Touch the Dead: Camp Attack on the DS

Eidos’s Touch the Dead is the best shooter on rails for the DS. It’s also the only one I can think of. In concept, the game is as brilliant as Snakes on a Plane, but much like the movie, Touch the Dead doesn’t live up to its hype.

Putting the game on rails – that is, not allowing the player the freedom of movement – was a good first step as it keeps the DS from working too hard on the 3D environments. It also doesn’t allow you to get lost; you’re simply dragged along until the zombies get you or you escape.

Of course, being locked into your movements also means you’re locked into your view as well. This is especially frustrating when you’re trying to shoot a box or a crate for health or ammo and you’re only offered a brief glimpse of your target. Typically, bonuses and power-ups like these are only shown once and if you miss it, that’s just too bad – you’ll have to do without it.

While the zombies in Touch the Dead were very nasty and undead-looking (which is a plus in my book) they were still very odd creatures. Zombies, in this game, can be generally categorized into three classes: skinny, fat and “wow that thing’s decrepit.” There can be some variation within these classes; for instance, a skinny or fat might be wearing a police uniform or a doctors’ outfit.

The odd thing is the inconsistency with which they’re killed. Typically, the head shot is the end-all of any living (or undead) thing in a shooter: one to the dome and it’s game over. Don’t expect that luxury in this game. Some zombies take shots to the head like it’s their job but will be felled by one shot to the leg. Others, like the fat zombies, tend to be killed by gut shots, which if you’ve studied your zombie lore is NOT enough to kill a zombie (though it does leave a cool hole in their stomach).

Besides your run of the mill land zombies, you’ll also have to face a few flying foes as well. First come the bats, or whatever those mouths with wings are. These aren’t really challenging and die with one hit. The real pain is the ghosts who come at you in waves. If you haven’t mastered the quick reload by the time you run into these spectral beasts, you’re probably about to die. Hungry, zombified rats are also a problem, as are oversized maggot-like grubs with lots of pointy teeth and indestructible robots with guns that serve no purpose other than to hurry you up.

There are only three guns available in the game – a pistol, a shotgun and a machine gun – which sounds like an absurdly small number until you consider how painfully short the game is. It’s made up of four chapters, each made up of three missions. A mission typically lasts about ten minutes. Do the math, that’s about two hours of game play.

After beating the game, “Furious Mode” is unlocked. What’s different, you ask? Where in the normal difficulty you’d find an exhilarating challenge, in furious mode you’ll find overly strong zombies and frustrating waves of enemies. In other words, it’s hard not for the sake of challenge and fun, but rather for the sake of being hard.

Spread throughout the levels are unlockable level art (boring: who wants to look at a hastily drawn sketch of a distorted visage of a person?) and weapons upgrades to help you with the ever more difficult waves of zombies. The weapons upgrades essentially increase the reload rate of whichever weapon you’re using. These upgrades have a funny way of appearing whenever you need them the most, i.e., right before a wave of zombies comes at you.

The level design of Touch the Dead is a hit or miss affair. Most of the levels are basically your character moving through corridors. The setting might change from a prison to a swamp to a military base, but the graphics aren’t really pretty enough to make you take too much notice of your surroundings.

Occasionally something unique comes along that you’re not ready for, though. In one level you aren’t asked to kill any zombies, merely to shoot them once as you run by to keep from being torn at. Of course, a glitch in the game causes only the skinny zombies to actually try to take a piece out of you. The fat zombies just look scary.

Going to the opposite extreme, one of the later levels has you shooting through a seemingly never-ending horde of zombies that just keep popping out of the woodwork while a clock counts down the time you have to catch your helicopter and get the hell out of zombie country.

Other levels are exercises in idiocy. Despite a room filling with toxic gas and zombies, our hero keeps running around in circles until he finally decides to look at the exit, at which point you can finally leave. Of particular frustration to me was the final boss fight (which wasn’t the last zombie killed in the game, go figure). When you finally get the pleasure of going toe to toe with that beastie, be ready for an onslaught that feels like a combination of Elite Beat Agents and Gitaroo Man.

Not only will you have to quickly and repeatedly change your weapons and reload them, you might also have to wait two minutes into the fight to get a chance to get a hit in and another two before you can get a second. This fight should be an example for game designers showing them that just because a fight is difficult and action-packed doesn’t mean it can’t also be tedious and boring.

Another lesson to be learned for the makers of Touch the Dead is that of surprise. Resident Evil practically perfected surprise in video games, but the surprises were always believable. Touch the Dead toys with surprises but usually takes the easy way out instead of earning our tension. Whereas RE would introduce a new challenge from outside of your understood play area (who can forget those dogs??), TtD merely spawns zombies in a previously empty room. This produces the effect of walking into an open, empty room, then turning around to find it was actually filled with zombies the whole time. Then you turn around again and realize that there’s even more zombies in this previously barren room. It’s a cheap attempt at an easy scare and fails miserably.

I wouldn’t recommend this game unless the act of killing zombies by itself is all you need from a video game. I enjoyed it. I’ll play it again and hopefully find someone else who shelled out for this $30 game that should have been priced at $20 so I can see what the multi-card multiplayer is about. Until then, stick to RE or wait for Left for Dead for your zombie-slaughtering needs.