Grizzly Gaming

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dead Island afterthoughts - The zombie apocalypse you were looking for?

So now that I’ve had some time to put into really exploring Techland’s “Dead Island” I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts on the game since writing my initial review. My feelings on it overall haven’t changed – I still think it’s a great game overall that anyone can get into and those who enjoy loot grinding will get a huge kick out of it. Still though, after more hands on time with the game there are plenty of things I’ve noticed about the game that I thought I’d share. It’s basically spoiler free – though can you really spoil a game that has literally no discernable plot? Read on to find out!

-Let me elaborate – there’s a plot, just a paper thin one. I’m, what, about 50% done the main story and still have no more information about my character, the cause of the outbreak or just how I’m going to escape Banoi than I did when I started. The plot mainly seems to grow out of the events happening at that time (needing to get food for survivors, helping others find safe havens, etc.) and the main plot (finding the source of an ambiguous radio transmission that promised help) doesn’t seem like it will be resolved – even discussed – until much later.

-Playing solo is pretty annoying. You’ll die very often (especially as the game progresses) and you won’t have anyone who can revive you if you’re downed. Maybe I’m just getting the worst of it trying to play on my own as Xian (the blade expert who seems pretty weak compared to my Sam B. character) but zombies seem to do more damage as the game progresses, making their increased numbers even more unmanageable when going solo.

-Speaking of getting downed, I didn’t even realize you could pick people up for a long time. The game does a very poor job of pointing out this little fact and lots of my own and my friends’ money could’ve been saved had we known about this ability earlier.

-And speaking of teammates, I find it kinda strange that – even if you are playing solo – when there is a cutscene, every playable character is shown. For instance, after I cleared out a supermarket of looters to get food and supplies for other survivors, a short cutscene played showing each character helping load up the food, despite the fact that I was playing by myself. If there is stronger evidence to support the idea that Dead Island is meant to be played co-op, I haven’t found it.

-What’s that, Dead Island? There are other people playing who are at the same spot I am? And I can join their game with just the press of a button? Thanks! Now I know not to press that button. I guess setting all my public slots to ‘0’ wasn’t enough indication that I’d rather not have randoms jumping into my game whenever they wanted to.

-The gore and enemy deformation is really impressive, probably the most impressive visual aspect of the game. Whether it’s hacking off or breaking limbs, setting them on fire or whatever, enemies look suitably and realistically deformed after you’re done hacking away at them with machetes and sledgehammers.

-The most unfortunate thing I’ve noticed about Dead Island is just how repetitive the combat becomes over time. All encounters go something like this - jam on the right trigger and occasionally throw a kick in there to get some space. Continue to jam on the right trigger and maybe stomp on a zombie head or two (if you’re in the clear, god knows those animations take forever and leave you completely vulnerable). Stop when all zombies are dead. Even the additional “Analog” control scheme (using the right stick to swing your weapon in an almost Fight Night-esque manner) doesn’t add anything to the formula and is more trouble than it’s worth when you get to the city and you’re fighting off 5-7 zombies at a time as compared to 2-3 in the resort.

-The sound effects and sound design are probably some of the most incredible aspects of this game. The mood and atmosphere of literally every environment is drenched in spectacular sound design – from the horribly unsettling moans of walkers, the guttural yells of thugs and incredibly chilling shrieks of infected to the stark, relative silence of other sections of the game, the sound is one of the most well-executed aspects of Dead Island.

-Why is it that most tourists seem to only have packed small amounts of money, bits of wire or glue in their luggage? What the hell kind of resort was Banoi?

-Energy drinks, snack bars, and fruit are the only healing items you find outside of medkits. Fruit does next to nothing, though. And since you’re apparently immune to the zombie virus (or whatever it is turning people into zombies), I’d think that all the energy drinks/caffeine your character imbibes is worse for their health than the zombies. Really, how can anyone drink, like, 7 energy drinks in a row without their heart exploding?

-Dead Island throws a lot more RPG aspects at you than some may be ready to accept from a game that’s mainly about zombie killing. Sometimes I feel like Dead Island isn’t really a game about a zombie outbreak so much as it is a game about inventory management with zombie killing/fetch quests to break up the time you spend in menus, comparing stats, repairing items and weighing the pros and cons of upgrading weapons or creating new ones with found parts.

-There are almost too many options when it comes to mods/creating weapons. As you play through Dead Island you come across hundreds, if not thousands, of seemingly inconsequential items that may or may not be used in making some kind of weapon. Batteries, lemon juice, wires, rags, even diamonds plus countless other items that are lying all over the island of Banoi just waiting to be pilfered. Are they all important? Hell if I know. I kinda hate this aspect of the game as it makes me very nervous about selling off any of it to make some spare scratch, knowing that I may very well need those parts down the line for some new outlandish mod.

-I honestly still can’t tell just how I feel about this game. On one hand, it’s probably the best depiction of a zombie outbreak/apocalypse that I’ve played yet in a video game. Left 4 Dead is fun but its linearity (linearness?) and pace make it only accessible to those who like first-person shooters. Dead Rising is neat but its goofiness and its insistence on forcing you to strictly adhere to a time-frame really takes the fun out of it. At its best, Dead Island is pretty much an example of what I would do in a zombie apocalypse – gather together a bunch of cobbled together, homemade weapons, amass a treasure trove of (seemingly) worthless trinkets and just hang out, exploring the extents of our ruined world.

-But on the other hand, Dead Island is incredibly frustrating at times and, for the most part, incredibly repetitive. The lack of a strong, overarching narrative and the very nature of an open-world game means its pacing is very uneven. You complete quest after quest, earning money, XP and weapons – but for what? Without a strong story driving the events, you’re basically completing quests and earning XP so you can complete more quests and earn more XP. There comes a point (usually around the 8th or 9th time you die in the city from being overwhelmed by 4 or 5 infected who utterly destroy you before you even realize what’s happening) when you find yourself asking, “What is the point, Dead Island? Why am I still subjecting myself to this?” And it’s usually just after I ask myself this question that I lop off an infected’s head in one, fell move like a ninja or find a sweet, new weapon that I can’t wait to use/mod and I forget all my quarrels with the game.

-I read a bit about the future of Dead Island’s DLC. With the Special Edition of the game came a code to redeem the first DLC, called “Bloodbath Arena” or something. Techland recently stated that their focus right now isn’t on the release of DLC but fixing the bugs and problems many have complained of – basically meaning that DLC will be out sometime but probably not any time soon.

Just a few more, why not:

-Though fighting zombies becomes a little tiresome by the middle of the game, the number of encounters with humans increases around this time too, mixing up the gameplay nicely. Though humans are relatively weak compared to the zombies, they make up for it by keeping their distance and using firearms. Firefights with humans (usually with a local gang called the Raskols) are a great change of pace from cracking zombie skulls. I was actually pretty surprised with how well the gunplay works in Dead Island. Though I don't know how many guns there are to be found outside of pistols, auto rifles and shotguns, fights with humans are spaced out enough that it stops mattering that you only have a few guns. On top of that, it keeps with the tropical island paradise aesthetic - how many guns do you really think you'd be able to find on a resort island? Though I've mostly only found humans in the city (looting and whatnot) there have been instances where a large group have taken over a critical building and these lengthy encounters almost make Dead Island feel more like Far Cry.

-A funny thing happened to me while I was playing the other day. I was in the city and sprinting toward my next mission (I was alone and therefore ill-equipped to take on the large packs that roam the city streets) when I slipped between a barricade only to come face to face with a Ram (large enemies in straight jackets who charge when they catch sight of you and can only be hurt from the back) that was blocking the street. He noticed me and let out a yell which prompted me to turn and maybe find another way around. I went back through the barricade and tried to quickly cut the corner into a market area to lose him - only to be stopped by a simple street sign. And not even one that was cemented into the ground - a fold-up sign that, in real life, could be knocked over by a stiff breeze let alone a terrified person trying to run over it. Yet there it stood - defiant to the laws of physics and reality, laughing in my face as I sidestepped a few times to walk around it. It's just an unfortunate reminder that this game may have been pushed out the door a little too quickly and lacks a certain amount of polish.

-Despite death not really having much meaning, besides losing money, I still found myself doing all I could to stay alive. Outside of the percentage amount of money deducted every time you die, it can also be incredibly annoying to try and find your way back to the spot where you fell, as you’re often respawned a good distance away. It’s basically the reason I never throw my weapons (despite the fact that throwing does a good bit of damage and doesn’t seem to degrade it at all), I don’t want to get killed cheaply only to spawn somewhere else, never to see my prized weapon again.

-Apparently there are a ton of glitches still in the game that allow players to dupe (duplicate) weapons or crafting items. I’ve mostly just read of people duping tons and tons of diamonds to be sold at $1,500 a pop, but friends of mine have also shown me ways to dupe weapons as well. I won’t be posting any of the methods I’ve heard of, though, because it’s basically cheating. The most difficult part of the game is staying alive to conserve cash to keep your weapons nice and upgraded so taking away the need to earn money by duping tons and tons of diamonds kinda defeats the point of playing.

-Really like the variety of the enemies as the game goes on. There really isn’t any strategy to fighting the standard zombie types at the beginning of the game but as you move on, you run into numerous special kinds of zombies that require some strategy to defeat. The variety of the game environments also really helps keeping the game feel fresh even after putting 10, 15, 20 hours into it. From the sunny bungalows and beach resort to the cramped, depressing, zombie-filled streets of the city to the overgrown jungle, each environment almost feels like it could be featured in their own game.


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An avid gamer and long-time pro wrestling fan, stay tuned to Grizzly Gaming and the Delco Elbow Drop for game reviews and pro wrestling news.

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