Instead of playing the entire game through and giving an overview at the end, I thought I’d assemble my minute-by-minute impressions and try to pass it off as a review. I’ve done this in the past, calling them “Twitter Reviews”. This is the same thing, but I didn’t go to the trouble of switching over to Twitter and cramming these ideas into 140 characters. So this isn’t really a Twitter review. This is something even lazier.
Okay, let’s get started:
Ah, useless title screen. You’re always there for me, to let me know I’m playing a console port. Where would I be without you? Besides one step closer to playing the game, I mean.
Let’s see… I can choose between four characters:
- A guy who is good at throwing his weapons away.
- A guy who is good at blunt weapons.
- A chick who is good at edged weapons and having low health.
- Purna, a woman who is an expert at shooting stuff.
Given what I know about zombies (damn near everything) and what I know about guns, bullets, and the interaction between these and the human cranium, I’d have to say Purna has got to be my first choice. My second choice would be Purna again, followed by more Purna, followed by, “What was I thinking? Why didn’t I choose Purna?”
Her character intro tells me that, “I used to be a cop. A damn good one.” I think maybe there was something in there about her being a loose cannon who doesn’t play by the rules, but I’m in too much of a hurry to shoot zombies to investigate further.
Okay, so we meet ubiquitous voice actor Steven Blum in the tutorial. So that’s out of the way. I’ll give him credit: His Australian accent is every bit as good as the other Australian accents in this game.
Also, just the other day we were talking about the tendency for new games to make everything look like dull plastic. I offer this game as Exhibit A for the prosecution.
Man, the game keeps prompting me to hot-join other players. I was careful to specify that I wanted single player when I launched this game, not co-op. I feel like ten minutes ago I told the used car salesman I didn’t want the rustproofing guarantee, and now he keeps bringing it up in conversation. I don’t see any way to turn this off. Is this the game? This message, with random names, forever?
“Screw you and your sense of immersion, buddy. There are frat boys out there who need to tell the world how high they are and how much of a faggot you are.”
Summoning all my willpower, I somehow find the strength to not press J.
Okay, I think I get this game now. We’ve got the ability to carry a dozen improvised weapons. The weapons degrade over time, and must be repaired or replaced. And apparently every object in the game is made of laminated Play-Doh. I can understand the degradation of wooden objects, but a metal pipe should not be bent and ruined after a half-dozen blows to zombified noggins.
Swinging a weapon depletes the stamina bar, so you have to make your swings count. I actually have to line up my shots with the mouse, instead of just spamming attack. Also, there’s a stamina bar for sprinting, so you can’t just sprint everywhere and play hit & run with the undead.
Apparently I have a “kick” move. It uses no stamina, interrupts any attack, knocks foes down, can hit multiple enemies at once, and doesn’t degrade my weapon condition. I’m having flashbacks to Rutskarn’s series on The Boot Lord. It’s the same foot every time, in the same daring, high-stepping style. I feel like a Rockette! I’m half-tempted to join one of those frat boys now so they can experience the pure joy of a middle-aged man playing a woman who is dancing her way through the zombie apocalypse with heedless gaiety.
I’m level four and the game hasn’t given me a gun yet. I’m sort of feeling a bit cheated with regard to character choice.
I’m not trying to be a puritanical busybody, and I don’t want to ruin anyone’s vacation here, but maybe if zombie bites are that much of a concern we should think about putting on some shirts and pants? The plastic sheen on your skin tells me you’re laying on the sunblock really thick. Maybe that’s good enough, but I’m just saying that having a layer or two of cotton and denim between your flesh and their teeth wouldn’t hurt. Just a suggestion.
Okay, I’m level six, and someone has given me a revolver as a quest reward. A revolver which requires me to be level 10 to use. They must have very loose standards about what constitutes a “damn good cop” in Australia. I would say that as a bare minimum, a cop should be capable of comprehending the point-and-click interface of a firearm. This isn’t a harrier jet.
|This isn’t Nikolai. I forgot to get shot of him, so here is another shot of his brother in voice, Sinimoi.|
I’m out to rescue a chopper pilot. I reach him to find the voice of Steven Blum again, only this time he’s Nikolai, a wise-cracking Russian pilot. No, wait, suddenly a different voice actor is reading his lines. No, now we’re back to Blum again.
I escort him (yes, escort missions) to a nearby fort, which looks to be the makings of my next quest hub. Nikolai gives me a quest, and then I hop downstairs to look for goodies. I end up in a very small room with an exploding zombie and get one-shotted to death. Sigh. Respawning, I return to find Nikolai is gone. His quest is gone. The quest to rescue him is listed as “complete”, but I have no access to him or the jobs he might be offering. So… I guess that’s it for this place? Hm.
The tone of this game is all over the place. Sometimes it’s silly, like when some nutty woman gives me a quest to rescue her teddy bear, or a woman tasks me with gathering up a bunch of champagne. There’s even a Fallout 3 – style thirst quest. One woman will pay me for water. She’s five steps from the bathroom where presumably the water is still on, but she complains of severe dehydration no matter how much I bring her. Nobody else ever complains about being thirsty, not even her bungalow-mates.
At the other end of the spectrum are these desperate, serious quests where people pour out their hearts telling me sob stories about their loved ones. These are sometimes really dark. They’re well-acted, but the acting is completely undercut by the dead-eye, plastic-faced character models. The voice actress is weeping her guts out to tell me about her lost love, and her character model is blank faced, and she looks over my right shoulder while her head bobbles around aimlessly. This wouldn’t be so bad if the camera didn’t zoom in on their face for these conversations. If the designers used a BioWare-style third-person camera instead of a Bethesda-style closeup they might get away this this.
Also, I’m level ten, and I’ve finally unlocked the secret knowledge that will allow my “damn good cop” to equip a gun and point it at people. And now I see that this gun, which I’ve been carrying around for four levels, came with exactly one bullet. None of the shops carry extra bullets. I’m starting to feel really cheated with regards to my character choice.
I’m trying to run over some zombies, but instead of flattening them under the tires of my mighty rolling fortress, I sort of shuffled them along in front of me. Thinking I was being clever, I decided to flatten them against the wall. But instead they just passed through the wall, and are now inside the building. Frustratingly, they are tagged as mandatory targets. I have to kill them in order to proceed. I need to kill them in order to get the people inside this building to open up the building so I can kill these zombies. Hm. Looks like it’s time to restart from my previous checkpoint.
Speaking of which, this save system sucks. It decides when I get a checkpoint save, but a checkpoint save isn’t a real save. If I die, I come back to the checkpoint, but if I leave the game or (ahem) crash, then I’ll end up at some random point in the past. How do I know the difference between a checkpoint save and a real save? I don’t. I have no idea. Any time I quit the game I end up losing some random amount of progress. And it won’t let me manually save, not even in a safe house. I can force a checkpoint save by using fast-travel from one safe house to the next, but this doesn’t always result in a real save.
It’s really jolting when I get to a cutscene and suddenly it depicts all four player characters.
Hey, somebody has given me fifteen bullets as a quest reward. I guess I can start thinking about using my character class now. I had to reach level ten before I was allowed to use the weapon. I had to spend a bunch of skill points before I was allowed to use guns in general. And I had to reach level twelve before I was given any bullets. I am now feeling like this entire character class is some sort of elaborate trolling on the part of the game designers. Guns had better be a world-shattering gamebreaker for all of this hassle and expense.
Okay, boss fight time. Twelve feet tall. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for. I’ve got fifteen bullets that have been burning a hole in my pocket. Let’s ruin somebody’s day.
(Ten seconds later.)
I shoot this guy in the FACE and it does exactly one point of damage. For contrast, at level 1, your starting melee weapon does about 25-30 points of damage. I’m now level 15, and my weapons are in the 200 damage range. I’m using the firearm specialist character class. I’ve spent skill points, reserved inventory slots, hoarded bullets… for THIS?
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The boss lets out a conspicuous roar, charges you, you leap out of the way, and he slams face-first into the wall. Then you walk up behind him and hit him a few times before he turns around. Repeat until dead.
So I guess this entire character class is useless and stupid? Or maybe that’s just the game. It’s really hard to tell right now.
Gah. I’m dying a lot. My boot isn’t the problem-solver it once was. I’m fighting larger groups of foes now. It used to be I was fighting between 1 and 3 foes, but now most fights are between 2 and 6. Dying subtracts about a fifth of your cash, which is a serious setback. (You need money for repairs. I’m not sure why. You do the repairs yourself at a workbench. I guess you’re repairing the weapons with money?)
Whatever. The point is, I’ve got a lot of modified weapons and they take a huge pile of cash to maintain. I need a way to play around with group combat without losing all of my hard-won cash. The best plan is probably to just go back to the beach and practice on some low-level mooks.
Now that I’ve returned to the previous area, I see the level 1 zombies I fought in the tutorial are gone, and replaced by zombies of my level. I’ve noticed I never run into lower-level foes before, but I thought it was because I was sticking to the story missions. I didn’t realize this was part of the design. Every single foe in the game levels with you, always, everywhere. Note that the only reason I need to keep upgrading and replacing my weapons is to keep up with the higher-level infected. I’ve actually been screwing myself by doing all of the sidequests, by forcing myself to turn over my weapon collection more frequently.
So I guess this entire leveling system is useless and stupid? Or maybe that’s just the game.
|Look, I understand you can’t make the world infinite in size. I totally understand the need for walls around the game world. But if you don’t want me bumping into those walls, then stop placing items and waypoints to draw me towards them!|
I hike all the way into the city to get some insulin for a woman in the church. I visit several pharmacies, get the drugs, and put down a lot of infected. Takes about forty-five minutes. I get back, and get my reward. Then I try to use the fast-travel map. The map blinks on for a second, then vanishes. The map is no longer interactive. I can’t go anywhere. Well, I just hit a couple of checkpoints on my way in, and after I completed the quest, so I should be good. I dump out to the main menu and restart the game.
When I return, I find the insulin quest hasn’t been done. The last forty-five minutes of fighting, shopping, upgrading, exploring, leveling, and questing. Gone.
You know what? Screw this game. I was getting a really low return on investment already, and this setback just pushed me far into the negatives.
So that’s Dead island. Wonderful atmosphere and scenery, and a fresh setting for a zombie apocalypse – all of which is undercut or ruined by bone-headed gameplay decisions and bugs.
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