Game review: Into the Dead 2: Unleashed for Netflix (Android)

I’m a bit late getting this review out because there is a lot of game to get through in Into the Dead 2: Unleashed before arriving to the final level, and that’s even before taking into account the daily runs, side stories, and regular and pro journeys. I wanted to see how this premium package compared to Into the Dead, which a sad endless runner with no story, terrible guns, and lousy execution of its core loop. I’ll get to that later, but what I’m saying is, the Netflix version of the sequel succeeds on every level, when it works. And it frequently mucks up in frustrating ways.

The easiest way to describe Into the Dead 2: Unleashed is that it’s a ride on rails, but with a small degree of side to side movement to allow for exploring within a level’s “corridor.” Ammo crates are scattered about and are highlighted by green flares, making them relatively easy to see and run towards. Additionally, some levels have chainsaws and shrub cutters to pick up and use as temporary weapons before they run out of gas. Other levels have mounted guns with a limited stock of ammunition, or armored vehicles with unlimited ammo that will eventually crash and return the player to running and dodging.

In the main story mode, the player’s character is James, an ex-soldier driving back home with supplies to wait out the current zombie outbreak. His truck crashes, stranding him a long way from home, and his sister Helen keeps choosing to move farther and farther away with his daughter Maggie in tow. James has no choice but to keep running to try and catch up to her, frequently panicking as Helen’s crappy decision making leads to ever escalating disasters.

The time of this setting looks to be somewhere around the seventies, as everyone uses handheld radios instead of cell phones, and there’s a kind of judder to the camera’s motion that feels like a seventies horror film. Then there’s a random line from a side story character about wishing he had a new kind of gun back in Nam. But this has to be some kind of alternate universe, because there’s also another side character, Corporal Garcia, and women soldiers taking part in combat operations didn’t become a reality until much later. It could be argued that given the dire circumstances, perhaps the remaining male soldiers chose to let women fight with them, so let’s just run with that.

So, that’s the main story, but as certain checkpoints are passed, side stories open up. For instance, one explains how Corporal Garcia ended up in charge of a group of Privates after her squad mates abandon her. Another follows Mason, one of the squad mates who left Garcia behind and shot one of his other mates “because he was bit.” (He was not.) There’s another with a father and daughter on the run and unable to trust anyone. It ends okay for them, but not for the innocent man that the daughter shoots because she thought he was reaching for a gun, and it turns out he was grabbing his radio to call his wife. Quite a few of the side stories are bleak like this, which I suppose is fitting within the zombie movie theme the game is aiming for. But there are a few stories that go better, like James rescuing a pair of circus tigers, who then become available as companions in the main story. (I named mine Tigger and Argento.)

Moving on to the controls, there’s a number of options here. I preferred the tilt steer, but you can also choose to slide your thumb left and right on the left side of the screen to steer or use both thumbs on the sides of the screen to steer. There are buttons on the right side of the screen to switch weapons, which you can have two equipped, another to throw grenades, and another to either switch from semi-auto to fully automatic or use a special weapon’s alternate fire. (For instance, there’s an assault rifle with a built-in grenade launcher, so that gun has both buttons for swapping rate of fire and for firing a grenade.)

Every level has a set distance to run until the end, triggering a cut-scene and telling a bit more of the story through radioed calls. Each level also has a set of objectives to meet, with gold being awarded each time one of five objectives is met. Sometimes, certain goals can’t be hit because of a weak weapon or a lack of ammo, but it’s always possible to play through the same level later to pick up extra stars. The stars themselves also unlock different boosts for weapons, like piercing or explosives ammo, or extra ammunition at the start of a run, or added to all the crates in the level. It is possible to get every boost in the game without perfect 5 star scores, so there’s no need to stress missing one or more goals in a level.

When I compare the premium sequel to the ad-loaded, microtransaction nightmare of the first Into the Dead, I cannot help but wonder why anyone would want to play the first one. The guns all sound tinny and have a laughably short range. The supply crates are not highlighted well enough to tell where they are, so most of the time I ran out of ammo and had to hope I eventually tripped over another crate. (Which didn’t happen often.) The prices on companions and special guns is ridiculous, and what can be found in game for normal currency is pathetic.

If not for its flaws, Into the Dead 2: Unleashed would be a master class example of how to turn mobile garbage into a fun game worth playing. It almost reaches a kind of perfection to earn a 5 star rating. But there are flaws, and some of them are pretty agonizing.

First and foremost is that guns will frequently miss a zombie directly in front of the gun. I assumed it was failing to hit for some random reason, but there are bows and crossbows with slower traveling arrows and bolts. With those, it was possible to track my shots and see them go through the target without registering as a hit. How bad is this? Imagine hitting a perfect run and getting all the achievements in a level, and twice in rapid order just before the “finish line,” the gun misses. The first time, James can whip out his Bowie knife to shank the zombie. But the second time is instant death, with the screaming and the flying intestines, and the biting, and that’s goodbye to the achievements. Now, once is bad, but imagine that same scenario happening over and over. To say it kills the fun is a massive understatement.

Then there’s the zombie who either stands up right in front of James or jumps out from behind a tree, building, or vehicle. There’s no way to shoot them at that close of a range, and no way to dodge them, either. Combine this with the guns not registering hits, and mix and match both within levels to make for a perfect aggravation cocktail.

And I also have to gripe about the “toughness” mechanic of zombies. Like, okay, a zombie soldier in body armor and wearing a helmet is going to be hard to put down. But when I shoot a sheriff zombie wearing only a beige shirt WITH EXPLOSIVE ROUNDS and he takes two or three shots to put down, you can consider my immersion broken. On top of this, the game also bandies out that old lame video game trope that the fatter an enemy is, the more impervious they are to being shot. No. NO. This shitty mechanic needs to be dropped from all gaming and consigned to the Video Game Hall of Shame.

Near the end of the game, I also ran into a problem where I needed to get better guns for certain goals like “Make 40 pistol kills” and the game stopped offering new models while the older guns were all level capped. (A level 10 gun against a level 12 zombie is really bad. Like every zombie takes four bullets to put down, and I ran out of ammo long before meeting my goal.) They keep handing out bigger assault rifles and SMGs, as well as a healthy number of special weapons and crossbows. But when it comes to long rifles, pistols, and shotguns, the game got downright stingy.

The only way to unlock more is to wait and play the daily run, where earning stars will eventually unlock another gun. By my calculations, just to get a new shotgun and pistol, I need four days of perfect runs to unlock that gear. Most of the time, I can only manage two stars per run, so that stretches out the wait even longer. Then once I do unlock them, I need to grind in older levels to get enough kills to level the guns up, and then grind in the regular and pro journeys to get enough gold to pay for the upgrades. Given that the upper level upgrades run around 4,000 gold, that’s at least a week of more grinding just to level up two guns that I only really need to tick another checkbox and get one step closer to full five star levels. As much as I’ve enjoyed the game, I’m not sure I have the patience to stick with the grind. And this is coming from someone who once did ten hours of fighting the same knight in the same hall of Lothric Castle to get enough Titanite Chunks to level up six swords.

When it comes time to score this one, I really want to take into account the flaws and how many times they screwed me out of a perfect run. But then I think about all the times I was in the zone, wearing a big smile as I mowed down wave after wave of zombies. That’s why I played so much of this and why I’ll probably keep playing it for a few more weeks at the very least. Sure, the story kinda sucks, but it doesn’t really matter if I’m having fun and enjoying the game.

I’ll give Into the Dead 2: Unleashed 4 stars and recommend it for anyone with a Netflix account looking for a shooter that tickles that late night cult classic vibe to near perfection. It really has been one of the best mobile games I’ve ever played, so if the makers decide to drop a sequel on Netflix, it will go instantly on my Must Play list.