First Impressions – Dead Island
Khinjarsi here, feeling quite hungover. I’m in a hotel room on some tropical island somewhere, and I can’t hear anybody else. I know I shouldn’t, but I have a quick peek into the corridor, and all I can see resembles a bomb site. Luggage everywhere, red lights have come on, and still no movement. Making sure I haven’t forgotten anything important, I decide (against my better judgement) to have a quick look around. Something has gone horribly wrong. Luckily I seem to have sobered up pretty quickly. I vaguely remember the night before. I may have got too hammered in the club, and I’m sure I saw a girl jump on the security guard and rip his throat out. That can’t be right. I carry on, trying to figure out what’s happened. Exploring another hotel room (the door was open already), there’s two bodies on the floor. What they’re doing there and what killed them, I don’t know. There’s a few things in the room I can use, so I take them. Their previous owners can’t use them. Still more open bedrooms. Half the corridor is blocked off with luggage for some reason, so I’m left to find more useful items in the rooms. It takes me multiple attempts to break open a door between two rooms, but at least I remembered to bring my flashlight. The PA system is saying something, but I’m barely listening. I’ve made it to the foyer area and still there’s nothing to explain what’s going on. I look out from the balcony at the island and the ocean, and was nearly hit in in the face by people falling from the floors above. I’m not sure if it was an intended fall. And there’s suitcases everywhere. The lifts are stuck, I can’t get down. Perhaps I can get through the roof hatch on one of the lifts. I’m not convinced.
Dropping down, the lift drops with me. I’m going to die. Except it comes to a sudden stop. I can see people, finally! The lift drops again, just as one of them lunge toward me growling. Someone starts talking to me in the lift, over the speakers. Apparently I need to find a weapon in a storage room. I have to crouch and crawl my way out the lift, but the voice on the speaker can see me, and wants to help. I’m sure we all know how this goes, but I have no choice if I want to get out. There’s a lot of blood on the floor, and someone’s walked in it. They didn’t get very far, their bodies are lying in what was a fountain. I’m being told to run, because the infected have turned up. Zombies. Zombies are what has happened. And they catch up to me.
And thus begins your journey on Banoi, the dead island. It’s an island resort somewhere hot, and now taken over by the reanimated dead. Playing as either a throwing weapon expert, a firearms expert, a sharp weapon user or a blunt weapon fan, you find yourself helping out a group of survivors find resources, friends and information across an open tropical paradise. Act 1 begins with you holed up in a lifeguard shack, armed with a canoe paddle, and discovering you are immune to something. Faced with having to gather together survivors, you are group dogsbody, putting up with pretty iffy accents (supposed to be Australian, but shifts around all over the place), a voice cast of about 4 people, and having to do lots of quests. With these quests come rewards – money, experience and sometimes items to help you carve out your way in the world. Experience opens up RPG style ability trees, one tree aimed at your particular character speciality, one for more general weapons and fighting abilities and upgrades, and one for more sneaky things like lockpicking. Levelling these up requires you to do all sorts of tasks, some linked to the main story, and more than enough from survivors who make no sense and want to find teddy bears or something. Levelling up also levels up the zombies, making your life a constant hell. It’s a challenge, but there’s not always fun in that.
Despite this, the island of Banoi is very pretty, in line with the Rook Islands from Far Cry 3. Sand looks like sand and water behaves mostly like water. There are issues with close up things, in particular the weapons you hold – many items have really low resolution textures, and really spoil what is otherwise a pretty stunning looking game. I also had quite a few pop-in issues, with zombies that definitely weren’t there suddenly making an appearance and proceeding to eat me, almost always when I desperately needed health. Still, graphics do not a game make. I have two key issues with Dead Island, and these are, for me, some of the most important reasons why I put the game down not too long after picking it up.
Firstly, the gameplay and controls. For me (playing the Xbox 360 edition), the controls weren’t tight enough. One control stick was too sensitive and couldn’t be adjusted, whilst the other was sometimes not responsive enough. When fighting off the zombie hoardes, my weapon would quite often not connect, leaving me wide open to having my head bitten off. I like the idea that aiming for the head is more likely to kill the zombie, but when I aim for the head and I hit the chest, or miss entirely, or even clip through the whole corpse, I might as well have not bothered. All characters have a kick ability, which can stun the enemy long enough to get a hit in with an actual weapon. You can play keep-away quite easily if you get surrounded.
Still, the weapons systems seem a bit over the top – influenced by Dead Rising in it’s makeshift, alter-your-weapon style of strapping knives to other knives kind of thing, and yet to me it seems overly complicated. The compulsory ‘numbers to show how useful it is’ element is overdone, to the point where I had no clue what half of the numbers were, and the differences between weapons are so arbitrary that I stuck with three or four that I liked the action of, rather than the damage rating. The intricacies of the weapon development makes it an overly muddled system to use – it tries too hard to replicate other games that I don’t think it does anything particularly well.
The zombie AI leaves a lot to be desired as well. It seems completely random whether they’ll notice you or not, whether you’re running in high heels or tippy toe-ing along. I know zombies aren’t the most altogether of supernatural creatures, but consistency goes a long way in helping me stay immersed. When you do manage to attract one over, it can quickly lose interest in you if you back off a bit too far. When there’s nothing else moving around you, you would think the zombie would stay interested. What I did like, however, was the fact that there are zombies eating other people in this game. Huddled over a corpse, a zombie eating is often more bothered about the recently deceased than in killing you. At least that bit works. Generally the gameplay can’t decide whether it wants to be an RPG, a shooter or a horror game. Instead, it tries to do all three and ends up muddied and overly complicated.
Plot-wise the game can’t decide what it wants to do either. The developers tried to big up the gameplay and gore factor so much that it was at the detriment of reason to play the game. I didn’t connect to any characters, not least because of their iffy accents, and there’s certainly so little of any story or plot that there’s no reason to help anyone. The quests you are made to do range from escort quest to fetch quest to clear out the zombie quest. And that covers almost all of them. Some fights are designed to be played with friends, and Dead Island strongly pushes you play with people. Escort quests that go wrong leave you back at the start but doesn’t take you back to the state you were in. If you broke any weapons, or used all your health kits, then you’re stuck with scrounging for soda and using sticks. At any rate, there’s no real link between side quests and the main quests, no reason to go looking for quests, and nothing but pain for your trouble. I have no reason to go back to the game now I’ve put it down, no desire to find out what caused the zombies to take over, or why I’m immune, and no desire to save anyone else. Now, I may be being unfair here, and giving up too early. And the game may come into it’s own a bit further down the line. But if you don’t grab me before I get bored, then I shan’t be seeing you again any time soon. I genuinely have no idea what is going on in Dead Island, other than zombies have taken over. There’s clearly some evil human overlord kind of character who probably caused this whole problem (as is often the case), but so far it’s just been fetching alcohol and car parts for people.
The game does have a few good points. The graphics are generally quite nice, the quest markers have a GPS route on them (though it likes to take you the long way round), and unlike some of my favourite games, it hasn’t crashed on me once. Unfortunately, Dead Island suffers from Jack-of-all-trades Syndrome. Too much is going on for the game to be good at anything in particular, and really you are better off playing the games that it tries so hard to copy- Far Cry 3, Dead Rising and Fallout are the primary ones here.
Dead Island isn’t a game I’m going to be completing anytime soon. I don’t have the time or patience to waste on a game I don’t enjoy playing, and although I enjoyed the E3 trailer, I won’t be playing the next instalment either.
Keep your eyes peeled readers, for my next post where I play a game I’m enjoying more as I go along. Khinjarsi out.
The opinions and views in this post reflect those of Khinjarsi, and not of anyone else on the Upon Completion team. Images belong to their respective owners.