Zombies are really quite slow, but that doesn't mean games involving the undead shamblers should be. Just look at Left 4 Dead, that's not exactly lethargic. It's a pity that developers Headup Games have made something that's so slow, plodding and repetitive, because it's a quite intriguing concept they've come up with here.
Like a sort of undead Men of War, you control a small squad of survivors trying to figure out why everyone's now partial to a bit of human flesh all of a sudden. You'll have six characters to choose from once you've found them all in-game, including a sword-wielding female reporter, a military veteran and a wheelchair-bound doctor.
Each character has individual strengths and weaknesses
The main character is one Mike Reed (no, not the guy who played Frank Butcher in EastEnders), a punk student out painting the town red with a frat buddy when the zombie menace strikes. Equipped initially with a baseball bat, he batters a few “cannibals” to death before finding his friend has had his neck chomped a little. Heading to the hospital, he discovers the situation is far worse than he initially feared.
Controlling your motley crew is done using a simple mouse interface. Left click to move, right click to attack, very easy to get the hang of. Each character has an inventory where they can store guns, grenades, ammunition and so on, transferable if they stand close to each other.
The interface might be simple on paper then, but it's surprisingly fiddly when put into practice. Every so often, you'll lapse into more familiar RTS control mode and right click to move your character(s), even though that won't work here, plus you might also find yourself attempting to group select using a left click and drag rather than right. It seems a strange decision to have you left-clicking to select an individual but using the right button to select a group (although you can use the group select button next to the inventory).
Sometimes your controls just won't be obeyed or there's too much of a delay between clicking and doing, which could leave your character in danger if he or she's wielding a melee weapon, At other times, it just makes the experience a more annoying one than it has to be.
Control issues aside, of far more concern is the life-sapping dullness of the main combat. At first, it's almost completely a case of either walking up to single zombies, right-clicking once and watching your character bludgeon him to death, or it's attempting to lure small numbers away from larger groups so you can finish them off without wasting valuable ammunition for your guns.
Eat repetitive melee attack death, fiend!
Often the trick is to try to find your way through the crowds with the minimal amount of fighting, although getting your troops to follow orders can be a struggle. If you're in a close space and have more than one person selected, the 'lead' character can get blocked in because the other guys are trying to reposition themselves behind him. Silly, really. Your characters won't auto-reload either, which is a bizarre design decision.
Things do get more interesting when you get a few bigger guns and your team swells, offering a few more tactical possibilities and making it easier to mow down the hordes swarming towards you. The wheelchair-bound character is an excellent addition too, forcing you to consider stairs as an impassable obstacle, having to leave him behind while you investigate on another level.
However, ideas like this are in short supply and you go away feeling there could have been a lot more to do in the world. There's no sense of epic scale like you'd get in Men of War and the levels, while large, are entirely and almost completely linear, taking far, far too long to trudge your way through and the enforcement of a checkpoint system makes any death – you can't lose any single one of your group – extremely frustrating.
Once you've finished a level, you get a box displaying how well you've done. It's completely pointless, as there's no high score table, no means of comparing it to other players or anything that gives it relevance. It's just a box with a score in it. Other than a couple of dialogue boxes showing the development of the plot, done in cartoon form, there's not much reward for progress at all, other than the knowledge you're going to spend another hour or so trudging about in the next relatively featureless environment.
Unlike Men of War, it doesn't have the depth to sustain your interest for very long. Trapped Dead is a good idea unsatisfactorily executed. It's too slow, has an easy to use but surprisingly niggly interface and has horrible save point positions. It does have a co-op mode, which would improve things a little if you could find someone to play it with. In fact, the problems you encounter when playing single player could easily be alleviated by only having to control one character at a time. Except for the interface delay.
I hope he doesn't spill any of that beer!
But yes, anyway, Trapped Dead might have some nice touches – and this writer would love to see Valve introduce a disabled character into any future Left 4 Dead games, just to see how players deal with the new set of strategies that would throw up – but essentially it's too depressingly slow to engage people. It could have done with an environment that was geared to exploration, with loads of things to pick up and interact with.
TRAPPED DEAD VERDICT
As it stands, there’s hardly ever a reason to go beyond the obviously marked out route to the objective, as there’ll not ever really be anything that interesting to find if you do. Sad really, because underneath the dreary exterior there does lie the kernel of a compelling game, certainly if a second player was involved, but it’s impossible to recommend that you dig deep enough to find it.