When it comes to the zombie genre, I’m a complete fanatic. I’ve been a fan ever since I was first exposed to The House of the Dead at the arcades. Nonetheless, even I have noticed a fatigue and lack of creativity within the genre, so it’s great to see a game like Deadly Days come along to refresh my interest. Deadly Days is a pixelated zombie-apocalypse RTS roguelike, developed by PixelSplit and published by Assemble Entertainment & Whispergames, where players take control of a ragtag group of survivors trying to repel the undead hordes.
War On Fast Food
The premise of Deadly Days is an amusing one – an opening cutscene shows how a contaminated cow at a meat processing plant infects the other cattle, causing a zombie outbreak. Players are now tasked with assembling a group large enough to destroy the tainted fast food joints and assemble a map that leads to the main headquarters in order to prevent any further outbreaks. The premise is perfectly suited to the game’s very light and comedic tone; there isn’t any story here to speak of, but that’s fine for what the game is going for.
In terms of presentation, the game’s visuals are basic but have a charming level of character to them. Watching the bouncy characters hop along the zombie-infested streets is always fun to see, and the game’s enjoyable if sometimes repetitive soundtrack fits perfectly with the light and silly tone.
The main gameplay loop of Deadly Days is going out on missions, assuming control of your group of survivors using a basic RTS-style control system, where you guide your survivors around the various locations you explore, combatting zombies and searching for supplies. Each mission will have a set number of collectable supplies including food, scrap, weapons, other survivors, and tools all of which serve their own purpose. For example, food is needed to keep all survivors fed, and your daily food needed will increase as you recruit more survivors. The RTS playstyle adds a unique flavour to the gameplay, forcing you to keep track of where your survivors are as well as keeping track of their health and the number of zombies heading towards them.
The bird’s-eye view also allows you to call in airstrikes on a large cluster of enemies or heal individual members of your group, as well as deploy unlockable special one-use powers. There is tremendous tension when your group is surrounded by flesh-eating hordes, and the bird’s-eye view adds a layer of powerlessness that turns it into a frantic struggle. I very much enjoyed the RTS gameplay of Deadly Days – my only real issue being that every now and then it would feel like my survivors were splitting apart to reach the same destination for no real reason, which caused them to take damage or die. In a game where death is permanent, these instances can be very frustrating.
Each mission is classed as one day within the apocalypse, and at the end of each mission, you return to your home base where you are given a few options for how to use your recovered resources. Your base allows you to equip up to 3 active special powers, which includes things like a map-wide heal or a massive damage increase for a short amount of time. You’ll begin each run with only one special power, but you can find more on your missions as well as purchase extra slots for your powers with scrap.
You can also equip passive abilities such as a sickbed, which creates a healing circle around your survivors when using your active heal on missions, or a coffee cup that extends the length of your mission timer. These upgrades are vital to ensuring a successful run. Whilst the game is by no means a full management sim, there are some light supply management mechanics at play here that can make or break a run. For example, you’ll need one piece of food per day for each survivor you have and failing to reach that number will cause a survivor to starve upon the start of the next day. These mechanics will dictate what you prioritise on each of your scavenging runs – you may want more scrap to fix your weapons and upgrade your passive or active abilities, or you may need extra food to feed or level up your survivors. The choice is yours, and the wrong decision can have disastrous consequences on the viability of your run.
You’ll also need to effectively manage the equipped weapons of your group. Weapons come in the form of guns and melee weapons – melee helps in clearing hordes when surrounded and they do not need to be reloaded, whereas ranged weapons can help to cut hordes down to more manageable sizes. These weapons also come in different levels of rarity and can add different bonuses, such as clip size and fire rate. Tools also act as a currency to develop permanent base upgrades, such as a space laser that replaces your airstrike or a farm that allows you to grow food but choose wisely as you’ll only have 3 slots per run.
These difficult choices add to the risk/reward feeling of Deadly Days. I often found myself questioning, “Should I recruit more survivors? Can I spare the food?” This makes it all the more satisfying when you’re able to stockpile enough supplies to expand your group, which greatly increases the strength of your fighters during a tough mission. When looking at each of the missions they are categorised into different mission types, such as Rescue, Scavenge, and Burger. There are also several other categories that detail the kind of resources you can find on these missions, helping you make more informed decisions.
Race Against Time
Regardless of what mission you choose, you’ll be in a race against time with your goal being to grab everything that isn’t nailed down and head back before night falls. Failing to do so will leave you and your group to face off against the larger, faster and stronger hordes of zombies which can wipe your whole team out incredibly quickly. This time mechanics can play a large part in deciding how you will allocate your passives and actives, as several abilities can help buy valuable time or be used to combat the tougher hordes if you’re feeling brave enough to fight at night.
The time mechanic also becomes a challenge when dealing with the game’s escalating threat level that increases the threat of zombies and the size of their hordes. There are certain things you can do to mitigate this, such as disabling fire station alarms, but the game will always be increasing the pressure. This threat level will also increase the variants of zombies you’ll encounter such as Spitter-type enemies or Tanks that can be a real danger to your group.
With this being a rogue-lite, many of the game’s elements are completely randomised. This is most apparent in the mission design, with each location you travel to being ranked from 1 to 5 in terms of danger, loot, and size – this becomes another factor in deciding which missions to pursue. The randomisation of this game can be incredibly cruel, with the success of a run sometimes entirely dependent on whether or not you receive the right kind of missions for your style of play. For example, one of my runs came to a frustrating end when, after assembling a group of around seven people, I consistently ran into missions with little to no food. As a result, my survivors starved – leaving me with a group too weak to take on more challenging missions.
This can certainly make or break the game for players. A string of bad luck would lead me to be incredibly frustrated with the game, especially as you have less control over your survivors than other games of this genre. On the flip side, however, if you are fortunate enough and collect high-quality weapons, survivors and buffs, then the game can be an absolute blast that makes your wins feel earned and inspires you to keep pushing to the endgame.
If At First You Don’t Succeed …
In typical rogue-lite fashion, after failing or completing a run you will receive experience points that will go into one of three classes you choose at the start of your run. Each class has its own series of starting special powers and base items – for my experience, I chose the class that focuses on giving you more time to scavenge and provides a map-wide heal to all survivors. Other classes focus more on giving you additional accuracy with guns or crafting benefits.
The various unlocks for each class will add more weapons and perks to be found throughout your playthrough, increasing the size of the available loot, and additional unlocks include permanent buffs for your leader character. These unlockables add a great sense of progression after each run and give you more reasons to prioritise certain classes over others. Hence each class becomes very formidable in different areas by the time you max them out. You’re also incentivised to experiment, as to add weapons to the loot table you’ll to level up all classes even if you have a particular preference. Overall, the experience points gained due to a failed run can be very helpful in dealing with runs where you either have bad luck or the occasional frustrating AI, making each run helpful in progressing you further in some small way.
On top of this, additional replayability is added from the multiple difficulty options, unlockable challenge mode, and daily challenges that will keep you coming back long after you’ve maxed out your classes.
What surprised me most about Deadly Days was the incredibly challenging endgame battle that strangely reminded me of something like the suicide mission in Mass Effect, primarily due to the whole game building towards it. You can attempt the mission as soon as you complete the map to the factory, but it’s a one-way ticket so you need to be ready. It’s imperative that you do not attempt the mission until you feel you have enough survivors, weapons, and powerful perks to help you tackle the challenging endgame gauntlet. It took me many attempts to successfully conquer the game’s final mission, as the game throws even the kitchen sink at you.
The final gauntlet (at least on easy) is presented to you in 3 randomised phases with each room presenting a different challenge, such as activating all consoles, or killing 10 mini boss zombies. The final phase pits you against one of several final boss zombies with unique attack patterns and methods to fight them. For example, I faced a Frankenstein-like creature with detachable limbs that needed to be destroyed in order to do more damage – this is on top of facing off against an unlimited and continuously flowing horde of zombies.
This final battle is no joke, and you really need to be prepared to face down this endgame challenge. Interestingly, this is not the only way to finish the game, as there is also an interesting hidden ending that requires a large number of resources from the player.
As far as I can see, Deadly Days is fairly lacking when it comes to accessibility options. The only major one that is visible from the main menu is a non-pixelated font, which is certainly helpful to those with vision impairment and is welcome given the amount of text in the game. Something that would be nice to see is a colour blind mode given how vibrant the visuals to the game are, and being able to distinguish certain environmental details like slime would be helpful for those with colour blindness.
An Indie Gem
Overall, Deadly Days is a very enjoyable if occasionally frustrating addition to the rogue-lite genre. Its RTS twist on the zombie genre adds a unique flavour, and it’s a great game to throw on and lose several hours to its tense and engaging gameplay. The sense of progression constantly kept me coming back and helped me overlook any runs that frustrated me or that I felt were unfair.
PixelSplit have crafted a very enjoyable experience that is a great introduction to the rogue-lite genre, with more simplified elements than those in larger titles. I’d love to see the game’s mechanics iterated upon further in a potential sequel. Minor issues aside, I can wholeheartedly recommend Deadly Days for RTS and Roguelite fans.
We were provided with a PS4 game code for Deadly Days for review purposes, but this does not affect the authenticity of the praise or criticism the game received.
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Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Publisher: Assemble Entertainment and WhisperGames