Roguelikes are tricky beasts. They take a certain amount of resilience to take on. With highly randomised elements they can be fun after obtaining items that synergise well, or your YouTube-worthy controller smashing moment as you take that disastrous final hit which ends the run far too soon. You die – a lot, essentially with the intention of unlocking better gear to push further next time, but it goes against the grain of gamers who have often been bought up against mantras of “try not to die” and “get gud.”
Still, they are my favourite genre, so the bar has been set quite high for Deadly Days.
Here, a burger franchise has begun lacing their delicious patties with a new special secret ingredient. If meat is murder, their new burgers are to die for! Hordes of burger connoisseurs descend upon their local joint to get more bite than they bargained for. Out of each other. This new secret ingredient could actually be the worst business decision ever made, turning their valued customers into flesh ravaging zombies, who then descend to the streets to presumably eat other valued customers.
Questionable business decisions aside, the world falls to a Walking Dead-style apocalypse, with small compounds being raised and maintained by what survivors can be gathered to scavenge for food and scrap to improve their chances of staying alive even one day more. Deadly Days are truly deadly.
The beginning of each run starts with picking a power-up that will assist your survivors in some way. The bonuses they provide are small to begin with but they can be upgraded later down the line for better effects. Each day, you can tinker around your compound courtyard to spend any scrap you’ve obtained and improve your defences or craft new weapons and armour, feed any survivors you’ve found on your scavenges before loading up the bus and picking a destination.
Each area is given a rating for its size, loot and danger so it’s up to you to decide how much risk are you willing to take against the potential rewards. Every map has some smaller sub-goals to achieve which grants bonuses at the end of a level if your compound upgrades allow for it. Upgrades also sometimes come with the downside of making the zombie hordes more dangerous.
The goal is to gear up yourself and your followers as best as you can to survive the barrage of zombies pouring from every alleyway and takedown each burger franchise before taking on the Big Burger Boss at the end.
Doing so isn’t easy. Upgrades to your characters and compound don’t carry across between runs, meaning once your last survivor dies you must start again completely from scratch. Survivors are squishy meat bags prone to taking damage from just about everything early on. You’re faced with a choice every day between feeding them to level them up which definitely helps their survivability chances, or saving what few food resources you have left for the coming days since it’s not always guaranteed you’ll find a spot to pick up more.
The most enjoyable part of Deadly Days is being on the maps, scurrying about the towns and woods and looting every sparkly item you can find. Since you’re often in control of more than one survivor, a point and click directs your pixel people to where you need them to go. The map is fogged around you until you explore further, revealing new spots to loot or enemy clusters lurking nearby. Telling one person to go and loot while getting another to stand outside on lookout seemed like a good idea to begin with but the zombies all converge upon you.
Since survivors auto-attack anything hostile that comes within range of their weapon, with the right power set up you can turn them into auto-turrets raining death upon all. You’ll just have to keep making your sacrifices to RNJesus and hope you pick up some good firepower. It was much easier to clear some of the sub-goals when having survivors doing multiple things at once.
There are lots of alleys and avenues to cut through to get you back to the bus when your day is done, which can be the difference between life and death – especially at night. Night-time brings its own difficulties. Once the sun goes does, the harder monsters come out. Rabid dogs appear from nowhere in packs and rip at you until you kill them. One zombie is a mine filled with rats, which explode everywhere when the host dies and bite until someone is dead. Talk about a mousetrap. You’re going to want that engine primed and ready as your survivors leg it back to the bus with the horde hot on their heels.
Pretty much everything about Deadly Days wants you dead all the time, and I found that quite frustrating but not in a good way. Perhaps it’s poor planning on my part or being too inexperienced in this unfamiliar rogue like realm. Maybe I’m being overly cautious and playing too hastily to try to survive more but the balance feels a bit wrong. While there is enough scrap to be found on each level, it’s not often enough to make any significant changes to keep people alive for more than four or five days. Food seems ridiculously rare, so running into new and desperately needed survivors (if you can find them) can be stressful when you’re already low. There is a lot more strategy involved than just staying alive.
When measured against other rogue games, it falls a little short for me. While I’m used to dying a lot in games like this, I know I’ve been spoiled in recent years with roguelikes which allow for things like extra lives and a huge loot table of power-ups which have an instant effect on the game; Deadly Days doesn’t feel unachievable to beat but it lacks the balance to keep interest sustained beyond more than a couple of runs to do so. It’s not inherently bad, it has enough fun and quirkiness, but it’s more the sort of thing you might play if you’re just looking for a quick gaming fix on a lazy afternoon.
Deadly Days is out now on PS4 and Xbox One. It first launched on Switch and PC in 2020.