Dead End City – PS5 Review 1

Dead End City is a vertically-scrolling shoot ’em up by Dublin-based dev Thomas Schreiber otherwise known as Pixel Licker LLC and has been published by the ever-prolific eastasiasoft.  However, unlike the usual military/space settings that these games tend to use, this game has a post-apocalyptic Mad Max vibe to it where you play as a driver who has to use his modified car to blast his way through five levels of road punks, mutants and psychos.

Thankfully, despite you being in a car, the game eschews any attempt at mimicking steering and you just move about as if you were in a spaceship/plane like any shoot ’em up.  And, for the most part, it plays like a typical late ’80s arcade game too from the general arcade aesthetic (with optional scanlines) to the fact that the game starts with ‘One Credit’ (which can’t actually be increased; more on that later).

Of course, every shoot ’em up has its own quirks and bespoke mechanics and Dead End City is much the same.  You control your car with the left stick/d-pad as usual and you fire your primary weapon with .  This fires a steady stream of machine gun bullets upwards in a fairly staid and minimal fashion.  There’s no Danmaku-style bullet madness from either you or your enemies so don’t expect fireworks here.  But the game’s first interesting design choice is how the levels and stages work.

Each of the game’s five levels is broken down into the stages.  The first seven play more like Galaga with enemies arranging themselves into rows or patterns with others swirling about the place.  Sure, the road is scrolling below you but these are essentially static stages.  Get past those and the eight stage is an actual scrolling section more akin to what you expect from a vertically-scrolling shoot ’em up.  The ninth stage is then your boss battle.

The general gameplay is straightforward but also has a couple of quirks.  Firstly, while you only have one life, your energy bar is actually your fuel.  So while it drains away slowly (or faster if you take a bullet or collide with an enemy), it can be replenished by grabbing fuel pick-ups that drop from defeated enemies.  If you max out your fuel, the next pick-up will put you into ‘top off’ mode where your primary weapon becomes a bit stronger.  Again, you’re not exactly a Death Star on wheels, but the extra firepower is always welcome.

You also have a special weapon, which is mapped to .  Much like the primary weapon, this isn’t all that spectacular either but it is reasonable helpful.  You only get three uses of it but defeated enemies can also drop ammo pick-ups that directly refill your special.  Also, if your specials are full, all pick-ups turn into fuel which is a nice bit of design to be fair.

The only other thing to worry about is your score multiplier.  This increases as you defeat enemies and it reduces if you take damage.  If you can max out the multiplier (at 9x), enemies will also start dropping medals which increase your score and will help you compete on the game’s online leaderboard.

Besides that, you’ll mainly be focusing on the actual combat.  The game is tricky at first for sure, certainly a lot harder than anything we’ve played by this publisher before, and that’s mostly down to your weak-ish offensive abilities and some tricky bosses.  However, we did find ourselves getting better and better at the game.   It’s not the sort of shoot ’em up that you necessarily have to memorise but there is a learning curve and it’s one that is fun to overcome.  That said, we’d have finished the game a lot sooner if it wasn’t for the annoying final boss.  Practising again him was pretty tricky given that it takes almost thirty minutes to get to him and then you’ve only got that one life to figure him out with.  We made it but can imagine that a lot of casual players won’t and that includes the trophy whores that eastasiasoft’s games usually cater to.

Overall though, Dead End City was pretty enjoyable.  The reduced firepower may make it less exciting but the balance of gameplay between challenge and learning was just about perfect.  It made for a slightly more thoughtful game despite the simplicity of its mechanics.  However, if you’re looking for any longevity an in-game shop does allow you to purchase new cars but none of these were any kind of game-changer.  Indeed, the most expensive ones were probably the worst of the bunch.  The shop also sells a bunch of extra tat such as gallery images and whatever.  The only usual things were a boss energy bar displayer and a thing that shows your car’s hitpoint, which is annoyingly massive.

So, look.  Dead End City isn’t the best shoot ’em up on PSN but it’s a very solid throwback that honestly feels like it could have been a lesser-known coin-op from yesteryear.  What it lacks in dynamism it makes up for with an authentic arcade feel and pretty solid gameplay.  It might not keep you interested forever but the challenge of beating it should keep you going for a while.

Dead End City
7 Overall
+ Interesting setting
+ Feels like an authentic coin-op
+ Good level of challenge
- Quite staid in terms of dynamic firepower
- Stages do go on a bit
- Shop extras aren't very rewarding
We liked Dead End City a lot. It felt like an actual '80s coin op but with a setting that sets it apart from the usual space shooters. It's not the most exciting shoot 'em up ever but the difficulty is pitched just right and it kept us entertained, and frustrated, right to the end.

About Richie

Rich is the editor of PlayStation Country. He likes his games lemony and low-budget with a lot of charm. This isn't his photo. That'll be Rik Mayall.

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