Dead Maze – First Look
Read our previous thoughts on Dead Maze here.
Dead Maze is a zombie survival MMOARPG that entered a closed early access on Steam not long ago. I was sent a key for it last week, and I’ve spent about six and a half hours with it to see what it’s all about. The story, which is honestly forgettable for a number of reasons, begins with your car breaking down on a spooky stretch of highway with your two friends on the way to an unspecified sports event. Naturally, the zombie outbreak is beginning because of a massive tsunami that struck the east coast and took out power for the whole eastern US during this exact stretch of time. The two people you’re travelling with, FillerFriend and ToxicGirlfriend are dead before you even have time to learn their actual names.
From a visual standpoint, the game is mediocre at best. It feels like a series of animated Bitstrips. If you don’t know what those are, count yourself lucky. The limited art-style plays into the even more dialed back character creation suite as well. These are all the options you have for customization. The fact that the game looks so stiff and uninteresting is a real disappointment because the promotional art for the game is pretty fantastic. One image in particular, which happens to be the first one I saw for this game, has a strong resemblance to games like Metal Slug which have always been known for having amazing spritework and super fluid animation. If the game had been drawn and animated like an isometric Metal Slug with some more involved combat, it would be a real contender. Unfortunately, the gameplay experience is just as barebones as the visuals are.
The actual gameplay begins just after you escape from your dead friends and the horde of approaching zombies on the highway. You’re saved by a woman who quickly tells you that she’s immune to the zombie virus, and that most of the people who are still alive in the world are too. She then teaches you a few of the game’s basics, like how to use a campfire, and then it’s off to your first settlement. From here, the rhythm of the game will feel incredibly familiar to anyone who has played any standard MMORPG ever. Get quests, often one at a time, and go kill x number of things or find a certain number of arbitrary items on the ground. This wouldn’t be so bad if the combat weren’t so boring.
You’re given almost no abilities, and the attacks feel automatic and disjointed. Unlike games like Path of Exile or Diablo, attacks don’t happen on a 1 to 1 ratio with your clicks. You have auto attacks, and you start with one attack ability. Sometimes your character will do a combo if your weapon has the combo ability, but you have no control over it. You basically just target a zombie, use your one ability, and wait for it to die. If your health manages to get low, which will rarely happen, you can use your heal ability to raise it back up again.
Now one thing the game does right, in my opinion, is giving the weapons a durability property. No weapon in the game is permanent except your fists, and weapons can be hard to find at times which adds a bit of much needed tension to the game. Unfortunately, the game drops the ball hard with other elements of the design which are supposed to make the game tense.
Dead Maze implements survival elements like hunger and thirst. Getting these meters full grants you a buff for extra damage, but letting them get too low lands you with a debuff that decreases your damage. You’ll almost never experience this though because these meters go down ultra slowly and are incredibly easy to fill. Food is almost everywhere you look, and water isn’t far behind. The only meter that you really have to keep an eye on is the rest meter, indicated by the campfire on your HUD. When it gets low you need to sit at a campfire for a couple of seconds to refill it.
The fact that the game struggles to build tension in a genre where tension is supposed to be the driving force of your actions is really telling of the whole experience. The combat is incredibly boring, the movement is frustratingly slow, and the survival elements are borderline pointless. I might be willing to excuse these gameplay mis-steps if the story had a great hook and delivery, but it doesn’t. All of the dialogue feels like it was translated from another language with Google Translate. It feels like I’m reading a bad Walking Dead fanfiction at times.
The game features an in-game shop as well, with a handful of items on a temporary timer that you can buy with cash. They offer a different cosmetic look as well as a few extra stat points, but not enough that I’d consider them pay-to-win with how easy the game already is. These items are mostly for you to change your appearance further beyond what the limited character creation suite allows for.
Overall, Dead Maze is a shallow and boring game. The combat, which is most of the game, is incredibly boring and repetitive. The quests are the same recycled trite we’ve seen a million times in every MMORPG ever, and the survival elements feel like utterly pointless last minute additions. If you’re looking for a survival horror game, try Secret World Legends instead. You’ll have a much better time.
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