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Dead Island Impressions

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#1 Wumpus


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Posted 19 September 2011 - 04:39 AM

So I just bought Dead Island about 8 hours ago. I let it load on Steam while I went to see Drive, (which is coincidentally a good movie.) Then I played it for 5 hours straight without a break and here I am, with zombies on the brain.

I've heard a lot of negative things about it from a lot of game sites and blogs I like to follow so was skeptical about picking it up. After talking to a friend today on Skype who does own it (and the fact that it was $25 brand new on ebay) convinced me to pick it up.

The intro scene is great. Set to Sam B's "Why Do you Voodoo" your character stumbles around a party drunkenly doing stupid things and bumping into characters. A few people get set upon by zombies as you drag yourself off to your room and pass out. You wake up to find the hotel deserted, lights flickering, blood everywhere. Ominous. You can even go see the room that was in the hauntingly beautiful trailer the game first showed off with the little girl and her parents. The parents are dead on the floor, along with that axe (which weirdly you can't pick up) but there's no hole in the window which I thought was odd. Oh well still cool.

Its a good introduction that introduces you to the setting, characters and gameplay in a fairly organic manner. Right from the beginning however, the game's contradiction starts with itself. You can pause to loiter around and loot people's luggage for money and scrap parts while a man on the intercom yells at you to run for your life from the infected and to hurry up or you aren't going to make it to a safe room.

The game is very much Borderlands meets Left 4 Dead, though so far I didn't encounter anywhere near as many zombies as in L4D. Left 4 Dead throws horde upon horde at you while Dead Island is more about small skirmishes. Still, 4 player co-op, zombies, its fairly left 4 dead'ish. But its a lot more Borderlands than anything else. 4 playable classes, 3 skill tree's per character, class specific weapons and skills, sprawling semi-open world. Funny characters and side quests. Electric and fire damage, points springing out of the zombies as you hit them. But this is a good thing to compare to, unless you are one of those people who didn't like Borderlands, in which case i'd question your ability to enjoy a game.

I took the the guy who smashes things. It seemed the most sensible. You can choose a guy who is good at throwing his weapons, a cop chick who does guns, another girl who does blades, and the rapper guy who is good with blunt objects. I almost took blade girl, but went with the blunt guy since he had better stats. Each character also has a unique Fury skill which gets powered up in combat. You get boosts to your class range of weapons per character, but not even by default, but rather through your skill trees. Each class has a tree for their Fury skill, Combat (class range of weapons) and Survivability. Mr Blunt had whole tree dedicated to improving the use and longevity of blunt objects, which seemed handy. Its what i put the most points in so far. Guns, blades and blunt stuff makes sense. The guy who throws his weapons doesn't make sense to me, but i didn't look at his skill tree. You can already throw your weapon as is, and it doesn't seem overtly useful as a tactic. You don't for example, sets of throwing knives. Every weapon is a single item, and you can only carry so many. Throwing them away doesn't seem like an awesome idea. But maybe the character can do mad damage with it. I don't know. I've heard complaints that the gun class is mostly useless, and so far I'd agree. I'm level 12, 5 hours in, and the only weapon I've found is a level 10 revolver with one bullet. Which means if I took cop lady I wouldn't even acquire her class weapon until level 6 or so, and not be able to use it until 4 levels later. And then I would have one bullet to shoot it with. Sad really. I tried out the gun once I hit level 10, but I missed the shot at point blank range so it was epic fail. The stats on the gun weren't even near the damage on some of my baseball bats and crowbars, so it seemed rather useless. I know later on you get shotguns and AK-47's and such so maybe the gun class comes into play WAY later in the game. Melee is so useful and obviously the core of the game however I can't imagine anyone really investing in the gun class. Especially since it practically punishes you for doing so by providing an extreme rarity of guns and ammo.

I've heard people moan about the combat but I had no trouble with it. Its all first person, and It's fun, tense and rewarding. Its also deliciously violent and has good physics. Maybe its because I'm a big fan of Dark Messiah and its equally brutal first person melee combat. Either way I found it works well.  If you have a bladed weapon you can slice off limbs or decapitate zombies. If you have a hammer or bat you can break limbs and smash heads. There's a wide variety of weapons and its fun to try them out. You can also repair (by necessity) upgrade (improve the stats of a weapon) or create modified items. So far I've made a deodorant bomb and put nails in a few bats and such. I know later on you can make silly things like electrified machetes and flaming pipes and whatnot. You have a stamina bar, and every swing uses an amount of it. Running also uses it up so you have to monitor your breathing. It recovers pretty fast if you break however, so it hasn't gotten me killed. You can also kick things which curiously uses no stamina at all, and can knock back or knock over the zombies that want to eat your face. I upgraded a skill that lets me bash and tackle zombies to the ground by running into them. Quite useful for charging into a fight or trying to escape.

Weapons do degrade way to fast which is a valid complaint. Even my buffed up weapons don't last as long as I would like, but that's why you carry 4-6 at any given time and repair them at workbenches in various areas. This costs money (what?) but you find it everywhere. You are on a luxury resort island after all. So its scattered around in cupboards, cases, luggage, and often on the bodies of the doubly dead zombies. Funnily enough it seems to survive fire, which is puzzling, but not everything in the game makes sense. It is a game after all. Speaking of fire it is absolutely gorgeous and some of, if not the, best fire I have seen in a game. So far I've used a few molotov cocktails and they create nice extra crispy zombies as you would expect.

Also Borderland-esque is when you reload a checkpoint or quit/reload the game, the zombies respawn and so do all the loot boxes. So that chest you just hit for $26 will be there again with more money or something else in it when you reload. So far I've found there's just the right amount of zombies. They aren't constant, but they aren't infrequent either. Nicely scattered around I would say. You can also find vehicles to drive, which is useful for getting around longer distances, or just ramming the undead. Its great fun to drive them over, even if vehicle controls are a little stiff.

There's an overall story, about a few groups of survivors trying to find out what's going on, and obviously, a way off the island. There's plenty of side quests as well, which I've done all of them so far. They are both silly and serious. One man just wants to get more drunk, so you can go find him 5 bottles of whiskey and he'll crash back into cabin, oblivious to the slaughter around him. Other missions see you helping people rescue loved one's, which are genuinely acted and voiced. These people don't always make it, and the characters loss is palpable, if slightly undercut by the face modeling and eyes. Voice acting is pretty good overall, if excessively australian and british. One mission which I thought was clever, happened when I was just cruising along the highway and a lady flagged me down to help pull her husband out of their overturned truck which had fallen down a hill.

So far I've fought 3 different kinds of undead, though I know there are several more I haven't seen yet. You have the basic walkers which shamble along. Then you have infected which is more the 28 days later style zombie as they run. They also emit terrifying howls before rushing you and it is creepy. Then i've run into thugs, large zombies who move slow, but have very powerful blows and can knock you over. The key is to either break or cut off their arms so they are mostly rendered useless. They will still try to bite you however, which is perhaps channeling monty python and the holy grail's black knight in a morbid fashion. You could just ignore the Thugs but they give a lot of experience and always have a lot of money or a good item on them so its worth the trouble to take them down.

So 5 hours in I know I haven't seen all of the game but I have a good feel for it. Its fun, a lot of fun actually. Giving the zombie hordes the beatdown with improvised weapons and your boot really is endless fun. Good graphics, physics and atmosphere make it even better. If I was reviewing the game I would give it a 7.5.

There are a few bugs. My keyboard gave out 3 times, and the only way i could fix it was to quit the game entirely and open it again. This happened once when i was dropping something from my inventory so I could pick up a really good weapon. But I lost it since I had to reload. There's the occasional item clipping which is common in such open world games. The island is extensive and quite pretty, but you can't go quite everywhere. You can explore, but not in the same Oblivion or Fallout 3 sort of explore. The inventory is suitable, but I found it wasn't always responsive to my mouse clicks or arrow key strokes.

Lastly there is a clever and seamless co-op feature integrated. If you have it on (and it is by default, but you can turn on "single player only") then anytime another player is detected near you in terms of story progress, you can press a key to join them, or vice versa. I tried it out a few times and it loads quickly and works well. You can talk, trade and fight alongside other players and you keep your loot, experience, mission progress etc with the host so that's nice. The only problem is you get no notification of what level the person is you are joining. So I found some level 4 people when I was 12, or a level 25 when I was level 9. Once I found a level 11 when I was 10 so that was the closest match. It would be nice if the little popup on your screen to join another player included their character level in parentheses. This matters because the zombies scale to whoever you are joining.

So overall verdict? Good fun. I look forward to playing more and playing with some friends. It has some quirks and bugs but its a solid experience. If you are a PC owner or Bootcamper and like zombie killing, I'd recommend you pick it up.
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