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Playing catch-up: Dead Island

Dead Island

It’s disappointing to see zombies, a once terrifying twist on the vampire lore, one that used the dead to reflect a mirror on our own culture, become a mass marketed commodity that has lost all sense of meaning. It was with hope that titles such as ZombiU and The Walking Dead would regenerate these dying corpses into something more than a pop culture fart. Catching-up with Techland’s Dead Island, it’d be interesting to see which side of the fence they fell or stood upon.

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Taking a break on an island resort, possibly Australian, it’s hard to tell with the dodgy accents flying about, everything falls apart as lovers turn to devour one another and friends are forced to fight for survival. It all happens over the course of one night but any sense of real time or threat is absent throughout.

The infected aren’t zombies in the known sense, more fitting the mould of Danny Boyle’s super-rabies infected population of 28 Days Later or Valve’s popular Left4Dead series. They run and you don’t need to destroy the brain; they can bleed to death, drown, or die from repeated kicks to the shin.

“ Death wasn’t an issue or frightening”Combat soon descended into kicking over the manic populace and laying into them on the ground, the larger ones avoided or taken care of with a grenade. Death wasn’t an issue or frightening as it merely lead to a short timer and you’d be back on your feet. A few dollars lost doesn’t matter when everything, including loot, persistently respawns. Often the engine would get so overexcited it’d respawn objective enemies or a rabid holiday maker right next to me.

Many of the design choices that don’t work here are caused by basing the system too close on MMO models. The loot isn’t exciting and many of the skills are skippable. Death doesn’t matter, everything’s a fetch quest, numbers spring out of everything like a mathematical fountain, unlocking the ability to stamp on heads makes the rabid inhabitants a breeze, shooting a human enemy in the head doesn’t result in a kill due to the skill basis, and there are ample glitches throughout.

It is an endless plethora of fetch quests and plotless drivel. So much so, that’s hard to tell when anything of importance is happening. There are a few poorly directed cinematic scenes crammed in but it’s all rather la-de-da. Follow the flag, turn this thing on that no one else can be arsed doing, clearly they’re still in holiday mode, and repeat infinitum.

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One of those flags directed me to a crashed helicopter to see if there were survivors. It was unlikely as it’d been there for ages, on fire. Upon approaching the shore to investigate the crash site my bizarrely accented, goggle-eyed character came across a Russian having a bit of a sit down. A new flag on the map appeared, showing where he was to be escorted safely.

Soon there were five of the creatures reaching up at our feet from a ledge below. “Kill them”, demanded Nikolai, so I did. The Molotov exploded at their feet, engulfing them in flames within the blink of an eye. The rising fumes of burning human meat hit our nostrils. “Good”, stated the Russian. Trouble is, good wasn’t what his intelligence was. Before the flames had simmered he stepped down and set his legs alight. His clothes whipped up in fire and he fell to the ground screaming. Survivor dead. Would I like to load the last checkpoint. No. No I wouldn’t.

Then the unexpected happened later that day. A good friend got in touch, after seeing I’d been playing the game via the XBL friends’ dashboard, and asked if I’d be interested in co-op. With some hesitation I took the offer, explaining I was done playing it alone but what the hell. Perhaps the MMO system would benefit from more people playing.

“ Bearable in a mundane manner”As anticipated, playing co-operatively showed how much this is based upon grind’n’loot RPG-elements. But it didn’t mean Dead Island became any better, just somewhat bearable in a mundane manner.

As we turned the corner into an open market place we found our current mission guide Joseph standing behind an overflowing bin. We watched as he walked on the spot, blocked by a waist high object. He wouldn’t budge or move. It was the main quest and therefore not one that could be skipped. We left him, hoping he’d spawn somewhere or magically move as the infected often did, and went to fight some looters who’d taken control of a port.

Two of the thieves were on the roof and out of reach. Neither of us had a gun. Setting alighting and throwing a Molotov cocktail, one of the thugs set alight. One more to go. In the end we had to run off and make more explosive cocktails after spending ten minutes trying to figure out how to access a blocked ladder to the roof. Upon returning with the second Molotov we found that the previously charred and definitely dead punk had respawned. Deary me.

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Eventually we got rid of them both and then the front door to the port magically opened, leading to the ladder to the roof. After finally clearing the looters out we headed back to see if our guide was still lodged behind a bin. Joseph was still there. Behind that blasted bin. Stuck. Lighting the rag in a bottle of high-proof vodka I looked the troglodyte right in the eyes. Death was the only answer. Bon voyage, Dead Island.

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

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