SZC: Beyond Dead Review

(Editor’s Note: What follows is the original review written for the first version the author played, which our Site Score reflects. One or more major critiques have been addressed by the developer since then. For a list of these, see “Addendums” below the original review score at the end of the article.)

Uh-oh, someone left a team of mad scientists in a remote space laboratory again! It should come as little surprise, then, that a heavily armed mercenary has to be sent in to clear out the former research team, who are quite literally Beyond Dead (Out Now, $0.99).

Beyond Dead’s claim to fame is its exploration heavy, Metroid-style setup, and here the game succeeds — at least as much as one could expect within the two hours currently on offer. No sooner has the bulky space marine Tank slipped on his double jump boots, restored the space station’s power, found a keycard, and blasted a few bosses than the opening chapter ends with a message to keep an eye out for the rest of the adventure in updates.

Judging from the number of locked doors set to open up once that update hits, the release version of Beyond Dead is a mere glimpse into a very ambitious action adventure title. In many ways, it’s on a great trajectory so far. The space station has a complex layout fraught with warp points and paths that gradually open to the player as new weapons or equipment are uncovered. A thorough minimap and quest system never leave you wondering where you’re supposed to go, while a scanning function serves up the occasional useful tip. The player’s progress is auto-saved at every doorway, no manual saving necessary. I’ll be a very happy camper if Beyond Dead continues serving up occasional puzzles to break up the usual adventuring.

The zombies and nameless space critters stalking the halls of this derelict research station are very thinly spread out in the release chapter, so the big question hanging over this one is whether enemies will begin putting up a real fight — and whether the game’s interface will be robust enough to handle more intense action. Monster Robot Studios were intent on plugging a side-scrolling platformer into a swipe interface, so the natural inclination of many players will be to reach for that pause button and set the menu to virtual button controls. My sincere advice: do not attempt this. The backup controls are currently unworkable, with a jump button that activates when you release (not when you press!) and direction buttons that have insufficient touch areas.

I’ll say this, however: should you venture into that twilight zone, you’ll come out with a greater appreciation for the invisible default controls. They feel bizarre, but satisfactory for most of the exploration and light combat the player finds in this initial chapter. Walking and aiming are done with swipes in the appropriate directions on the left-hand side of the screen; Tank’s gun fires with a tap or tap-and-hold on the right-hand side, and jumping is accomplished by swiping upward on the same side. Walk speed and jump height appear to vary with the length of the player’s swipes. I don’t think I’ll ever truly get used to having firing and jumping linked this way, but it does come in handy for the two boss battles on tap for the time being.

That’s not to say the default controls aren’t devoid of technical flaws. One side of the screen or the other gets insensitive when the player tries too many inputs at once, a fact that becomes painfully obvious in two vertical rooms where the player has to make unforgiving jumps onto high ledges. I spent a very uncomfortable amount of time flusteredly swiping in these rooms in my search for a solution, and discovered by chance that you have to make Tank double jump and then air dash, whereupon the game’s collision detection will kick in and buggily carry Tank over the edge. I could be missing something, but it’s my sense that the dev’s a little too used to pulling off Super Metroid’s infamous glitch maneuvers and needs to tone down some passages here to better suit players whose thumbs aren’t as tricked out. And then there are the load times, amounting to a few seconds per room change and map access.

Aesthetically, Beyond Dead is a mix of beautiful hand-drawn sprites and strangely amateur animation that add up to a kind of grungy indie charm. Tank wanders around like a really cool robot toy that only knows one motion, and thankfully some invisible influence is ready to pick him up when he needs to jump or adjust his gun for him while he’s aiming. The player will spend most of the game listening to just one music track, but at least it’s an atmospheric and spacey electric guitar piece I could listen to all day.

iFanzine Verdict: Consider Beyond Dead a work that’s still very much in progress. The content on offer so far holds a lot of promise for fans of complex side-scrolling adventures (okay, Metroid), but the experience gets bogged down in controls that are awkward at best.

Addendum: Superior user interface implemented.