We may very well be past the day when the graphics of downloadable titles are held to lower expectations than those of full retail releases. Dead Nation certainly tips the scales in that direction. This game is a stunner from start to finish. It all starts with the wonderful lighting effects. When it comes to visuals, the zombie apocalypse is usually approached in one of two ways. Most of the time, it's campy and silly. We got to see that with the Dead Rising franchise. Dead Nation takes the road less traveled, instead favoring a dark and menacing aesthetic. This game indeed can be scary at times. The areas between each safe zone are blanketed in darkness, making your flashlight your best friend (next to all the zombie-killing ordnance you'll acquire). The zombies look and animate wonderfully -- especially when you kill them. When you pop their heads, they twitch erratically for a few seconds. When you kill one of the repulsively obese zombies (essentially Left 4 Dead's Boomers), they explode in a grisly display of humors and entrails. The physics hold up well, too. Blowing up a car surrounded by zombies results in a shower of re-dead bodies. Though the environments are dark, they still accurately represent the level's theme (as evidenced by the name of each stage).
Dead Nation's sound design is keenly aware of the zombie sub-genre's roots. The parts of the soundtrack that play between levels are heavy on deep synthesizing, while the main action piece perfectly captures the desperation you feel as you fight for your very life. It's fast and intense, but it's also subdued just enough to keep the emphasis on your battle for survival. Dead Nation's zombies don't shuffle and groan. Each one sounds like a legitimate threat to your safety. Bullets hit their targets with muffled wet thwacks. It's as if the sound team took a raw side of beef and actually fired rounds into it. It's disgusting.