You should have played… Dead Island
When Dead Island was first released it was riddled with bugs, glitches and poor experiences. It was highly anticipated but encumbered by woeful lows. After such a wonderfully cinematic and harrowing trailer every gamer (and their Gran) was left begging for more, and rightfully so.
Its worth taking time to elaborate a little more on the aforementioned issues of the first iteration; the pre-patched version if you will. There were issues with the navigation of the in-game shop in which you would be passed randomly from item to item when trying to sell even the most simple of curiosities you had in your possession. From there the glitches slowly escalated to completely incompletable quests (of which I stumbled upon many) ranging from missing characters to down-right buggy sequences that lead to complete impasses in the side-quests. I even had issues with weapons just disappearing from my flesh-chewing victims. At this point you may be asking yourself “Why should I even bother with this game? You obviously hate it”. And you are right to an extent. I did, and for a very long time.
Almost a year later and I find myself drawn to what I perceived to be one of the most broken games I have ever had the joy of playing. Very much to my surprise I found myself immersed in the brutalisation of my undead counterparts. Wading my way through an endless parade of brain-dead foes reminded me very much of the feelings I had when I first lay my eyes on the trailer. This once serene and majestic island resort lay at the mercy of the beasts, visitors and workers corpses that now line the shore in a humbling display of humanity gone awry.
The story itself is rather simple: find survivors, complete endless fetch quests and find a way to safety. This rather generic story grabs you by the hand and takes you on a rollercoaster ride of human emotion. You find survivors making the best of their last days in a decaying paradise, the youthful begging on their knees for survival, the lost praying for you to leave them be and the brave fighting their way to the top in a bid to save those around them. The dialogue may be lacking but there is a bit of everything in the game in terms of story; the government conspiracy, the hero’s plight and your basic survival story are all incorporated in a neat package that you can opt in or out of pending on how many collectibles you choose to pursue.
The combat and weapons system is very similar to that of an RPG. You can level up your characters ability trees and discover rare weapons strewn across the resort. Even the weapons are colour coded in terms of their rarity through the traditional white through to orange range that many RPG fans will recognise. With each kill you gain experience as you would expect, but there is the added joy of hacking and slashing the limbs off a worthy adversary leaving them with nothing more than the legs they stand on for a few extra points. It’s absurdly satisfying tactically chopping off a tank class zombie’s arms and legs working your way towards the kill and being rewarded for every appendage that hits the floor before they finally die. These weapons can also be upgraded and customised to increase their durability, damage, weight and you can even add modifications to poison, shock and beat the living daylights out of each and every zombie you set your sights on.
Dead Island also boasts a manual and automatic attacking system. Although poorly worded, these modes allow the user to control their swing via the use of the right analogue stick or simplify the attack to one button. The level of accuracy provided by the manual controls is brilliant. You can hack, slash or thrust towards your opponent leaving the dismayed, dismembered and decimated. This added level of control also emphasises the importance of using the correct strike to hack at limbs or risk it all and go for the decapitation.
The characters in the game also cover your basic archetype of warriors and races. You have Sam B (rapper extraordinaire): the heavy weapon and sick lyrics expert, Xian Mei: the undercover Chinese spy and expert with sharp weapons, Logan Carter: the former American football all star and all round tosser (and by that I mean throwing weapons aficionado, I definitely don’t mean he is a useless tosser. Not at all) and Purna: the ex-police officer and armed weapons expert. Naturally you choose Sam B. I mean, who else would you trust with the survival of the groups you meet? Although it would appear that each character is viable choice, I learned my lesson the hard way on my first playthrough. Some characters are hopeless. Even after the patch you will struggle to find ammo for Purna or find any use for poor Logan. Unfortunately, due to the late appearance of certain weapons and a lack of any substantial throwing weapons you really are limited to a choice of two of the more ludicrous characters, who in my mind would be better off on their own or dead. After all, the Chinese military would rescue Xian as soon as the word got out in an attempt to secure whatever intelligence she had gathered and Sam B is just intolerable to the point that I would ditch him given the opportunity. There is only so much you can DooDoo with his much coveted HooDoo BITCH!
Much like the cast of playable characters there is a diverse set of fierce zombies you go toe to toe with. As expected, there are your normal sluggish zombies who amble from place to place in search of the highly coveted “BBBBRRAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIINNNS” and are deemed the highly appropriate “walker” types. Alongside the docile bunch of archaic dead types there are the far more modern sprinting zombies, known only as the “infected”. Their only aim is to swipe away at you, skinning you alive with their frenzied attack and turning you into a mound of kebab meat for easy consumption. The third most common type of zombie is the “thug”, a hulking brute of enormous proportions. The thug is a slow and difficult foe in the early stages of the game; his high health and flailing limbs can prove difficult for even the most battleworthy of your comrades. There are far more elusive types of zombie that do show up later on in the campaign, although they do come off sounding a bit like a ragtag troupe of Left4Dead rejects. The first of which is the “ram”, a towering bound zombie that acts very similar to a tank, the “floaters” who draws parallels with a boomer, “suiciders” who are pretty self-explanatory and the “butchers” who are more unique. The butchers are definitely the scariest of the bunch because they are agile, effective and damn scary to look at. Although it does come across that these types of zombie I can assure you that they are all unique and add a great deal of flavour to the games. Hell if you find the collectible there are even talks of a zombie orangutan. One can only dream.
After such a poor impression from my first attempt at Dead Island I have slowly started to fall in love with the RPG spin that Techland have put on the zombie game pandemic that is sweeping the nation. If you haven’t given it a go there just so happens to have a new game of the year edition that includes all the DLC in one neat package for a very reasonable price (£15 at game.co.uk). So if you missed Dead Island the first time it might just be the perfect time to dive in and play what I consider to be one of the best underdogs of 2011.