10 September, 2011

Dead Island

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 10 September, 2011

Dead Island has pretty much taken over my gaming this week. It's first person melee against zombies. First person melee is never perfect, but Dead Island has taken the crown (from Zeno Clash or Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. I can't remember who had it last).

A major reason it works so much better here is because Dead Island is a horror game with zombies. This means the effects of your attacks are much more varied and surprising than in other melee games. There is blood spray. There are decapitations. You can break or sever limbs, which beyond crippling your opponent, nets you bonus experience so you level faster. I often found myself breaking a zombie's arm and knocking him over. They change how they get up based on which arm is broken, and waiting to see which arm a zombie puts its weight on so you can break both its arms for maximum XP is morbidly fascinating and makes these zombies feel so much more weighty and real than the paper mache hordes of Left 4 Dead.

But you often don't have the luxury of taking an enemy apart as it's easy to aggro additional zombies and suddenly need to switch from fight to flight, keeping the tension high. Tom Chick describes this dynamic better than I.

There is also a loot progression that will have you move from broom handles and kitchen knives to sledge hammers and katanas. There are guns in the game, but their primary virtue (aside from being helpful against the odd group of armed humans you have to fight) is that they can be sold for a good chuck of change to let you upgrade your melee weapons.

Dead Island definitely has flaws. The story and characters are as throwaway as most games and action movies. The PC version released on Steam was a funky developer build. It's taken multiple patches to get the networking functional. And there are occasional other glitches. One time stomping on a zombie's head bounced me so far into the air that I died when I hit the ground. Still, when this goes on sale, I will push everyone I want to play co-op with to pick up a copy so I can join them in co-op and murder all the zombies all over again.

(I thought about taking some screen shots, but it's zombies. If you play games, you've seen zombies.)

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