The twin-stick zombie shooter is a popular choice for developers these days. As a genre it’s more crowded than a town square packed with undead Christmas shoppers.

With the tongue-in-cheek Age of Zombies leading the pack, and the deadly serious Aftermath competently bringing up the rear, there’s barely any room left.

Or so you’d think. Dead on Arrival squeezes in between these two titles, mixing arcade bombast with a touch of survival-horror. It feels a little awkward at times, but mostly it fits in well.

Booster shots

The battle with the mortally challenged is confined to the hallways of a single hospital. Zombies come in waves through doorways in steadily increasing numbers, much as in any survival-horror.

You earn cash for gunning them down, and you use this to buy guns and ammo that are (inexplicably) on the walls of the hospital. Fending off waves also earns you ‘Z-bucks’ – a separate currency that allows you to unlock new weapons.

You can barricade the doors that the zombies come through and unlock new rooms and corridors to fight in or retreat down, which gives the game an added element of exploration and strategy as you attempt to figure out which hallways are the best for funnelling enemies and holding off hordes.

Still, the focus here is very much on gunning down the foe and earning cash in the most arcade-like fashion, to the point where the weapons are refreshingly unrealistic – like the freeze ray and rail gun.

You can unlock these with Z-bucks, but there’s always a chance you'll find them in one of the ‘random boxes’ scattered throughout the level. This helps keep things fresh and introduces an element of luck and haphazardness to proceedings.

The controls of the Xperia Play are very well-implemented, and even the touchpads are comfortable and responsive. A small delay between pointing your gun and firing the first shot is a subtle and clever approach that helps avoid you wasting ammo while lining up your shots.

Deadverts

All the same, Dead on Arrival is far from a perfect example of the genre. The door-barricading feature is almost completely redundant because it takes so long to do - your time is much better spent stocking up on ammo for the next wave.

At the same time, your playable character is almost as slow and lumbering as the zombies themselves, making it a little frustrating when you can’t get away from them in time despite having played things very carefully. Thankfully, there's a running ability that you can unlock later for Z-bucks. It costs about $3.99 for 2000 Z-bucks (enough to buy all of the game’s upgrades and perks), which – to be fair to N3V Games – is much less than some of the outlandish sums requested in other microtransaction-reliant games, like Gameloft’s Let’s Golf! 3.

If you have any investment in the game at all then you’ll at least buy or earn enough to remove the ads. These are probably among the most obnoxious ads in a freemium title. They pop up between waves and interrupt the game for 20 seconds while reminding you that you can always remove them.

As with all freemium games, having a salesman hassle you while you play is the price you’ll pay if you want the game for nothing.

Dead on Arrival is a strong game, and the emphasis on exploring and unlocking new areas and weapons is interesting. But it also gets a bit samey, and anyone who has played Gun Bros will recognise the basic formula.

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