Metal Dead (2011)

Metal Dead is a game that combines two things I actively dislike: heavy metal, and zombies. I only bought it because it was part of a bundle of other point-and-click adventures I wanted more; and since I’d paid for it, I thought I might as well play the thing. Thankfully, it turns out that actual heavy metal music is in short supply in the game, and knowledge of the genre is unnecessary to understand the jokes (except for one or two where I’m assuming allusions were made that flew over my head). Some of the imagery involving the zombies is quite disgusting, but because the visual style is so cartoony and over-the-top, it stops short of being nauseating (if I may make that distinction).

Against my expectations, it’s quite an entertaining game. It has its faults: for instance, the music is a bit repetitive, and the walking around to shift between locations can grow a tad tedious (unless the foot verb is explicitly used for puzzles, it should probably be the default action for a single mouse-click). But I can’t say I didn’t enjoy myself for the four-and-a-half hours it took me to get through the game.
The premise: the zombie apocalypse has happened, and our hero is dragged into wanting to find out why. As luck would have it, the game’s first scene leads to him crashing into the headquarters of a biotech company where all the zombies appear to be congregating. The vast majority of the game takes place inside that building, with the protagonist having to solve puzzles to unlock more and more rooms he can search for clues.

The puzzles are almost exclusively (with the exception of a quick time event at the very end, which I could definitely have done without) dialogue- and inventory-based, much like the classic Sierra and LucasArts adventures. The interface resembles those games as well, and that’s mostly not a bad thing, giving the player several verbs to play around with. Unlike many modern adventure games, our hero doesn’t just have one standard answer for interactions that aren’t possible (“I don’t want to do that”); for many objects – and people -, attempts to touch them, talk to them, and use inventory items on them result in unique monologues of varying hilarity. The protagonist is a never-ending fount of pithy oneliners, and those remain pleasantly mediocre even at their worst.

I didn’t find the puzzles particularly difficult, except in two or three cases where I knew what I needed to do but was short an object to do it with. The game is well-designed, though; it wasn’t rendered uncompletable just because I neglected to pocket an inventory item at the precise moment the developer wanted me to. I always eventually found what I needed. Once a location is exhausted, it gets sealed off organically or the protagonist helpfully tells the player that he doesn’t need to bother to return to that room, further limiting the amount of useless walking around and looking for clues in places where there aren’t any. The built-in hint system isn’t really needed.

That said, while puzzles are a part of the genre, I don’t play adventures for the puzzles; I play them for the story and for the humour. And in that regard, I was satisfied. The NPCs are cardboard-thin and the plot ridiculous, but the game is self-aware about how silly it is and pokes fun at genre conventions while simultaneously indulging in them. The ending is, surprisingly, almost touching.

I’m fairly certain I would never have played the game if not for the bundle. But I’m glad I did, and while the bundle will likely have expired by the time anyone reads this, the game will probably still be available for not all that much money (less than 5 USD at other outlets currently). That’s a fair price if you like the genre, don’t mind the retro gameplay and aren’t put off by the somewhat morbid (and sometimes gross-out) humour.

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