Random Musings on Dead Island

The Steam Sale is coming up soon which motivated me to get a bit more serious about clearing out some of The Pile™. The latest thing I cleared was Dead Island, which had been sitting there for about two years now. Well, having played it my only real reaction is “at least it’s off the pile”.

I like the general idea of the game. Yeah, zombies themselves are well past their use-by date at this point but there is still something about the “group of survivors after terrible event” genre that I find appealing. I just don’t think Dead Island did it particularly well. Actually, I don’t think that most games do it particularly well, but Dead Island managed to check off everything I find irritating about the genre.

As I’ve said many times I play games for the stories, not the mechanics. In this case the characters you can play have some interesting backstories, but they have nothing to do with the game itself once past the initial character selection screen. It would have been nice to see the game world (or the missions you can undertake) react to the background of the character you are playing. I get it, this is an action game, not an RPG, but it would have been nice to see something.

The story itself is cliché but not horrible and there are some interesting bits in there, but they’re all a bit buried and you can actually miss a lot of them if you don’t dig around in the side missions and listen through the cutscenes. I suspect most people just click through to get the next mission waypoint. But at least there was something there.

As for the actual game, well, that’s where I had problems.

First, does anyone anywhere really like degrading weapons? I get the idea; it forces the players to always be scrambling for resources. And yeah, a katana does lose its edge pretty quickly. But how fast does a baseball bat wear out? Really?

Second, you can’t clear out areas. Part of the “survival” genre should be reclaiming areas, creating safe zones, getting sources for essentials and that sort of thing. Here you can’t. Kill all the zombies in the area and when you come back through later they have all returned. Yes, I get that more can wander into the area, but the inability to clear out areas makes the whole thing seem pointless. (I’ll point out that at the end of the game you don’t rescue the other survivors; you just get away yourself.)

Of course the survivors don’t seem to want your help. Not really. Oh sure, they’ll ask you to do things for them but they won’t help you themselves.

Part of the background of the game is that you are naturally immune to the zombie virus, so you can be scratched or bitten and not succumb to the disease. That’s why you are the one going out and risking your life while everyone else stays in the shelter. That’s fine.

But then, if you need something from the shelter, you have to buy it! Yes, I’m risking my life to save yours, but if I need a new weapon or a box of ammo I’m going to have to pay money for it. Does that even make sense? Maybe that’s why you leave them at the end.

And it’s really weird that you are alone for most of the game but that the cutscenes seem to imply that all four of the playable characters are travelling together. Where are the other three when I’m fighting a horde of zombies?

So again we have a game with what could be an interesting story that turns into nothing but a shooting gallery where you fight your way through an army’s worth of enemies just to get from point A to point B.

Banoi island looks like it would be a lot of fun to explore. And the first part of the game does seem to be somewhat open. But when you get to the city it turns into just a long series of corridors. Even the outdoor sections in the jungle consists of roads and paths with inaccessible rocks or jungle on either side. Too bad. There are a lot of areas on the island that I would have liked to explore. There may have even been a story there.

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