Published: 16 July 2014
Editor's Note: This review was written using a review copy of Deadstone provided at no charge by Timeslip Softworks LLC.
Deadstone is a twin-stick shooter developed and published by Timeslip Softworks LLC set in a sci-fi setting and named after the settlement you are defending in the game. It is currently available on Desura and is pending inclusion on Steam in Greenlight. With it being an entry in such a saturated genre, the question becomes: does it stand out from the crowd? Well, the answer to that is a little more complicated than just "yes", unfortunately. I found a lot to like in Deadstone, and quite enjoyed my time with it, but it was certainly rough around the edges.
While a little generic, the well-written story
is what helps Deadstone stand out
While the central premise of Deadstone is a fairly tired one - an experiment gone wrong that brings monsters - or in this case, essentially zombies - to the world, the actual writing and narrative of Deadstone is central to what makes it stand out. Character interactions are well-thought-out and quite consistent with the different personalities the NPCs are given. Exposition given before each mission helps give context and indication of progress and what to expect in each mission without being overly wrong. The only complaint I did have is if you restart a mission you have to reread that dialogue which can be frustrating to those whom just want to get back into the action.
In general the theme of the game is very well implemented and flows very well together. It all mostly "fits" together very well and shows a bit of art direction that a lot of indies miss out on. There's an obvious care that's been taken in world-building both with dialogue and with the art direction that certainly stands out as noteworthy for a twin-stick shooter as not many take care to develop the world as much as Deadstone does.
The UI design is more than a little rough in places
This actually becomes the strange juxtaposition of Deadstone's art direction: there's alternating "good" and "brilliant" digitally-painted art throughout the game, and then a UI that appears often blotchy and blurry - as if it was up-sampled from a much smaller resolution. Speaking for someone that was playing at 1366x768 resolution, there really isn't much of an excuse for that. I can somewhat understand it not scaling to 4k resolutions or the like, but 1366x768 is relatively speaking a very low resolution in this day and age.
Game options are also pretty thin. Admittedly it's a top-down shooter, but resolution, windowed mode, and audio level controls are all things missing that should be in the game, in my opinion. It seems to me like it's a Unity game, so while those features don't come standard I know they can be implemented. Thomas Was Alone implements audio sliders just fine for example.
A somewhat-understated soundtrack really adds to the game
Speaking of the audio, the soundtrack of the game actually is quite nice. It's rather understated, no "epic" overused bombastic Latin-chanting choirs or the like, but it adds a dark ambiance to the game that I rather enjoyed actually. This helped reinforce the strong and pervasive dark sci-fi theme through the game, and I quite liked that.
The main game mechanics are well-implemented
but as standard as they come
As a twin-stick shooter, Deadstone is just fine, competently-executed with a few extra flourishes in usable items, powerups, and a few special mission mechanics, but its a level of variety that's quite ordinary to twin-stick shooters. It's just "fine" - executed quite competently but without anything too special or amazing. Gunplay is good with an accounting for skill, keeping the zombies from going past the player adds some additional urgency to dealing with enemies, and special mission mechanics like some missions being during the night and having line-of-sight and visibility issues keep missions from becoming monotonous. Considering the size and unchanging nature of the map, keeping things interesting like that actually is a bit of a feat, so it's noteworthy that I feel it does manage that.
The enemy variety, on the other hand, is pretty much nonexistent. This is the classic problem of many games essentially using zombies in enemies, but it isn't an insurmountable thing, as games like Left 4 Dead and the many other zombie games inspired thereby have proven, with things like the special undead. It does get a bit dry fighting the same enemies, and while this is salved somewhat by the fact that the enemies start using different tactics such as digging tunnels, its still the same enemies doing this.
Depth is added to the game via its RPG-like progression system
This is where the meat of the game's difference from most twin-stick shooters is, beyond the story. The game sports a RPG system where you progress through levels gained by score in mission, levelling up different statistics such as accuracy or constitution, to help you adapt and deal with the changing enemy tactics. It also allows certain "perks" to be picked up along the play of the game that offer less sundry bonuses, such as one perk that draws powerups to you. Again its nothing ground-breaking, but in this case it does certainly differentiate the game to some degree, because while some twin-stick shooters have item stores between missions, the full-on RPG system coupled with that story has it feeling more like a simplistic RPG with shooter elements as much as a plain-Jane twin-stick shooter.
The only other problem I had with the game was some bugginess. There were occasional times when an enemy wouldn't be quite close enough to be supposed to attack me where I took damage regardless, and sometimes the dead bodies would clip about each other in ways that looked visually rather strange. They're minor things that a little bit of fixing will remedy however, and neither of those things were game-breaking in any way.