The entire world has officially gone zombie nuts. Almost every week a new zombie flick comes out – zombies at school, zombies at a funfair, zombies in outer space. You can't even go to the hairdressers or take your sweetheart out for ice cream any more without a bloody walking corpse trying to scoop out your brains. Of course, zombies have always been a staple enemy in videogames, all the way back to Ghosts 'n Goblins, but the sheer volume of zombie titles released in the past two years is more frightening than the rotting flesh-munchers themselves. Amongst all the dross, we've had a couple - such as Left 4 Dead - that are actually pretty damn good. Occasionally we even get something a little more creative, such as the excellent strategy title Plants v Zombies.
Sadly, Nation Red has no such creativity. You're basically stuck in a small arena with floods of zombies flocking in from all directions, and a host of weapons at your disposal to fight them off. And that's pretty much it. Remember that old Flash game Boxhead: The Rooms? Basically, Nation Red is a 3D version of that, except that Boxhead is completely free and Nation Red will set you back eight quid if you download it via Steam. So, is it worth splashing that cash?
Well, firstly the good stuff. The aforementioned weapons are an absolute joy to use, cutting through the hordes of the damned like a rocket through blancmange. You begin with a basic pistol, but if you stick with that long you'll soon be surrounded and divided into handy bite-sized chunks. Fortunately, defeated zombies frequently drop fresh guns - everything from uzis and shotguns up to flame throwers and grenade launchers. Each weapon has unlimited ammunition, so you can blast away without worrying about running out at a crucial moment, and the likes of the grenades have a satisfying blast radius. Fire into the centre of a pack, and those nearest will explode into a shower of crimson while bystanders are shredded by the shrapnel. You can even get your hands on some melee weapons such as axes and machetes, which are surprisingly effective when you're completely surrounded. Unfortunately you can't switch back to old weapons once you pick a new one up, so you're basically stuck with what you've got until something else is dropped.
Then we have the power-ups, dropped by zombies along with the weapons. These add an extra arcadey feel to proceedings thanks to their outrageous nature - you can set up everything from Aliens-style gun turrets to massive wind turbines that drive the zombies back for a limited time. Your character also gains experience for each kill, and when a set total is reached you can pause the game and select a special skill that lasts the rest of the mission. These are just as outlandish, giving you the power to rain down fiery death from the skies, or spontaneously combust any shambling corpses in the surrounding area. Some times these skills can even be combined with the power-ups. The 'Ghost' power-up normally gives you a single helper in the form of a pistol-toting apparition, but grab this power after you've selected the 'Wild Bunch' skill and your lone gunman turns into a small army of badass zombie killers.
Nation Red’s mission mode presents a handful of challenges, almost all of which involve clearing the arena of zombies, and the difficulty is almost entirely dependent on the weapon and power-up drops. Some stages see the entire screen quickly swamped with enemies, and if you only have your pistol to fight them off then you’re basically screwed. However, get a machine gun or even a flame thrower straight away and completing the stage should be a breeze unless you get cocky or careless. Another problem lies with the health meter and collision detection. There's little visual or aural feedback when your character is hit, as all that happens is your life bar depletes. This is buried away at the bottom of the screen and hard to check out without taking your eyes from the frantic action, so unexpectedly collapsing dead is quite common. To make things worse, some times your life takes a hit even when the zombies quite clearly missed you with their frenzied arm-swiping. Thankfully there is a sliding difficulty scale, which can be accessed at any time during particularly frustrating missions.
Occasionally a mission will throw in a resilient ‘boss’ character wielding a weapon such as a chainsaw or even a gun, and one infuriating level sees you protecting a gormless character who stands perfectly still and dies in one hit. Aside from that, it’s basically gun everything down and move onto the next stage. This lack of variety is mirrored in the environments, which are often barren, dusty desert landscapes with little to set them apart. Even the zombies themselves come in two basic types - the skinny ones who occasionally run at you, and the fat ones who mostly just lumber about.
Nation Red's missions are over all too quickly with little reward, and the obligatory survival and free-play modes add little replayability. To make things worse there’s no multiplayer to speak of, which would at least provide an incentive to return once the game is finished. If this game was one pound, like the addictive I MAED A GAM3 W1TH ZOMBIES 1N IT!!!1 on Xbox Live, then it would be much easier to recommend. Sadly, the novelty value of the powerful arsenal and entertaining power-ups is soon blighted by the repetitive gameplay that will almost certainly cripple your trigger finger. Still, one plus point is that the system requirements are pretty lenient - only a Pentium 4 or Athlon XP processor with half a gig of RAM is required for Nation Red to run well. Make that a gig of RAM if you want a smooth experience without turning on the 'bodies disappear immediately' option.
My recommendation is, if you're strapped for cash and can put up with the crappy graphics, give Nation Red a miss and just stick to Boxhead for your zombie-blasting fix.