I seriously wish this website allowed me to upload videos of my play tests, since there were some absolutely hilarious moments in Headup Games' latest offering, Trapped Dead. However it wasn't in the writing, the scenario, or the characters; No, the hilarity was almost ironic laughter at how broken and buggy this game is.
Trapped Dead was developed by Crenetic, a German games company that have been up and running since 2000, mainly in the casual and mobile games market (which Trapped Dead could have fit into quite snugly). On paper it sounds like a great idea for a game - A survival horror strategy game where you control a group of survivors, each with their own skills, as they attempt to survive an outbreak in a small American town. Think Commandos meets Left 4 Dead, what can possibly go wrong?
The story of Trapped Dead takes place in Hedge Hill, a small town near Kansas City, in the mid 80's. All the classic zombie movie stereotypes are thrown into this game: You play as an out of towner who gets caught up in the outbreak after being attacked by a group of zombies. You quickly befriend a wheelchair bound doctor and escape to a safe house. From here you head out to various locations around Hedge Hill for various reasons: To obtain weapons or medical supplies, to rescue a survivor who's coming through on the radio, or to find out what's really going on in Hedge Hill. It has potential, it really does, however like most games that have a good idea, Trapped Dead unloads several shotgun shells into it's feet with awful execution and some really buggy design.
We'll start with the least problematic part of the game – The graphics. While not incredible they do their job. None of the models stand up to close scrutiny (although some of the environments look pretty good), but that said it's a strategy game that's meant to be seen from a high viewpoint anyway. Where they fall on their face is the zombies, or lack thereof. There's about 4 different generic zombie skins, with a couple of level specific ones (I.e. Convict zombies in the prison level), and a 'butcher' zombie skin, which is a larger, slower but overly stronger type of zombie that can kill you in one or two hits. The amount of times you'll fight waves of the identical lumberjack vest wearing zombies is ridiculous, and really breaks the tension of some moments when your group is cornered and panic tactics kick in.
The AI isn't anything to shout about either, apart from how shocking it is. I know zombies don't really require a lot of sophistication or even major awareness of their surroundings, but the survivors should have at least a semblance of independent thought. Many a time I found myself wanting to turn around and lay waste to them as they happily stood there, guns raised, not even trying to defend themselves as the zombie hordes formed a circle around them. In order to make an armed survivor shoot you either have to manually assign each and every target after each shot (thus leaving your other survivors to dawdle about), or let them randomly shoot any zombie they choose, which always seems to be the one furthest away that they have the least chance of hitting. A little more variety to the enemies wouldn't have gone amiss either. After a couple of levels I had a strategy worked out that guaranteed victory every time since all you ever fight are the same shuffling zombies. You'd have thought they'd take a leaf out of Left 4 Dead's book and stuck in a couple of special zombie types to mix up the combat, but as it is it gets extremely repetitive very quickly.
But the biggest problem is the many small, infuriating bugs and hallmarks of bad design that make the simplest tasks an exercise in anger management. The interface you control your team with is extremely clunky, normally requiring several clicks to get them to wake up and realize what you want. You can pause the game and assign actions to each individual survivor, but more often than not you'll come out of pause to find them ignoring your commands, or worse still, two of them doing as you say and one being left for the zombies. If just one survivor dies that's it, game over and straight back to either the start of the level or the last checkpoint you hit (another massive annoyance, as you have to clear huge chunks of the level before you can reach a checkpoint most of the time), which leads to many teeth – grinding moments as your main melee fighter stands there and gets taken down when you've quite clearly told him several times to hit the zombie that's right in front of him. Also simple things like trading items between survivors is a long winded process: Basically you have to select one character, drop the item they've got that you want to trade, select the other character and pick it up. Wouldn't a simple drag and drop on the character have worked? Or a simple trade interface?
Trapped Dead has every opportunity to be a good game: It has a good setting and storyline, the graphics hold up alright and it's a slow and methodical game that requires some thought and tactics to progress. In some places it can be quite challenging and tense, especially moments where a wave of zombies come lurching up behind you, forcing you to run or die. Unfortunately it seems like Crenetic didn't even bother with testing this game before release. The camera is a constant annoyance, the zombies are a dull and uninspired enemy force (especially after six levels of the same types), the level design is deceptive, promising open areas that quickly lock down into a linear path, and the mechanics to actually move efficiently through a level are broken and counter – intuitive. Crenetic should do themselves a favor and go back to the development stage with this game, fix it up and give it a bit of polish, because without it Trapped Dead is little more than a mediocre shooter that will fall swiftly under the radar.