I had an opportunity to play Dead Exit a few days before its launch on the Xbox One platform. Dead Exit is a zombie-themed card game that feels very much like it could have been printed as a more traditional “board game” style of game with significant card mechanics. In Dead Exit, every card has two sides: the zombie side and the regular side. The regular side can be a survivor, supplies (such as food or fuel or a vehicle), or special cards (like “Stop” or “Event” cards) that keep the game flowing in unexpected ways.
Although there is a lot for a new player to absorb, in terms of mechanics and special abilities, the basics of the game are pretty easy to learn. You have three actions per turn to do stuff. Most actions are totally beneficial, such as stockpiling or using a survivor from your hand to kill off some zombies attacking your base. But in order to succeed in the long term, you’ll need to go into the city to collect supplies. Every time you go into the city, you pull a random card to your hand, but also a zombie follows you back to your base.
The mechanics are well-designed to keep the pressure up and work very well in a solitaire game, which is all I was able to play. Though there are multiple different versions of solitaire, including some against enemy agent (Raider) AI, the gameplay is largely the same. While I was able to handily beat the City Escape mode even on my first tries (on the lowest difficulties) my forays into the Survival mode were less successful. Here the randomness of the cards seemed to be working against me more profoundly. It’s also entirely possible that I missed something in the game mode that I intuitively grasped in the City Escape mode.
While I wasn’t able to play any multi-player, I look forward to doing so. The game is rife with opportunities for cooperative competition (“co-opetiveness”). That is, it is in everyone’s best interest, and often necessary, to work with your opponents to survive. But at the end of the game, there can be only one winner. Determining who will backstab whom and when helps to add to the tension.
The game is mechanically solid and contains enough to keep fans of card games engaged for quite a while. Each individual game is fairly short, which leads to robust replayability. The game performed without incident in my limited time and the load times were suitably short. However, the game did lack somewhat in the art department. While the cards all have nice art assets, the environment in which you play is somewhat off-putting. Your opponents are represented by mannequins that look like they might be stock assets in the engine. You will never see this unless you stop looking at the game board and decide to look around–a feature completely unnecessary, so it causes me to wonder why it was included.
There are nice touches here and there in that outside world. On one occasion the game table was littered with chips and soda, as if in a basement for a game night. On another occasion, the table was adorned with a very familiar-looking club. But it’s questionable whether these touches add enough to the ambiance of the game when the gameplay is all in the mechanics and interplay of the cards.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the game, as in any card game, was the level of randomness that will be experienced. Every game is unique because the cards dealt are random. On lower difficulties, skill can overcome bad draws. But Dead Exit offers a wide range of difficulties that can be tweaked with sliders. These difficulties range from “Very Easy” to “Impossible.” Beating the game in any mode on Impossible is going to be a tough task and will likely call for a very lucky deal of the cards, in addition to great skill.
Regarding the port to the Xbox One, there are a handful of the standard criticisms. The graphics are scaled to suit a monitor, and while certain elements have been corrected for TV/console use, there are still issues with small text and unclear graphics, particularly on the cards. These issues were exacerbated by my using a small TV and may not be an issue for gamers with a better set-up. Finally, on this matter, the use of symbols for keywords means that the text does not become overwhelming on these cards, but it does require that the user become familiar with the symbols quickly. Most are fully self-explanatory, such as the graphics for the distinction between a survivor and a zombie. However, the graphic for “hand” was hard for me to see as anything more than a blob, and the graphic for stockpile was unclear and potentially has unnecessary multiple meanings. Some of these minor graphical issues in the port can be easily sorted out. Others may prove to be too difficult to fix. So, bring a pair of reading glasses.
Overall, the game is a solid interpretation of the core mechanics of this zombie survival card game. It appeals to me as a card and board game junkie and likely will to anyone else with a penchant for games in that genre. Based on my limited initial play and expecting the game to continue as it is, I will give this a “Recommended” rating, as long as you are into at least one of the following: card games, board games with card collecting mechanics, zombie apocalypses, repeatedly bashing your head against low odds for the rush of finally getting the perfect draw. On my GOAT rating, which I normally reserve until I have completed a game, I would give this 6 GOATS, “Above average. Seems appealing and is probably a fun waste of time.”
If you need to see some gameplay in action before reaching your own conclusion, I acquired some streaming footage for viewing here:
Dead Exit is available now on Steam ($5.99) and on Xbox One.
Disclaimer: A copy of the game was provided to me for the purpose of streaming and reviewing. This review is based on approximately 80 minutes of gameplay and my opinion may shift as I play the game more and experience different benefits and drawbacks.