If you took Days Gone and distilled the game down to it’s most exciting parts, you would have something resembling Dead Fury. I had the chance to check out the narrative-driven zombie shooter at PAX West earlier this month, and I found a game seeking to take the best elements of the genre’s greatest titles while trimming away the excess. It’s still a long ways off, with a scheduled 2023 release date, but it’s looking like a strong action game for those who just want to blast waves of undead hordes away.
Infection and isolation
The world has been overrun by a zombie apocalypse. The pandemic has spread worldwide and shut down nearly all travel and communications. New Zealand has broken into factions, as the remainder of the military tries to keep order. Meanwhile, a cult-like faction, led by a man losing his mind to power and madness, owns the only cure to the zombie virus.
That was how the game’s world was described to me by Paul Cousins of Funder Games, the one-man development team behind Dead Fury. You play as Jackson, a man caught between these factions who is seeking to find a way to save his zombie-virus-infected wife and daughter. It’s a dark premise, one that the developer hopes can elicit some of the same emotions as The Last of Us or The Walking Dead.
The gameplay should be familiar to anyone who has played Bend Studio’s Days Gone. I see my character, Jackson, from a third-person perspective, with the camera centered over one of his shoulders. The lush greenery of New Zealand is visible for long stretches, and I follow the path ahead before very quickly coming upon a clearing with a ramshackle shack. Inside, there’s ammo and weapons. I initially hesitate — something about the large letters painted on the building that say “TRAP” strikes me as suspicious. I decide to throw caution to the wind, and head inside.
Surprise! It was a trap. Paul tells me I have about 30 seconds before the horde arrives. I grab as much ammo as I can, and activate a conveniently located automated turret, just as the zombies reach me. They are densely packed, and I open fire with a machine gun. The zombies drop quickly, but are incredibly numerous.
Variety is the spice of death
There’s an interesting variety to the zombies. Most appear to be typically aggressive undead people, and they are easy to cut down. Some rupture when they die, releasing a caustic gas that damages me and other zombies. One is carrying a propane tank on his back, which explodes when shot. A few crawl on all fours along the ground, and leap through the air. It’s unsettling, and forces me to vary the height of my aim.
After a bit of running, a lot of shooting, and one tense moment where I ran out of ammo and had to return the shed to refill, the horde is wiped out. I press forward on another linear path to progress the story. This, I’m told, is the core gameplay loop of Dead Fury. It’s a linear, narrative-focused experience, ala The Last of Us. Players progress directly through straightforward levels and experience Jackson’s story.
Along the way, they’ll need to overcome massive packs of zombies. Each of these encounters takes place in a unique arena, and are designed to be challenging. Overcoming them will often take more than one try, with the knowledge from a failed attempt useful in making a plan for the next try. There are no experience points or skill trees. Dead Fury is meant to be easily accessible, focused on the story and the action. Advancement will come by finding better weapons along the journey.
Facing the horde
I exited the campaign and started Dead Fury’s Horde mode. It’s a zombie combat experience, where players battle increasingly large waves of the undead. I was dropped into an encoded industrial zone, and was given as much time to prepare as I needed before activating the first wave.
The action was largely the same as before, with one key twist. Zombie kills were now worth points. This mode is all about chasing high scores, and it features online leaderboards for players to compare their zombie-killing prowess. Additional arenas are unlocked by progressing the story, and each will have its own score board.
Dead Fury shows a lot of promise. The focused design has the potential to create a game that focuses on the best elements of its predecessors, without any bloat or excess mechanics. Gamers will be able to see for themselves if it lives up to the heavyweights of the genre when Dead Fury comes to PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S in 2023.