Dead Trigger lurched its way into the App Store yesterday, boasting run-and-gun zombie apocalypse action on your iPhone and iPad. The first person shooter is unabashedly cheesy, chock-full of snappy one-liners after recorpsifying the odd shambler, and over-the-top non-player characters that prod the plot forward. The graphics are the real showstopper though - you will be hard-pressed to find more disgusting walking dead anywhere else on a phone or tablet.
It should be said right out of the gate that the graphics are awesome. Lighting is rich and dynamic, 3D models are stunning, and there are plenty of graphical effects like water droplets complete with visual distortion, lens flare, and fog. Though the graphics are admittedly gorgeous, there are a few misgivings. For one, headshots with larger guns result in zombie heads that simply disappear, with nary a morsel of skull shrapnel or withered brain matter to be seen. For a game that thrives on horror, that level of gore is really important. Basic glass shattering isn't present in the game, which would have been a really nice addition and showcase the game's graphical prowess. The zombies have glowing eyes which certainly adds to the atmosphere, but can make it hard to suspend disbelief when you see these goofy green cones coming out of their eye sockets from the profile. The sound effects get top marks, and the soundtrack sets a grim, gritty, breakneck pace as you tear through levels to avoid those that want to gnaw on your frontal lobe.
There's a linear progression of levels and story, though there are plenty of optional missions that pop up along the way. Mission objectives tend to be fairly straightforward: defend an objective for a set amount of time, acquire an object and return it to a location, or simply clear an area of all zombies are just some examples. Levels are rated in difficulty up to three stars, and you're scored out of five stars based on speed, kills, and accuracy. The zombies themselves are brainless and predictable, which is fitting, but makes the game a little too easy if you can find a comfortable corner away from major spawn points. The challenge of Dead Trigger lies more in situation awareness than deking out AI drones or testing your marksmanship skills. A wider variety of zombies (like those in the Left 4 Dead series) could make combat considerably more interesting. Apparently running zombies pop up later in the game, but I haven't seen them yet.
You get five health to start, with bandages available to keep you alive. If a zombie sneaks up on you, then you have to wrestle free in a pretty frightening minigame. Occasionally zombies will drop ammo and cash along the way which can be spent on a variety of weapons and equipment. You can bypass all the hard work with in-app purchases or go for the premium currency for the real high-shelf stuff. You only get one weapon and one item slot to start, but eventually expand to get four of each. There are 14 weapons and 14 equipment items to chose from after they're all unlocked. That isn't that many as is, and the selection is further limited by the fact that you need premium currency for six of the guns and three of the items. Modern Combat 3, by comparison, has 13 primary weapons, 8 secondary weapons, plus attachments and six equipment options.
Gameplay in Dead Trigger is a mixed bag. The core dual-stick controls are fine, with the standard one thumb for moving, and the other for changing facing, shooting, reloading, and healing, but there are a lot of important facets to an FPS that just aren't there. Running, jumping, ducking, and aiming directly down the sights are some of the more basic things you would expect to see but don't. You can't even see a mission map beyond a mini radar display to gather your bearings. More advanced gameplay options, such as unique skills or talents when leveling up, custom weapon attachments, and online multiplayer are also absent. Even Shadowgun is still waiting on a multiplayer update.
Much like Madfinger's previous game, Shadowgun, Dead Trigger feels more like an Nvidia tech demo than a game you could pour a lot of time into. Of course the graphics in Dead Trigger are absolutely amazing and among the very best you will find in an iOS game. If you're looking to put some undead back in the grave, you'll find no gorier way to do it than Dead Trigger, but if you want something more than eye candy, there are first-person shooters available for iPhone and iPad with better gameplay depth. I wouldn't bat an eyelash about spending a buck on Dead Trigger, even if it's only to have something to show your friends just how graphically powerful a new iPad is, but I could only see myself spending more than that if I was really itching for a zombie game.