From E3 2017: Zombies are both friend and foe in Dead Alliance

At first glance, tossing zombies into a competitive shooter as a means of making it stand out is maybe not the most interesting idea. Dead Alliance seems to understand this, however, designing around them to make sure they’re more than a mindless addition.

The hook of Dead Alliance lies in temporarily recruiting the undead to your side. In every match, the map is overrun with zombies, though they’re not your primary target. Instead they serve as a neutral party that both teams can use to their benefit. Each player is equipped with grenades that, when thrown at zombies, make them briefly fight for you. The exact effects of these grenades differ with each loadout. Of the two I tried – assault and heavy – the former could only hit a single target but gave them a small strength boost and maintained control over them for longer, whereas the latter hit more targets, but for a shorter period of time and without any sort of boost.

I was run through three of the game’s modes: deathmatch, king of the hill, and attrition. All standard-fare competitive shooter modes, save for the third, which plays more like a MOBA. In Attrition, you’re attempting to capture points along separate lanes until you push far enough to take the enemy base, the zombies now aligned with each team to act as creeps as opposed to being an entirely separate team. And as expected given my experience with proper MOBAs, I didn’t do very well in that mode.

The presence of zombies doesn’t change the pace of deathmatch, but in king of the hill and attrition, they become key players. Bringing them to your side to assist you in assaulting points or repelling them to aid your defense gives the game an interesting layer of strategy. In deathmatch, this means you’re able to potentially keep them busy while you get the drop on them. In king of the hill, it means you get some additional units to help defend the point. They may rarely score kills for you, but they’re enough of a nuisance to be useful.

It makes Dead Alliance feel different from the usual crop of competitive shooters. It’s not a twitch-shooter like its contemporaries, but a touch slower and more tactical, the use of zombies playing into that nicely. It’s a small touch, but effective. The developers also mentioned the game will have a single-player horde mode equivalent, but didn’t elaborate more on it.

Dead Alliance is out on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC August 29.

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