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Dead Island

A game that I actively loathe.

Played on PC (Steam)

This is my third attempt at documenting my Dead Island playthrough.   I lost focus during my previous attempts from the intense rage felt when describing the experience.

Trying to recount my playthrough in a coherent, flowing structure became so irritating that I’m now not going to bother.

Instead I will describe each individual aspect of the game I found negative in the hope it will dissuade people from giving the creators any money.

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Movement and Combat

There is a realistic weight to motion, resulting in a half second delay between pressing ‘move’ to when actual movement occurs.  It takes another second or so for the character to reach their normal speed.  This acceleration type movement felt sickening and was one of the primary sources of frustration during combat.

For example; a zombie would telegraph its attack, usually a lazy swing of its arm,  whereupon I would press the ‘back’ key.  My character would then linger just a second too long before moving, taking a hit and receiving an exaggerated amount of damage.

Eventually melee fighting devolved into a process of stepping in, taking a swing, stepping out and hoping the weapon connected.  Kicks allow you to interrupt enemy attacks but deal little damage and are easy to mistime.

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You can acquire guns but these aren’t nearly as damaging or as fast as melee weapons (except on humans where headshots kill, but human enemies are rarely encountered).

I never felt that taking damage was my own fault, but the fault of the hideously sluggish movement.  Any hits I received felt cheap, unfair and especially infuriating when fighting the ‘Thug’ enemies – larger, even slower moving zombies that could shove me to the floor.  Too often I was knocked back regardless of how much time, or room, the situation suggested.

RPG Elements

Any satisfaction from leveling up a character is nullified as enemies will also level up to match the increased stats.  Attacks hit harder but enemies are equally tougher,  so zombies at level 20 feel the very same to kill as they were at level 1.  Even zombies in earlier areas will increase.  There was never any sense that I had improved, regardless of my level, or the numbers on my weapon.

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Such scaling up of existing opponents is a lazy (or cheap) way to avoid creating new and varied enemy types.  Instead of introducing new zombies/monsters with different tactics, the same bog standard zombies have their numbers scaled up.

Different enemies ARE introduced during the game, 3 additional ‘special’ zombie types, but these are sparsely encountered and make up a tiny percentage of the horde.

Modifying and upgrading weapons reduces the number of hits required to kill an enemy but the difference isn’t great – for example it may take three hits to kill instead of four.

There is just no way to get a consistent edge on enemies.  Outside of the rare critical hits or the ‘Fury’ special attacks (which are can be very easy to waste), there is no tactic or weapon that will immediately dispatch a zombie and as a result combat never feels that skill is being rewarded.

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The intention of this system may have been to avoid enemies becoming trivial, but there are so many zombies that combat quickly becomes tedious.

Questing

Quests – particularly side quests, are insultingly contrived, especially given the disposition of the quest givers.

Almost all NPCs are young, beach-bodied, attractive summer-bay types that together, could form a small army to retake the island.  Instead, they beg you and your 3 moronic companions for help.

Find me expensive Champagne.  Rescue my teddy (yes, seriously).  Find my necklace.  Get the cash from my apartment.

…and so on.  Some are more serious, such as rescue missions, but the above quest types were far too common.  All of which require you to traverse an island swarming with hostile zombie monsters.

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Though optional, I still felt pressured to pick up these quests.  NPCs pleaded as I passed and their exclamation points littered the minimap, generating the same anxiety I feel in real life when seeing the NCT reminder on my calendar.

It’s painful to have to listen to an NPC beg you to help with a completely non-essential task when everyone could be killed at literally any moment should the defenses fail.  You and your companions are immune, but surely your time is best not wasted on trivial nonsense.

I felt very real contempt for every NPC in the game.  Perfectly capable of organization and perhaps even taking back the Island, but still not willing to lift a finger to help themselves.

I genuinely felt like I was being made a fool of and eventually ignored every side quest.  The aforementioned scaling of enemies meant that any XP reward was meaningless and the weapons obtained through main missions were just as (in)effective as those awarded from side quests.

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One might argue that the hopelessly ineffectual NPC’s are a statement on how helpless rich people are in a crisis situation.  If this was an attempt at parody then A) It wasn’t funny and B) was an active detriment to the experience.

Tone

Dead Island attempts to depict a cruel and tragic world but completely undermines itself with its own characters and events – to a point where I felt genuinely disgusted.

Jin, a supporting character, is an attractive young girl who is eager to help survivors.  The protagonists take her in after her father (and only protector) is killed.

Being astonishingly naive, she attempts to bring supplies to a group of murderous raiders that have taken over a police station.  Raiders that are literally broadcasting that they will kill anyone approaching.

Jin is kidnapped and you must rescue her as part of the main story.  You fight through the station and find her in a very distraught state,  at which point it is revealed that the raiders kidnapped her to ‘Use her’.

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Just like Assassin’s Creed 2 and Tomb Raider there isn’t the backbone to explicitly say rape.   I find this subject matter considerably distressing and require no reminder of it’s universal awfulness, but Dead Island’s approach of ‘we will imply it to depict a cruel world but avoid explicit confirmation’ – is insulting to all involved.

Explicitly stating rape, or adding further in game discussion would have likely added a content warning of ‘Sexual Violence’ and few publishers are going to have that near their product.  Dead Island likely addressed the topic non-explicitly to remain ‘rateable’ (i.e sellable).

I have no expectation (nor desire) for the act to be displayed but it could at least not be tip toed around in such a cowardly way.

The Witcher series tends to be far more upfront about this subject matter, and not in a gratuitous way either.  The topic is consistent with the tone of the Witcher’s world and carries the disturbing weight without having to depict the offense.

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In Dead Island there is a mess of messages about the victim.  The protagonists outright say it was her own fault – which is right up there with saying ‘she was asking for it’.

**SPOILER**

Jin dies during the finale, gunned down when jumping at the main villain to save a character being held at gunpoint.  Towards the latter part of the game (leading up to this moment) she becomes more and more distraught.

The kidnapping was likely included to spark or further amplify her breakdown, possibly motivating her sacrifice and eagerness to throw away her life.

In The Last of Us a character commits suicide following the loss of a loved one, a moment which was absolutely believable.  It was effective because you got to know the person and could understand the depressing logic behind the decision.  This scene had enormous weight and made me feel genuinely sad and empathetic.

***END SPOILER***

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Dead Island on the other hand, just made me feel sick.  There is no logic in her action to approach the raider (naive is not stupid), and the whole situation felt contrived.

The implied sexual violence, the mental break down and willingness for a character throw their life away felt like just a tool to service the ending – and to me, trivialised topics that require a bit more respect.

What kind of hammer breaks after 10 swings?

Money is used ingame to purchase weapons and items from vendors.  What bothered me is that you also need currency to repair your weapons – at a repair bench.

Is the bench trying to feed its family?  Why is this costing money?  Why is money needed to modify items when I have all the parts required and the bench on which to work?  The cost of upgrades, mods and repairs become ludicrously expensive later into the game ($1000 to repair a knife!).

I know the design reason, it’s another grind.  Another method to keep you out in the world farming items and money.  Another number to reach.  A skinner box tactic to keep you playing a game – a game which is not free to play nor subscription based, so no one can profit from you wasting your time.

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Thanks for saving us!  Have these numbers

Dead Island tries to be a loot game also, with piles of weapons dropping with many stats.  However, You just end up replacing items with the biggest number.  There is no visual difference in similar item types of different quality.  So a meat cleaver that is picked up early and delivers 20 damage will look identical to a meat cleaver picked up far into the game that delivers 1000 damage.

Simply  having set weapons would have felt more rewarding, such as starting with a pipe and later finding a more damaging hammer, then on to knives, swords etc…  Instead a situation can occur whereby a bit of plumbing pipe is considerably more damaging than a Spinning saw blade that shoots fire.

The HUD is battered with text and picture.  Your health,  stamina, ammo, weapon degradation and enemy info is displayed through UI.  The screen is a mess of numbers and health bars which completely kills the game’s attempt at a serious atmosphere, especially when seeing cartoon numbers spill out of an enemy’s head.

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No Friends

There is no consideration taken for playing alone.  Ingame cutscenes include all four characters, who never appear during solo gameplay.  Picture playing Left4dead by yourself, but with no bots filling in the role of the other characters.

You wake up by yourself at the beginning of the game and progress through the main story solo (if playing single player), but at the first cutscene all four members are shown.  At no point is there a scene where these people met and agreed to team up.  I had no idea who they were.

Annoyingly they converse as if they have a history.  Accusing each other as being cruel, naive, as being the ‘good one’ and so on, but the development of these relationships is never shown.  I was utterly confused, and had no reason to care about any of them.

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I’ve only so many hours in this life.

The game improved when I stopped caring.

First were side missions.  I  walked right passed any NPCs declaring that they ‘Have a job for me’ or were begging for my help.  Fully grown, healthy adults asking me to go to the store can waste their own time, not mine.

I quit caring about my skills and dumped all points into survival with literally no thought.

I ignored weapon modding and replaced weapons with anything displaying a higher number.

I ran past every enemy and only fought when something needed defending.

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The game almost became fun.  I felt like my actions were progressing the story.  I encountered more humans enemies that died from headshots, making me feel like my skill was being rewarded.

Any fun I had simply showcased the colossal amount of pointless and unnecessary stuff crammed into Dead Island.  Strip all that away and the game becomes tolerable.

None of this is nearly enough for me to recommend the game though.  

Dead Island simply wastes too much time with pointless side quests.  Frustrates with tedious and gimmicky mechanics.  Disgusts with it’s spectacularly insulting attempts at seriousness, and generates intense disdain for it’s own protagonists.

I would not recommend Dead Island.

  • Stjepan Bartolic

    Thanx.
    Me and my sons were (for years) hooked on Left4Dead2, but recently we are in pursuit to find another game to chase (and be chased by) zombies. This one is obviously stinker. You saved us time and money.
    Thanx again.

    • I’m glad you found it of some help :) I’ve heard that Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide is very similar mechanically to Left4Dead, but in a fantasy setting instead of Zombies. I’ve not played it myself, but it may be worth checking out.

  • Cheyno Mdingi

    Good reviews, actually. I was originally a bit miffed about your distaste for the Heretic/Hexen series, but you make a lot of valid points in all your reviews. @Stjepan, dying light is a great coop zombie game