When in doubt...

Dead Island or: Why am I not killing zombies right now?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011 | 11:20 AM | by

Dead Island is, so far, a fantastic game. It's far from a perfect game from a technical standpoint, but it is incredibly enjoyable.

If Dead Rising had RPG elements, than Dead Island goes the full nine yards into RPG'dom. There are more quests and sidequests, more items to collect and manage, and a more in-depth talent tree to improve your character as you level up. The story is pretty rough around the edges, but the experience of being let loose on an island full of zombies more than makes up for it.

Visually, I find Dead Island to be a mixed bag. Some of the environments are absolutely breathtaking, as befits a tropical island resort. The zombies are great, both as a whole and when you start hacking or bludgeoning them into little bits. Cutting off limbs, or bashing heads in ceases to look, or even become, boring in the slightest. However some of the survivor NPCs leave a lot to be desired. Most of them look alright... until they start moving and/or talking, at which point they become stiff and robot-like. It takes you out of the atmosphere a little bit, but as with most of the game's faults, it's easily overlooked once you start having a blast killing zombies.

Each of the four playable characters bring unique strengths and skill trees to the table, so the way you play and the weapons you use will differ depending on who you choose. This means not only that there's a decent amount of replayability, but also that playing with a buddy or three is ideal, for access to all sorts of different perks.

I've been playing with a friend, and supposedly the game scales the number of zombies and difficulty to the number of players in the game... maybe that's happening, I'm not too sure. We played for about six straight hours yesterday, and only managed to accomplish 11% of the game's main plot. This was due to how much time we spent going after sidequests, and generally just fucking around the island, which is a real pleasure to explore.

For some reason the game restricts you from tracking sidequests via your map in a co-op game if you're currently working on a main storyline quest, which is baffling and a little annoying. Only at points where the main quest specifically invites you to help out survivors with their sidequests can you opt to track them on your map, and I still can't figure out what the point of that is.

Another little annoyance of mine is looting, and this is never more a glaring issue than it is during the prologue. To loot items you have to click twice, once to open said item, then a second time to take whatever is inside. It doesn't sound too bad, until you experience the 1-2 second delay for opening everything in the game. At the start, in the hotel you are surrounded by piles of luggage begging to be rifled through.

Since the game doesn't feature any "junk" loot (everything you pick up can be useful somehow), then everything has to be searched, lest you miss that crucial item you were looking for to build your next weapon. Once the game proper gets moving along, looting doesn't seem all that bad, but as I said, during the prologue it's a nightmare, and it puts a big damper on what is otherwise supposed to be a tense and eerie opener.

However once you're out into the first chapter, most of the game's little quirks and annoyances melt away. I found it amazingly simple to just let myself get sucked into the overall world of Dead Island, and while I wouldn't want to live there, it's a hell of a lot of fun to play there.

Where I'm at in the storyline, there aren't a lot of zombies... but at the same time I'm never walking more than sixty seconds between finding them. There are a few times that my co-op partner and I have gotten ambushed by 5-6 zombies at once, but mostly we're able to tackle them in smaller groups.

We currently traverse the island with cautious adventurism, well aware that an infected could come charging at us at any moment. I'd like to think that as we get further into the game, we'll start encountering more and more zombies at once, similar to how Dead Rising slowly ramps up their zombie population as you get towards the end of the game.

As it stands though, Dead Island does a fantastic job of never really letting you get comfortable. You don't get many opportunities to feel safe when you're out and about. You feel... well, you feel like you're surviving a zombie infestation, and I think that's the highest praise you can give a game like this. Dying in Dead Island costs you some money and a short respawn... not all that harsh a penalty by any stretch... but the atmosphere of the game still manages to instill a sense of danger and peril, and it's exactly that sort of immersion you want from a game like this.

Dead Island is mostly a melee oriented first person game. Firearms on the island are few and far between, and your best bet is always going to be a trusty melee weapon. There are plenty of objects around the island that you can use to dispatch zombies, but in true RPG fashion, getting the best ones relies on loot drops. Weapons also decay as you use them, meaning you'll constantly be carrying a nice assortment of death-dealing instruments to tide you over inbetween trips to the repair bench.

In what will be familiar to people who have played Dead Rising, you can also create special, more devastating weapons through crafting. The crafting system in Dead Island is a bit more intricate though, and actually requires materials, as opposed to just combining two general items together. Unlike in Dead Rising though, once you've created an upgraded weapon, you can always repair at the workbench, rather than "using it up". Getting a new recipe and hunting down all the ingredients is as much fun as every other aspect of the game.

I've got a lot of Dead Island ahead of me, and I've merely scratched the surface with these thoughts on my first day of play. However if you were wondering if Dead Island was worth your time, I enthusiastically cast my vote into the 'yes' column. Some of the details are rough, but the game has it where it counts. And if you bring a friend, it's even better.

Yeah

Wednesday, September 7, 2011 | 05:49 PM | by

There are definitely more zombies and more challenging groups a little later on, when you get to the city. Good times.

Also, though the game won't allow me and my co-op buddy to directly bludgeon eachother to death, we have developed a rather destructive little game I'm calling "hide-the-propane-tank-and-then-blow-your-friend-to-a-thousand-pieces." It's rather counter-productive, but immensely entertaining.