Picture this. The world is in ashes. Seemingly out of nowhere and in no time at all, the dead have reclaimed the Earth from the living. The military is on its heels, and cities are now little more than blood soaked haunted houses which you must fight through to survive. Sound familiar? If you have played a zombie game, watched a zombie movie, or read a zombie book in the last, oh, 50 years, it probably does. Well, that’s pretty much the setup for Trapped Dead: Lockdown from developer Bigmoon Studios.
Violence is Not the Answer
Trapped Dead: Lockdown is, at its core, a pretty simple game. A real-time combat based isometric action RPG, 99% of the game is played with the mouse and first four number keys. Click a spot to move there, click an enemy with the left or right mouse button to use your main and secondary attack, and use the number keys to use consumables or activate abilities. Simple isn’t necessarily bad. There are a lot of games out there with not many more gameplay mechanics than this that are a good time, but a good time isn’t to be found with the combat here. It’s not that one thing is particularly egregious, but instead that a number of poor design decisions keep encounters repetitive, boring, and frustrating. Mounting onto this is that the checkpoint system is annoyingly unforgiving. I understand making a game hard (I was playing on hard, after all), but dying often times had me sent back way too far. Dying after one hit from a boss or deep into fighting through a building sometimes sent me a good 5-10 minutes back, which is a lot by game standards, and resulted in me having to just walk away for a while numerous times after not feeling like re-running through a large zone I’d already cleared.
Another irritating feature is having movement and attacks mapped to the same key. There’s no room for error when clicking to attack, and when zombies are flying at you like bats out of hell it gets really hard to consistently click them, meaning that my ranged attack-focused character was constantly charge into a group of enemies resulting in either me re-positioning him and wasting precious attack time, or him dying a quick, bloody death. This could easily be absolved by enabling an auto attack option where the character can repeatedly use their standard attacks after one attack order, but this isn’t possible, meaning you’re going to be spamming that mouse button pretty much non-stop. Even when I was landing hits, and the combat was working as intended, it just wasn’t that fun. Even after learning some (pretty mundane, but we will get to that later) special attacks, almost every encounter with more than one enemy consisted of shooting off one or two attacks, running 10 feet, turning and shooting again, running, repeat. I’m sure the pattern is a little different with other classes, but there’s nothing fundamentally deep or empowering enough about fights to put much actual skill into it, and this quickly becomes a frustrating storm of difficult control and repetitive tactics that made me want to avoid combat all together (which isn’t good for a combat-based game).
Level Me Up, Scotty
Despite deeply lackluster combat, it could still be possible for the game to have satisfying role playing mechanics. It is an action RPG after all. Unfortunately while the RPG elements work and are generally well made, there just isn’t much impact to what you can do with them. Customization is limited to which weapons you use (your class determines what you can use, and all weapons in a class act the same way only with different stats), what equipment you wear, where you put your stat points, and which perks, specials you chose as you rank up. Frustratingly, skill points can only go into five categories that all increase your damage with certain kinds of attacks.
You can’t increase your health, speed, dodge, or anything. Being that my character strictly used a holy cross (ranged weapon- it shoots holy energy or something) and a backup melee weapon, there was no logical reason to invest in anything but melee and spiritual attacks. There wasn’t really any way to spec my character to play any other way than one. Specials were a bit better, opening up healing spells and a few new attacks, but with how limited combat and tactics are, there is again little reason to try more than one combination. I knew I needed to buy perks that upped my bladed weapons (my secondary weapon was a katana) and my ranged attacks. This all equates to something that feels much more like on-rails progression than role-playing, and that isn’t exciting in a game like this.
The game isn’t particularly pretty. The character models and animations leave a lot to be desired, though they generally aren’t poor enough to actively detract from the game experience. The only exception to this is the talking head thumbnail that pops up in conversation. Most of these are downright ugly, they frequently exhibit large amounts of clipping, and there isn’t any effort to even almost match up when the lips are moving with when the character is actually speaking. Some of the environments actually look pretty nice, but there just isn’t enough environmental variation to really show anything off. The only visual element that really did work for me is how zombies pretty much explode onto the floor into an asterisk shaped blood pool when you kill them. It’s completely over the top, but it fits, and it’s accompanied by a satisfyingly wet splat sound. Speaking of the aural component, the voice acting worked for me too. It’s not that the game has the most amazingly talented voice actors, but rather that they fit with the B-movie vibe the game is going for. They are hokey enough that it seems like they are doing it on purpose, and it made the lackluster writing come alive more than it probably should have.
Trapped Dead: Lockdown does a lot of things wrong from a gameplay design perspective, and unfortunately there isn’t really anything new or unique to make it really worth dealing with the shortcomings. There’s a bunch more isometric action RPGs out there, and lord knows there’s a bunch more zombies out there, so it is not hard to find one that will fulfill what you are looking for better - whether it be a compelling story, satisfying combat, or pretty graphics. It’s not that I particularly resent the time I spent playing the game, it’s just that I never had any drive to keep playing while writing this review, and have no desire to go back now that I’m done.
The voice acting fits the campy B-movie vibe of the game, and there are some satisfying blood animations.
Attacks and movement being the same button makes for frustrating combat, overly harsh respawn locations after death, RPG elements are disappointingly bland, and unappealing visuals.