Early Access Look at Dead TrailZ

Overhead Ziplines, Zombies, Tower Defensing, Perfect for the Post-Holidays Lull!
Look past the surface and an interesting genre spin awaits beneath.
Look past the surface and an interesting genre spin awaits beneath.

Zombies. They are everywhere. No need to for hefty survival guides, there’s no zombie apocalypse threatening humanity. However, they are still “everywhere,” and why not? They moan. They want your brains. A bullet to the head for instant re-unanimated carcasses. These easily recognizable foes make great cannon fodder, but building a new game around overused baddies will require a touch of creativity to capture gamer interest these days. It’s refreshing to know some developers out there are still working on interesting spins on familiar concepts to do just that.

Using known zombie tropes, tower defense concepts, and sniper action, Dead Trailz imbues this oft overused theme with creativity and arcade thrills. Instead of finding a bat and smashing your way through hordes of dull witted hungry undead, Dead TrailZ puts you in the shoes of the town’s sniper guy. Your job? Clear a path Last of the Mohicans style for runners picking up supplies, or survivors making a beeline for the nearest train out of Dodge.

Zombies... they're coming...
Zombies… they’re coming…

Dead TrailZ is an indie effort by two man development team Galactic Bits, using the Unity Engine. The game has been in production for two years. Some initial aspects are still underwhelming. As is the case with Early Access games at the start. You will not be blown away by the menu interfaces. Looking for a tutorial? Smooth controller support? It’s not quite there. What options are available are sparse. Animations and graphical quality for the most part are far from noteworthy. Zombies either look like undead Super Marios, red speckled D&D drow elves, or a collection of neighborhood “zombified” soccer moms. Sound effects are generic, zombies do odd little quirky things when they think no one’s looking. Still, if you brush past these few rough spots, then you won’t miss the good ideas being implemented in this game.

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This is what happens when you run to pee and forget to pause. Zombie buffet.

There are two modes of play Runner and Strategy. In Runner mode, a green shirted brave soul as he runs between air dropped packages collecting supplies. For Strategy mode, groups of survivors make a dash through town towards a train that will take them towards Non-Zombie territories. For both modes, you are the key for their survival as you snipe or detonate zombies from the rooftops. Once you have a rifle in hand everything else is self explanatory. Bullets into zombies’ heads is the way to go, don’t shoot the humans, and bring something to read on the rooftops because it gets lonely. However understanding the games base concepts is only the beginning.

One of the intriguing aspects of Dead Trailz is how different each attempt can feel. Each mission has a set budget. This monetary value determines how much of something you can buy. For example, early on you’ll unlock the EMP weapon. While it is puzzling that an electromagnetic pulse will vaporize groups of zombies – but this one does. Each use costs 50 gold doubloons. There are also mines you can drop along the road, and smoke grenades to guide your survivors to a specific point. The number of items you can bring with you will depend on your budget and your partiality for that strategic item.

Brandi and Bob met on Zmatch dot com. They like long quiet walks with other undead, candlelit brain dinners, and never going to sleep.
Brandi and Bob met on Zmatch dot com. They like long quiet walks with other undead, candlelit brain dinners, and never going to sleep.

The other aspect I grew rather fond of quickly is the tower defense aspect of the game. While you do not lay down towers per se, you use ziplines to quickly transport to various tower points on the map. Essentially, you are the sole defense tower, so keeping your zone of undead ass kicking in the vicinity of the survivors is vital. To aid in that, the minimap in the lower left corner gives you an indication of where the enemies and survivors located, as well as indicating where they are going.

There is a set path between lookout points, seen in the first person perspective as a zipline. If you see a zipline to the “west” side of the map for instance, and press UP in that direction you will be transported to that rooftop in the blink of an eye. From these other vantage points, you will have a different perspective of the same streets, but are able to clear off enemy mobs before they can gobble the innocents.

Runner Mode is focused on just one green shirt survivor, who will rush out into the town collecting supply boxes. Mr. Green will beeline to the supply drop box, bend over and collect the items (regardless of nearby undead) and run off to the next spot. He may fire off a couple of shots before running out of ammo to defend himself, but you will have to intently babysit him.

When the runner falls, and he eventually will, depending on how well you did you will earn gold for bonus purchases on a subsequent run dubbed the ‘Revenge’. Some of these bonus abilities are features like fast reload and bigger mag clips. Some of the other ones were less clear, but undoubtedly increases the blood splashy body counts. It was enjoyable to mix and match bonuses with items and jump back into the fray.

5 bullets, 17 zombies, 2 survivors running right at them. *gulp*
5 bullets, 17 zombies, 2 survivors running right at them. *gulp*

That’s just it, somewhere between figuring out which bonus I wanted, and firing a shot through the centimeter gap between two survivors to skull pop the zombie in front of them – I started to really enjoy myself. It’s thrilling cat and mouse sniping and the lesser elements and lack of variety fades away.

Zipping between three or four points, rushing to drop signal smoke to draw my survivors away. Then zipping back to the train area to knock out the zombies milling near their exit. Then zipping back to clear the next leg of their escape. The action morphs into a first person shooter version of Whack-A-Mole. To make matters more interesting, there are areas of the map you simple cannot see. Knowing there are zombies hiding behind a wall waiting to eat your digital friends for lunch can be challenging. You can plan for these moments, try to create your own bottlenecks, anticipate the next movements- but it’s not always that simple especially if you miss.

Dead TrailZ may not dazzle some visually, but I honestly felt the game has its own indie charm. With contrasting splashes of bright red blood, and heavily outlined comic skylines, and drenched in black towns, it’s a look that would surely earn Frank Miller’s approval. A lot of these minor shortcomings become muted, as the tactics involved with keeping these human lemmings safe was both enticing and enjoyable. This game has a solid arcade mentality, with it comes repeat pick and play appeal.

This game’s has plenty of potential, as well as entertainment value. While in Early Access, Dead TrailZ received a number of updates, including one right before today’s official early access release. Each improving the game’s initial presentation and appeal. There’s no reason to doubt we are only seeing the tip of the proverbial iceberg. This developer has already promised more maps, modes, multiplayer, and content in the very near future. Which will be needed in earnest, to keep the longevity of this fun indie title afloat. But as Dead Trailz continues improving, there’s enough style and entertainment to keep you intently gripping your left mouse button, and your other finger mashing the zip-line button for days.