Dead Ahead: Good and Bad

Games are pretty popular topics for reviews here at iPhone.AppStorm, and when Apple decides to spotlight one in the App Store, we take notice. That’s why I jumped on the chance to review Dead Ahead, a zombie runner made by the same people who brought us Cut the Rope and Robbery Bob.

Although Dead Ahead is fun, easy to learn and fits most of my standards for an iPhone game, it does have one big problem. Something that looms over most apps nowadays, but this time with a new twist — one that’s just as insidious as the zombies that roam the game’s universe. Do you dare go forward to find out? 

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Zombies? Yes, Zombies.

At this point, it seems like the whole undead concept has been beaten to death, and yet here’s another example of a great use of the genre. You’re a dude with a scooter and you’ve got to run away from zombies attacking you from the rear, and avoid objects and additional zombies ahead of you. This isn’t an easy task, as some zombies have their track shoes on and can catch up to you fairly quickly, so you’ll have to ride faster to outrace them. Ride faster, and you risk hitting parked cars, cones and objects that can slow you down or turn you into zombie chow. And that gun you have? It’ll get the job done, but your ammo is limited and it’s tough to change a clip while doing 40 on a two-wheeler. This whole zombie apocalypse ain’t lookin’ so good.

And these are the slow zombies.

And these are the slow zombies.

Controlling the Madness

As is the hallmark of any good iPhone game, the controls here are easy to use and don’t rely on too many gimmicks. Your scooter moves forward automatically without any prodding. To go faster, you hit the accelerate button on the left side of the screen, and shoot with the button to the left of that. If you want to control how high up or down on the road you’re cruising, just slide your right thumb up and down the right side of the screen. Easy peezy.

You have lots of options, too.

You have lots of options, too.

But there are a few tricks that you should know as well. Whenever you accelerate, your scooter does a wheelie. This makes it easy for you to run over zombies or blockades, but you’re also rolling faster and faster, so it’s more difficult to control. You can shoot with whatever gun or rifle that’s equipped, but reloading takes time and that can be the difference between life and a life as a member of the undead. Choose wisely.

Smash!

Smash!

Fun Factory

Chillingo has produced a ton of good games, and for the most part, I like Dead Ahead. It falls into the same traps as many games, in that you earn coins and those coins can be used to upgrade your character, weapons or rides. You can also grab power-ups along the way that boost your speed or give you other bonuses along the way.

The zombie apocalypse won't kill off bad fashion sense.

The zombie apocalypse won’t kill off bad fashion sense.

It’s not perfect, though. Like many runners, it gets repetitive, particularly when you’re trying to level up. There was a point when I was trying to advance past level five so I could unlock the next background and I had to do a 15-zombie combo to proceed. That may sound easy, but it was incredibly tricky to pull off, and it took a bit of practice and lots of patience to accomplish. It makes me feel like the difficulty settings may be a bit high off the bat, because I did find myself more frustrated than excited in those situations.

Rising From the Dead

Now for the bad part. If you were thinking that the problem with Dead Ahead was going to be the insidious use of in-app purchases (IAP), then yes, that’s correct — but it’s only part of the problem. Yes, you can buy your way to the top of the game, and purchase enough coins to trick out your ride and get the best guns. That kind of stuff is almost expected in an iPhone app nowadays, particularly the free ones, so it’s not that egregious a mistake to me.

I feel bad for this guy on multiple levels.

I feel bad for this guy on multiple levels.

What is? Ads. That’s right, there are ads in Dead Ahead, and they pop up after you die. These aren’t little banners, either. They’re full-screen ads that require a response to tap away. I remember when Steve Jobs introduced the iAd platform so that advertisers could create “cool” ads for the iPhone. That’s not what Dead Ahead uses. There are one or two iAd products that pop up now and again, but more often than not I saw ads for Christian singles and local car dealerships. These are the types of ads that you see on crappy websites sandwiched between “This lady found a crazy way to lose weight” and flashing “The IRS HATES this guy. Learn his secret today!” banners. They’re epic in their badness. That’s not good.

Bash Away

I find myself going to the Dead Ahead well a lot when I have time to play a game, and that tells me that I think it’s fun. But inevitably, I’ll pick it up and some stupid ad will pop up and I’ll want to huck my iPhone across the room. The 8-ish-bit effects are neat, and it is enjoyable, it’s just that all the other stuff tends to make you forget the good parts. It’s like being on a really awesome date and finding out that your partner has an incredibly annoying laugh. You try to get through it, and sometimes it works out, sometimes you’re walking home alone.

Ironic then that a game about zombies would make me feel both happy and solitary, and yet, here we are. Dead Ahead is fun, but it ticks me off. Take that for what you will.


Summary

Ride away from zombies as fast as you can — but the ads are unavoidable, as is the IAP.

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