Developed by Room710Games
Available on PC through Steam
Suitable for ages 13+
When I decided to play Half Dead for my first ever Den of Dread – The Official Dread Central Twitch Stream (Every Tuesday at 6pm PT (and whenever else I feel like it)), I did so for a few reasons. My goal with these first few episodes of the stream are to introduce people to new games they might not know about, and Half Dead is a game that everyone I know had never heard of. It’s a pretty clear rip off of 1997’s Cube, so I figured it would also be fun for the nostalgia. Most importantly, the game is $2.
On the surface, it reads like an entertaining game to watch. In a dystopian future, the TV show “Half Dead” serves as both an alternative to capital punishment and #1 hit series. The premise is simple: explore a number of identical rooms, and get to the end without dying. Some rooms are safe, while others melt you with iced/magma/lightning/gravity wells. Your only tools for survival are two shoes, allowing you to check rooms for traps before you enter. $2 for a night of entertaining deaths? Sounds good.
So I hopped into a party with two friends, fired up the stream, and prepared myself for a night of random splatter-gore. There isn’t a tutorial, but it’s easy enough to figure out. You press E to open doors, G to throw your shoe, and that’s it. The traps are visually varied, but boil down into one of two categories. The most dangerous are the automatic kill trap. A laser grid will activate as soon as you (or a shoe) enters the room, blocking any entrance or escape. A trap will spawn, fill the room with something nasty, and you’ll explode. They’re random, crushing, and fun. When you eventually run out of shoes and are forced to check rooms with your face, these dreaded traps make the game tense and entertaining.
The second category are the avoidable traps. There’s a lot more variety to these, ranging from door triggered flamethrowers to room covering spikes. Some traps will provide constant obstacles, like a rotating acid thrower, while others will hit the center of the room with a single lethal blast. Traps can also have variable activation times, starting either when you enter the room or up to a dozen seconds after. It keeps you on your toes, but never gets too hard. There are obvious audio cues before the more sudden traps spawn, so it’s easy enough to survive these rooms if you pay attention.
You only lose a shoe if it’s actually hit by the trap, so you quickly learn to toss the shoe to check for automatic kill rooms and snatch it up before the avoidable traps activate. Depending on your number of players, you should have plenty of shoes to make it to the end. Open a door, dodge the ice laser, toss in a shoe, go snatch it, and get out before the grenades explode.
And that’s it. That’s the whole game. It was fun at first. Some of the more absurd traps like suicide bombers made me genuinely chuckle. After about two hours, it all was just routine. Throw in my shoe, grab it, avoid trap, repeat. Upping the difficulty made things a bit more exciting, but it was all just more variants of the same traps. Someone in the stream commented, “That’s it? You just throw shoes?” For the life of me, I couldn’t disagree. There’s nothing you do in this game other than guess.
For a game ripping off Cube, it failed to replicate what made that movie interesting: logic. In Cube, the numbers on the side of the rooms were equations. Though initially appearing to be random, they eventually figure out that the safe rooms are ones whose equations equal the power of prime numbers. The six member team each bring something important to the group, such as Rennes being an escape artist and the mentally challenged Kazan being able to do complex equations quickly. Using only their collective wits, it’s up to them to figure out the rules to survive. Tossing their shoes was a rudimentary tool they used early on to try to figure things out, not the whole movie.
Half Dead borrows the basic premise and aesthetic and calls it a day. There’s no puzzle to it. People are calling it “Minesweeper with blood,” but it’s not even that. There’s no thinking, only reflex. I don’t mind reflex tests, but it’s too easy. All that this game has is surprise and spectacle. It’s just a roll of the dice whether you live or die.
So Half Dead is simple, short lived, basic, and a whopping $2. You can only be so critical of a game that costs less than a Big Mac. I couldn’t even wring 3 hours of entertainment out of it, but that’s still a dollar an hour. And shit, that isn’t even a sale price. It’s not like I got it in a bundle and it normally retails for $15. This is a game that, when half off, is still only a dollar. So the game is crap, but what were you honestly expecting? If you want a $30 game, go buy a $30 game. It’s almost impossible to say this game isn’t worth $2. Hell, it might even be worth $3. But that’s about it.