. 🙂

    2. Oh, I was on the run and had to flee to Antarctica to keep a low profile. Which isn’t that difficult down there, considering that mobile internet really sucks in that part of the world. To cut my crap short, I was busy and had other things on my mind. And sorry about that search party, hope they’ll enjoy their doughnuts, though.

      Btw Has there ever been an occasion where someone had to send out a search party to search for a lost search party?

      PS Got the code. Cheers, danke and merci Tim and Bandana Games. 🙂

    3. @Soosh: Ah, I hear it’s lovely there this time of year, what with the hole in the Ozone, melting ice, and the Russian military buzzing around the area. Oh, also the shoddy WiFi, of course. 😀

      Oh, and not to be a insensitive smartass, but since you mentioned search parties and Antarctica, I’m sure there’s been plenty of instances of doomed expeditions requiring multiple search parties for search parties. If you’re already looking for something / someone in unknown, difficult terrain, odds are you’ll need rescuing from the unknown, difficult terrain yourself. It’s fucking cold there, man. Be grateful you found your way back to civilization. 😉

    4. Now ya’ll got me wondering if a search party ever found someone they were not searching for or someone that didn’t want to be found. Hmmmm

      Well anyways I do appreciate the code and the game it great fun actually. Thanks Tim for being the vessel of the free game and the review that made me even interested in this game and Bandana Games for making a great game and saving me a buck by giving a copy away. Oh….LOL I guess I’m still in that Give Thanks mode today….

      Happy Black Friday all. and why isn’t this considered racist? Where is the White Friday? 😛

    5. @ImTheMetalLord / Dream Poet: Search parties most definitely found things they didn’t intend to when they went out. That’s the basis for 60% of horror movies, pretty much. 🙂 And yes, that’s factual, scientific data right there (made up on the spot).

      And you’re welcome for the game. No one can say that theXBLIG doesn’t have the best Black Friday deals around; Devs give ’em free.

      Actually, given that ‘Black Friday’ came around because of the headaches / violence it caused in the past, I consider it ‘black’ because companies put so much effort into getting their books ‘out of the red’ and back into the ‘black’, as it were. Deals are nice, but they also show how much we’re being screwed over every other day of the year! You trying to tell me that TV is worth that much more in October than it is in November?! Bullshit! 😀

      Oh, and it’s also the day for Star Wars!

  4. I’m with you on the whole “it’s going to take something special to make me want to play another zombie shooter” thing, but this one certainly sounds like it’s a winner, so it’s a buy from me.

    On a side note, I’m trying to think of a way in which you could use having a horse named after you in a XBLIG as some sort of cheesy chat up line, but I’m not coming up with anything good enough.

    1. I really did appreciate what the game and Bandana Games did here. It would have been easy to cut corners and rush through some parts of its production, but they crafted a really satisfying game. We all know XBLIG could use a few ‘hits’ to counteract all the ‘misses’, too. Two leaderboard games out of the last three reviewed isn’t too bad of a percentage, either. Hoping the year ends on a high note.

      And yeah, I tried to come up with something clever for the horse line, but outside of making some grandiose claim / comparison about penis size (and I’m sure the ladies would see right through that lie 😉 ), I’ve got nothing. Personally, I think I’m better off sticking with my ‘claim to fame’ of being a side character in Dead Pixels, but it’s always awesome to see the site represented anywhere.

    2. There’s ladies that read this site?

      Well hi there…I like long walks on th…..oh hell who am I kidding…I actually like long trips on my Hog. I play metal music louder than you can handle and waste my time playing video games. If you are down then I am too. 😀

    3. That’s a new site feature I’m hoping to implement in the new year—- customizable dating profiles! Then I’ll turn it into a hook-up app like Tinder, but for XBLIG. So… XBLIGer? 😀

    1. That’s my job! 😀 Although, I’m always worried I build something up too much, and you guys come back and say ‘What’s the big deal here?’. I remember it happened once with a review, but I can’t name the game…

      Everybody’s opinion of something is different though, so we can’t all agree on the ‘greatness’ of a game every time. It’s really good, though. Much more of a surprise considering some of the zombie games of late.

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