When Gear VR games are ported to the Rift, you usually end up with is more of the same; a game with nicer graphics and the added benefit of positional tracking, but more or less the same experience. However with Drop Dread (2017), Pixel Toy’s port of their critically acclaimed Gear VR on-rails arcade shooter, the addition of Oculus Touch has brought the game to whole a new level of difficulty and hands-on action.
Drop Dead Details:
I can hear you saying it: “Great, another wave shooter.” But hold on just a minute, because despite a few gripes, this one is actually fun.
Drop Dead plays on some pretty well-worn tropes; the evil German doctor (also somehow a Nazi when required) wants to create a master race, blah blah blah. He’s evil. You’re good. There are Zombies. The rub is you’re actually traveling through one of three discrete timelines and the apocalyptic future set before you can actually be stopped before it even happens. Each trip forward offers a new spin on the overall objective of the game: Stop the evil Doctor Monday from raising his apocalyptic army of zombies, get new weapons along the way, and blow up massive, and I mean massive amounts of zombies.
So while Drop Dead sounds a pretty basic in that respect, Drop Dead surprisingly boasts 27 single-player levels (throughout the three timelines), a broad swath of enemy units, and multiple guns to use (read: not keep or upgrade) along the way—not to mention some pretty good voice acting and a level of cheesiness to the story that’s entirely self-aware. Besides the obligatory online leader boards, single and online multiplayer survival mode also extend the game’s playability.
Graphics aren’t incredible, with the art style wandering somewhere into mobile game territory, but it is visually cohesive and overall very likeable.
As for the weaponry, all of the game’s buffs and guns can be found in-level and no market exists in the game, so guns, grenades and slow-mo power-up drinks (very Call of Duty Nazi Zombies-esque) are only obtained temporarily during the level.
Shooting zombies can be repetitive at times, but that may just be a relic of the arcade wave shooter genre than Drop Dead itself. Whether that’s good or bad to you, there are some definite flaws that start to infringe on my personal expectation of “fun”.
- No dual guns, i.e. you’ll drop a shotgun automatically if you go for your holstered pistol
- Exposition is non-skippable, meaning you will have to sit through Doc Monday’s diatribes over and over and over until you beat the level
- Zombies sometimes “stack up” and clip through each other, making it tough to get a clean shot
- You can’t bat away incoming Zombies to get an extra second before getting mauled to death
I was tempted to add too things to the list; Drop Dead’s reload mechanic because of how fiddly I found it at first—sort of a count down marker that you can jump if you hit it just right, giving you a quicker reload—but after a while it eventually fades into the background as you get the hang of it. The second is the difficulty level. If you’re a pretty good shot, this may not be an issue, but the game doesn’t provide any gun sight upgrades, so there’s no assistance for those long shots besides iron sights—on Gear VR it is as simple as gazing and taping a button, but Touch controllers require more tactility, which can be good or bad depending on your skill level. No variable difficulty level is available, so it’s either shoot the best or die like the rest.
Immersion & Comfort
Between having to hit the reload marker on time and prioritize running, trudging and flying targets, you really start to get into a certain flow with Drop Dead. Like all arcade shooters though, which by definition rely on scripted baddies popping up, it can lead to a certain predictability, making it less scary and more like a real-time puzzle, except the puzzle pieces are 8 screaming zombies coming at you while you only have enough time to fire off exactly 8 bullets.
Cowering from the hordes when you miss, which come at you in a little over 180 degrees (make sure to look to your extreme left and right!), is all but useless, so hitting the reload marker, executing headshots, grabbing guns and slow-mo drinks in concert really makes this game a fast-paced romp that immerses by sheer chaos alone.
This, however, is where the overall comfort of the game breaks immersion. Because this is an on-rails shooter, you’re necessarily swept from position to position across the map, and the game accomplishes this in two ways; ‘normal mode’, which automatically transitions your POV to each shooting position, or ‘comfort mode’, a removal of the sweeping camera in favor of automatic teleportation. Neither are really great in terms of immersion, one less so, one more so.
If you haven’t guessed where I was going with that, I’ll just come out and say it. Normal mode is downright sickening. Oftentimes I found myself being moved laterally, forward and being stopped without warning—a recipe for nausea if I’ve ever seen one. If you happen to have an iron stomach and a penchant for non-controllable locomotion, this may not bother you as much as it did me, but I could only play a two 10-minute levels before I gasped for the relief of comfort mode.
While the automatic teleportation of comfort mode also infringes on immersion by not giving you control over your own movement, it is much less jarring even though it left me feeling uneasy about when and where I would be whisked off to next.
That said, Drop Dead was surprisingly fun despite these flaws, and is an easy game to pick up for short excursions into zombie carnage. Take a look at our ’10 minutes of Gameplay’ for Drop Dead to get an eyeball-full of the intense action of this on-rails wave shooter.
We partnered with AVA Direct to create the Exemplar 2 Ultimate, our high-end VR hardware reference point against which we perform our tests and reviews. Exemplar 2 is designed to push virtual reality experiences above and beyond what’s possible with systems built to lesser recommended VR specifications.