Deadly Days is considered a rogue-like video game, one that takes place not in the dungeon crawling fantasy realms of a Dungeons & Dragons type world but in the stylized pixelated world of a zombie apocalypse. There are few settings more appropriate for a recurring “shoot ’em up” map exploration like rogue-like games promise, and Deadly Days certainly does fit into that particular mold.
Save survivors, manage base resources, kill copious amounts of zombies, and get the upgrades, items, skills, and resources you need to not only survive during an increasingly dangerous zombie apocalypse but to put an end to it. Or you can use the extremely difficult to achieve space ending to flip Earth the bird and go to the moon where there are no zombies. You know, whatever.
This is a game that has received a decent amount of attention and is the project of an independent developer looking to add their own quality twist to not only the pixelated game resurgence thanks to platforms like Steam but also to add to the list of interesting or unique roguelike games that are available to avid video gamers.
What Is Deadly Days?
Deadly Days is a roguelike survival game set in the zombie apocalypse. You start off each run with two survivors and have a choice of making them specialists in fighting, scavenging, or research. Each choice gives your survivors different starting base items, super powers, and bonuses. They also unlock different techs, weapons, and items through multiple playthroughs that eventually can be found no matter what faction you play, although some powers/items appear more with their original faction than with others.
The game starts off relatively slow, as long as you’re not foolish enough to spend a lot of time in town scavenging after dark, and you’re basically in a constant run against the clock to gather more food, scrap, tools, weapons, and survivors to ramp up your base and get prepared for a final boss fight at the epicenter of the zombie apocalypse before the danger level gets too high and overwhelms your survivors.
This is a challenging roguelike that requires a lot of patience, a willingness to cut your losses when things get too hot, and the ability to learn & adapt to level changes.
Pixelsplit, an indie game development studio out of Germany, are the creative minds behind Deadly Days. They are a small studio of currently only 7 full time people who released some smaller or more basic games but really wanted to hit the next level with their game development projects. This game is available on both Steam as well as Nintendo Switch.
So a post-apocalyptic mass zombie killing game with base building, tech tree advancement, survival mechanics and a tiny dash of RPG? I should be 100% in, right?
Well, not so fast.
What Deadly Days Does Well
There’s a reason Deadly Days has gained so much positive attention and press. As a first major project for an indie developer, especially one as small as they are, this is a really impressive run. This is a game that huge roguelike fanatics will almost certainly appreciate. If you were a fan of the video game Death Road to Canada then you will also almost certainly like Deadly Days.
This is a game that is undeniably exciting in the beginning – but does that hold up?
This is where opinions tend to diverge, but let’s focus first on what this game dose really well.
Basic but Effective Base Mechanics
Running your base and upgrading your base is incredibly easy, yet gives you enough options to make you really plan out how you want to make a run through the game. Especially after the first few runs where you get to see if you’ve managed to get ahead in any way. Are you loaded with early survivors and need to focus on food? Do you have an unusual number of tools and can rush for an actual rocket victory?
There are multiple options as your base has three empty rooms at the start. Each room can be one of three things, and once you choose the other two options are off the table. This means on a run you’ll have three rooms mixed and matched, and designed for your play style. Will you automatically level up if you complete all the mission points on a map? Do you want free food every day? Free scrap?
For that last room are you giving your base a much needed boost preparing to assault the zombie factory or are you in a situation where you want to chase that difficult rocket build ending? You can do one or the other – you can’t do both.
Your choices are clearly outlined with each empty room as the cost to build each, and the benefit it gives, are laid out for the player. The next empty room doesn’t open up until the first one is built so you have some time to think and plan.
But don’t wait too long, because that danger system is constantly trending upwards, and it gets out of control at a certain point!
Custom Upgradeable Weapons
Aside from rooms tools and scrap can also be used to create custom weapons that you can then upgrade. These are extremely powerful weapons that you can’t lose, even if the survivor using them dies on a future mission. Starting out this will almost certainly be the best weapon your group has and the upgrades are absolutely devastating.
No matter which of the three options you pick, you have a weapon worthy of zombie killing in mass. If you pour in enough tools and scrap, these guns can become absolutely ridiculously powerful. Personally my favorite was Equalizer for my style of play but to each zombie killer their own.
This is accessed the moment you have five tools to invest and can be a game changer especially in the early game.
Often times the weapon is upgraded in conjunction with the rooms. Finding the right balance of knowing when to grab the room versus when to upgrade the weapon with your limited tools and scrap is a crucial part of figuring out how to play this game well.
Sense of Urgency
Too many zombie-based video games lack a sense of urgency. This is a real mood killer considering if you’re a big zombie fan, you want that feeling and that atmosphere that such a world creates in popular culture. The sense of urgency is missing from many zombie games and that is a major strike in my book.
This is one area that Deadly Days does NOT suffer from. In the beginning couple of levels it feels easy and smooth as long as you don’t get caught out at night but that goes away fast. The threat level goes up at an increasingly quick pace, new zombies appear (some of which you will cuss out no matter how high level you get), hordes get bigger and bigger.
It doesn’t take long for the green one-dot and two-dot missions to become red and purple five dot treks through zombie-infested hells capable of devouring even the most powerful, armed, and prepared scavenging groups.
That sense of growing urgency with each passing day is a definite plus to the atmosphere in this game and is one of the definite bright pots that video game fans will appreciate.
Plenty of Zombie Killing
Look, a zombie apocalypse game should never have zombies as an afterthought. This is a sin too many zombie video games stumble into as they get too smart for themselves. Deadly Days does not disappoint here.
There will be no shortage of zombies to kill and in the early hours of building up your characters during inevitable first, second, and third run failures (even on Easy mode), it will seem like the game speeds towards even having too much. If there is such a thing.
There is never a shortage of zombies to kill in this game, and that’s important in any game that uses zombies as an adversary. Deadly Days is not false advertising on this one. Don’t let day one or two fool you.
The zombie populations multiply at an exponential rate which means there will always be more zombies than you can possibly kill.
The music is really freaking awesome. I have to give them a 10/10 for that. A combination of odd light guitar and banjo mixed with a nice blend of almost ragtime that occasionally gets ratcheted up. The music is easy to nod your head to, somehow fits in and contrasts with the setting at the same time and just creates a fantastic overall mood.
The music is pretty great.
Super Fun Characters
This might be the strongest point of all for Deadly Days. I found myself delighted at the many different characters you could find, save, and have join your base throughout the game. Most come with weird, unusual, or useless but funny bonuses (looking at you, Banana Man). The weird array of unlocked characters who make an appearance add a surprisingly impressive level of fun and enjoyment to the game.
Just a shortlist of fun characters include:
- Banana Man
- Elk (apologies to Elk – I thought he was a reindeer at first)
- Dracula & his attack bats
- Santa Claus
- The Nudist(s)
- And my favorite, the Pirate
Each of these characters, especially those who need to be unlocked, have special bonuses that can make them a great teammate…or just a change of pace. Some of these bonuses are so good it’s always worth flirting with the danger of night to grab them and go. Others…yeah sorry, I hear the getaway bus horn honking!
The wide array of characters definitely adds some fun, randomness, and is one of the shining strong points of this game.
Where Deadly Days Falls Short
While Deadly Days has a lot going for it, and I can see why so many other reviews have this game ranked higher than I do, there are also multiple areas where the game falls short and struggles. Some of these are minor annoyances that pop up a lot, some can be ignored by roguelike game or RNG enthusiasts, others are major stains on gameplay for what really was close to being a very good or even great game – but ended up falling a bit short.
So what were the biggest culprits?
Several other reviews noticed this and mention it under some degree of how the fog of war is determined. You can click into the fog and you don’t know if you get get there directly, must take a very circuitous route because of blockades, or can’t get there at all. Even worse, the characters will try to get there.
In other words when it works, you make it out there and get to explore that part of the city. Sometimes they rush forward, stop at a barricade, and do nothing. Sometimes you reveal that you’re running through a giant mob and they run on through – getting hacked up along the way. Sometimes they attempt a very roundabout way to get there…and then get stuck behind a barricade on another part of the map.
This is infuriating and has often led to runs where characters were separated because a couple made it past a corner, and a couple of characters get stuck. That leads to a lot of injury and character death, and it is an infuriating way for this to happen.
“Can I go there or can I not?” is a question that you don’t want to trust your characters’ AI to answer and the fog of war gives you no clues at all.
Add in the fact that in many places it looks like there’s space to shimmy down the side of a map, and then they go straight towards the zombie horde you’re trying to escape because it turns out that open area to the right or left of the house isn’t actually passable, and it becomes infuriating. The lines will show the ability to cut straight in. Then you click to go and they start running towards a long and often dangerous workaround.
Stupid Player Character AI
A situation that will come up repeatedly: you tell all your survivors to head back to the bus as night falls, having pushed your luck for a necessary mission objective. You place a long sprint back because you need to focus on healing them. All of them run straight for the bus…until one breaks off for no apparent reason and tries going a longer more out of the way route.
That character will often die.
There’s no reason for him/her to break away. The rest of the group took the straight route back, but one person will break off and you won’t have he heals to take care of both groups. This is utterly infuriating.
There are times when characters won’t loot when you tell them to, won’t cancel a route even as you hammer the cancel command, or won’t be able to figure out to move two steps to start looting. Sometimes you get a random survivor who stops looting the important location to cut up to loot a car or storage unit. Even when you have a different survivor there not looting a grocery store or warehouse.
The player characters are just really stupid. Most of the time it’s not that big a problem. Until it is. And when it is, it really, really is a problem.
I can’t speak for how the controls work on the Nintendo Switch. However on PC the controls can be janky AF. When they work, they work. But so often they don’t. During one moment you must double click to get characters to loot. Then it’s just a single click. Then you have them go loot and the group stands around as everyone refuses to do it.
The controls are incredibly aggravating and you will multiple times run into a situation where these controls lead to you not completing a level because your characters don’t loot a location you told them to loot (despite running there), you’ll lose characters who do their own thing, or other issues. It’s a recurring problem that rears its ugly head far too often.
Although we would like to take a moment during the growing danger to go for the easy immature humor and say: “NICE!”
Luck Is a Major Factor – Even with Everything Unlocked
I get there’s always a degree of luck and games wouldn’t be fun if everything was scripted but there’s a certain level of acceptable luck and then there’s “You’ve fully unlocked all bonuses and start out with a special weapon and die on level one” levels of luck. You can imagine how much I thoroughly dislike the second type, and there is plenty of that here.
While this level of bad luck isn’t common, it does happen. The degree to which luck and pure randomness plays a roll can be infuriating. Less so in the beginning where every run helps build up bonuses, but in late runs there’s nothing more infuriating than being 3-4 missions in and seeing that it’s a dead run.
Even minor alterations to whatever mechanics are behind these wildly differing experiences could make a huge difference in improving gameplay, especially in late game runs, IMO.
Strategy Should Be Rewarded
I’m a firm believer that good strategy in a game should be rewarded, not punished. Battle Brothers “adjusted RNG” is infamous for screwing over players before “balancing” after hurting them. But good overall strategy over the long-term leads to amazing runs. You can get way ahead of the difficulty curve and stay there. Epic starts are not punished.
The same is true with games like Rogue Legacy, Darkest Dungeon, but they also reward the consistent build forward. Luck still plays a part at times but strategy and focused planning is rewarded. It isn’t consistently usurped by luck.
Many times in Deadly Days the opposite is true. Get extra survivors early? Too bad you don’t get a mission that lets you gather food for 9 days. GAME OVER.
Need tools? No warehouses, forklifts, hardware stores, or airdrops show up for 10 days, at which point you’re so underpowered you have no chance of catching up. Tough. GAME OVER.
Get an insane amount of food early? No rescue missions for 7 days. GAME OVER.
This happens way more frequently than you would believe and while the occasional bad run is understandable, this gets grating quite often. If you start off with a killer run in your first four days, expect an insane counter-drought to outright ruin your run to follow. Not even in a “luck returns back to normal” way but in a “something’s whack here” overreaction.
While good strategy is better than bad strategy, you can still just be straight up finished off by bad or random luck at a rate that makes good strategy, building, and all those early runs to unlock bonuses seem way less useful or important.
In my mind this game is plagued by:
- Infuriatingly bad controls (multiple cancels of loot orders without you clicking)
- Individual stupid survivors breaking off from group taking random paths long distance resulting in certain death
- Individuals during group stands moving further and further away from group (and heal circles) without you giving orders to do so
- Random mission generation that often straight out dooms you without hope
Unsatisfying Reward for Finishing
While some unlockable content is nice, it doesn’t really add strength to what the game does well but rather adds to what can pull it down at times. The reward for getting through the game with one of the factions?
Minor Spoiler Alert: It’s unlocking a “Challenging” run that adds more difficulty and grind to the game that often has a bit too much of both.
Yeah, that’s it.
The difficult grind is rewarded with more difficult grinding.
While I appreciate what the game is trying to do here, there are just too many ways it seems to wilt. In short bursts, especially when starting out a new game, this game can be a lot of fun for the first hour or so. The longer it goes on, the longer the positive aspects seem to fade and the biggest legitimate complaints continue to gain strength.
Then there’s the space ending.
So many hours spent on this. After all, you have to build three rooms (including the most expensive one in the game), build up a team of survivors with enough Items, Powers, Weapons, and Food to go maximum danger missions a minimum of 10 times to find all the rocket parts needed to possibly get this finish.
So the payment has to be worth it, right?
Major Spoiler: Skip past if you don’t want the reward “ruined.”
So what’s the actual pay-off for this insanely hard to pull off ending? A less than 5 second animation into the same end credits you get for the much easier factory route. Except with a circle featuring a rocket and occasional pixelated astronaut floating by.
Really, really underwhelming.
Spoiler OVER – read south of this line:
When finally I beat the game on all four modes, with all the upgrades, the groups, the strategies, even the ridiculously hard to complete rocket ending there wasn’t a huge sense of pride or accomplishment. Just relief that the insane grind, the odd obsession this game builds with gutting it out until you get every ending was over.
There was nothing else to achieve, no endings to be “robbed” of from unlikely bouts of damage or idiot team members refusing orders, or eight missions in a row with no option to get food for the base (or advance to the final stage).
Granted, I’m not a huge natural fan of rogue-like genre games in general. And it might be that this influences my experience with the game. Except there are some good ones out there I enjoy, and as much as I want to love Deadly Days, I just can’t do it.
This wasn’t the feeling of a fist pump after an incredible journey that we gritted through for a satisfying ending. This was the feeling of having finished a week of finals in graduate school…without the cool gang of heavy student drinkers waiting for me at the Pub afterwards.
My problem with Deadly Days was focused in that lack of joy at finally beating it. At the end of the day it just wasn’t fun.
So What’s the Verdict?
I was relieved to be done, not glowing in the aftermath of the experience. The game is like a manic obsessive grind, and unhealthy pixelated-infused dive down the rabbit hole where the obsession is like some digital form of drug addiction. You kind of want to uninstall the game. But you want the next hit even more. There’s no denying that Deadly Days is an addictive game.
But I’m not sure it’s a fun or rewarding one. And that’s a problem.
There are redeeming factors and a game that is addictive has some type of quality that it was hard to say no to, so I can’t trash the game. I tried it, I played it, once through all the little things that could annoy me down the line with my quasi-OCD personality (about 28 hours of gameplay), I uninstalled it to open up memory for other games.
To me Deadly Days was good enough to not even think of asking for a refund, but now that I’ve beat it five times (once for each survivor “type”, the challenge section, and the rocket ending) I’m not likely to ever get re-installed onto my gaming laptop again.
You’ll Like This More Than Me If: You are a big fan of roguelike video games, RNG mechanics, Death Road to Canada, or pure randomness. In that case feel free to add a couple points to the final score. It’s not a bad game at all – but in my eyes it’s not great, either.
Final Score: 5/10. Some solid moments and honest potential (I wavered a lot on whether to give it a 5 or 6) but it quickly goes into a grindfest that ends up as a solid “Meh” in my book.
If you liked this review, you might enjoy these video game articles, as well:
- Death & Taxes Video Game Review
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- Can You Die in Animal Crossing?
- Tharsis Video Game Review
Proud to embrace the locally created moniker of “Corrupt Overlord” from one of the all time great Lords of Waterdeep runs, Shane is one member of the Assorted Meeples crew and will be hard at work creating awesome content for the website. He is a long-time player of board games, one time semi-professional poker player, and tends to run to the quirky or RPG side of things when it comes to playing video games. He loves tabletop roleplaying systems like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Werewolf, Fate, and others, and not only has been a player but has run games as DM for years. You can find his other work in publications like Level Skip or Hobby Lark.