So, because I have a mountain of goddamned debt, take my time to get through just about anything I can, and have been known to sometimes disappear for months on end, I have decided that I am going to run for political office. No, seriously, I could give a shit about holding office at this point in my life, but it does lead me to a note for any and all readers out there. This is my first post under the header of ‘Late To the Game’. That’s right. I’m creating my own tag up in this beyotch.
This entry is dedicated to a little 2011 game you may have heard of, Deep Silver’s ‘Dead Island’.
Holy shit, I love the zombie mythos. Zombies are terrifying. There’s always a ton of them, they make people shit their collective pants and turn on one another, they’re incredibly sturdy, and they eat still living human flesh which puts the capstone on a pile of terror that’s several stories tall. Sometime in the last five years, the zombie became a huge thing for the mainstream. With movies like 28 Days Later (yeah, I know they’re not technically the undead) sparking a pseudo-ironic rebirth of the genre and Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead, the humble zombie has begun to take up more and more space in the cultural spotlight. Sure, we had Resident Evil before this, as well as a bunch of other games with zombies, but Jesus… Dead Island rocks in ways other games do not.
Allow me to explain myself.
At First Glance
Everybody loves getting drunk, and this game gives you a little bit of that. Everybody also likes parties, getting drunk some more, and totally crashing a live performance on stage to a catchy diddy (in this case ‘Who Do You Voodoo, Bitch!’). And of course, everyone loves a little Schadefreude, namely watching that nice security guard offering to get you back to your room get jumped by a zombie. And people I’m told like to black out sometimes. And, that’s exactly what goes down in Dead Island’s intro. Once that’s done, you pick a survivor and wake up in a goddamned, full-on, zombie apocalypse.
The game’s motif, as mentioned earlier, is one we’re all familiar with. The world goes to shit fast, and only the strong survive. You quickly learn not to hang around anywhere too long and that running – a virtue not typically extolled in video games – is probably an important survival tactic. You also learn that stuff breaks when you hit a zombie with it enough times, but in a less irritating way than in Capcom’s ‘Dead Rising’ series (something I sincerely hope Capcom picks up on). The game pretty much lets you roam around as you see fit as well. You want to follow the story, cool. The map’s gonna tell you where your next objective is. If not, go kill zombies. Level up. Loot things. Just know that there’s a good chance you’re gonna get killed by zombies.
In this respect, it’s a fantastic sandbox filled with terror and suspense. The game offers opportunity aplenty for cheap scares in addition to a backstory that proves as engaging as the game itself.
This game is totally cool with letting you go off the rails. There’s plenty to loot and shoot, though it was kind of refreshing to see a game emphasize close combat over ranged. Zombies, largely, don’t give a good goddamn about small arms fire. Even headshots are not a definitive kill. While realism isn’t something to be expected in a zombie game (and we’ll talk about realism again in a moment), it’s incredibly difficult for the everyman to pick up a firearm and drill a zom right in the cerebellum.
Likewise, this game gives you a lot of latitude to play in a style that meets your desire. The four heroes you may select essentially come with their own inherent abilities, and different ways to develop them. The character I started with, Sam B, is a brute archetype. He has a special Rage ability which lets him go nuts on zombies with his bare fists for a short time, but if you choose to de-emphasize that you can – and I did. For a while, I was all about the Blunt Damage tree but eventually came to dominate in the Survival tree which let me carry more loot, get a lot more health back quickly, and loot more effectively.
Then there’s the focus on story over scenarios that force rage quit. The game is obviously meant to be fast and furious so you can get back to uncovering the mystery to the zombie infection. Realism need not apply – which is both good and bad (more on that later). Did you die? Yeah, that’ll happen a lot. Fortunately, you’re only out of the game for about ten seconds before coming right back in at the closest checkpoint. Back into the thick of it and killing the shit out of zombies. There are consequences – a death toll takes some cash from you whenever you snuff it and your weapons continue to degrade. So it’s not like there’s no penalty for dying, but they’re not so bad as having to start all over again.
Lastly, the atmosphere of the game is spot on. It’s very immersive and lets you feel like you’re involved in the world and to some extent with the locals. Some interactions are more heartfelt than others (I have tried killing Svetlana with an oar many times, but it won’t let you kill NPCs), but on the whole, the people you’re assisting and saving feel like good additions rather than just another dude with a yellow question mark over their heads.
You are gonna learn how to hate booze.
I don’t care if you love it in real life or have held onto your sobriety chip for years, but there’s a buggy kind of thing in the game that I like to call Boozeovision. Every so often, you’ll find that your active weapon spontaneously turns into a booze bottle. While in real life, I’d appreciate a free beer from the cosmos, when I’m in the middle of fighting a horde of biting, flailing undead, I ain’t looking to pound back some Jack. But, Dead Island thinks you need exactly that and arranges for it to happen to the tune of about once every couple hours. Died a couple times on account of Boozeovision. Not fun.
The other not fun thing I noted is that Dead Island really, really, REALLY wants you to play multiplayer. As noted in prior posts, I tend to lone wolf video games. I deal with random assholes enough on a day to day basis without having to count on them to survive a scenario. At random moments, DI just selects someone of a similar level to you in the game and pairs them up with you. In the background. Without asking. And when you leave the group, it may just sign you right back into it. Voltaire was right: hell is other people. Especially when playing Dead Island. I finally figured out how to shut it off – after Googling it. You have to actually leave play, go back to the intro menu, and select single player mode there.
Remember what I said about getting back into the thick of things? DI is really good at that, but for gamers who game for a sense of personal accomplishment or bragging rights, you will be disappointed. While I love a game that lets me get back to unraveling a story, some gamers will just read a book, channel surf or take in a flick if that’s what they want. Challenging? No. DI is not challenging. If the challenge of a game is central to your experience, you’re not gonna be big on this.
Over all, I had a goddamned blast with this title, and something tells me I’ll be playing it at least three more times since there are three more hero characters. If I feel like playing the title’s villain, there’s DLC for it to the tune of about ten bucks. Given that I bought this title used, I’d not mind tossing a couple duckets at the guys at Deep Silver so that they see some revenue off of me. If you’re looking for fast and furious zombie Armageddon, you need look no further than Dead Island!
Final Verdict: 5/5
Available on: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC ; Publisher: Deep Silver ; Developer: Techland ; Release Date: September 6, 2011; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Dead Island purchased by Hey Poor Player.