I can be honest and tell you that I was not particularly all that excited about reviewing a game that featured three of the most played-out trends in gaming today: retro graphics, endless runners, and zombies. But Dead Ahead proves that proper execution can make all the difference. With everything presented in a tidy package, Dead Ahead manages to make old ideas seem fresh again, which is not a small feat considering the amount of rotting flesh and gore I had to deal with.
The basic set up of Dead Ahead is like any other endless runner: hordes of zombies are after you and you must avoid them at all costs. The best way to do this? With guns and vehicles. Watch out though, because the dangers come from both the front and the back. While you are shooting behind you at some lunging undead, you will also have to avoid oncoming obstacles and dodge your way around them. But don't avoid oncoming zombies; run them over instead! This will net you extra points.
The controls are pretty simple and help to keep you coming back for more. There's a button on-screen that will put the pedal to the metal, accelerating your vehicle. By tapping the corners on the right-hand side of the screen, you will be able to drive around hazards. However, you can't go too crazy, especially at the start of the game when all you have to ride on is a scooter.
If you accelerate too fast, you can smash into walls or bigger obstacles and then it's curtains for you. But if you slow down too much, the zombies chasing after you will swarm ya. Making good, deep runs in Dead Ahead is all about finding that sweet spot and staying balanced for as long as you can.
Too many endless runners suffer from not only being monotonous, but also easy. This is where Dead Ahead provided another nice surprise. I found the pace and difficulty on the same level as some of the more enjoyable 16-bit scrollers of the past, proving that Dead Ahead is not just retro in appearance, but also in challenge. I'm not saying that you'll feel like you're playing Gunstar Heroes or something, but it's a nice change of pace from the usual endless runner fare.
To help you along the way, there are plenty of power-ups, such as damage enhancers and speed boosts, that will make your flight from the undead go a little easier. The Nitro power-up is pretty awesome, sending you flying across the screen and putting whatever vehicle you have into warp drive. The power-ups will appear randomly and can also be used as bombs if you decide to blast them instead of picking them up to use.
The farther you make it in a given run, the more coins you will earn, just like in every other endless runner out there. Dead Ahead gives you the option to spend these coins in The Garage, where you can buy new weapons, vehicles, and upgrades for your gear. One interesting thing I noticed was the in-app purchases. Of course they are there, but they all seem to be for high-powered items that you don't necessarily need in order to finish the game.
I found this pretty cool for a few reasons. For one, it didn't feel like an icky cash grab at all. Rather, it was just an option that was available for you. It also kinda felt like an old-school cheat option, like a hotline you could call up, pay a buck for, and get a cheat code or hints.
The farther you make it in Dead Ahead, the more weapons, rides and levels you will unlock in the Garage for purchase. If you played last year's Punch Quest, you will find lots of familiar elements with this title. And since Punch Quest was one of the best iOS games last year, that's some good company in which to be included..