Impressions: 15 Hours With Dead Island

By John Walker on September 7th, 2011 at 10:48 am.

Welcome to Dead Island. I'll be your holiday rep.

Dead Island was released (in some manner) in the US yesterday, and arrives in the UK, once it’s painstakingly paddled across the massive oceans of the internet, on Friday. I’ve been playing it for a long, long time, and yet still haven’t got anywhere near its ending. And as such, even though I’m about to tell you Wot I Think, in the interests of probity will offer you my Impressions.

When playing the great game of marital influences, the most obvious route to take with Techland’s Dead Island is “Left 4 Dead meets Dead Rising”. (And yes, “Game Z is a cross between Game X and Game Y” is lazy reviewing. But Dead Island really is that. Perhaps to a fault. It’s hard to credit the creators with too many original ideas of their own.) That makes a lot of technical sense. It’s an up-to-four player co-op zombie survival game, in which you’re given series of challenges from survivors to complete in an ever-growing hub-based island, packed with the undead. It pretty much falls exactly between the two games. But having spent a great many hours playing, and still being apparently only halfway through the game, I’m making a different, slightly more esoteric call. This is Borderlands meets that game YOU love that everyone else feels falls short.

It’s also a great game. A great game somewhat obscured by some fairly severe issues, that I suspect will never be quite realised for what it should have been for a couple of years, when the fans are done fixing it. But I also suspect that there will be such fans, because it’s a game that deserves them.

This isn’t the game of that trailer. It isn’t the frantic survival simulation many were hoping for. On an island where resources are essentially infinite, and cupboards respawn contents if you only go away for long enough, you can forget the lonely, desperate struggle that many (including us) had hoped the game would be. But its not being those things doesn’t mean it isn’t something else. And what it is, is a huge, dumb and intriguing game full of more gore than the combined works of Troma.

Playable as a solo game (which is how I approached it) or with up to four players in a team, you and your potential buddies are stranded on a large holiday resort island, which is ever-so-slightly populated by zombies. It turns out that you are one of very few people who are immune to the bite of the undead. You can still be injured or killed by them, but you won’t become one of them. And that makes you special. It also means that you’re the person everyone’s going to ask to do their odd jobs for them.

Beginning on a beach resort, you’re quickly gathering side quests, alongside main missions to reach a nearby lighthouse and another collection of survivors, while brutally caving in the skulls and ribcages of anything that walks with a shuffle.

Weapons are mostly found, and then augmented. A baseball bat, once you’ve discovered the modding details, can become the basis for a motorised spinning blade on the end of a club, for instance. The parts necessary are scattered about the island in bins and bags, or in the pockets of your victims, and can then be combined on workbenches scattered in the various safe zones. Each weapon very rapidly degrades, meaning they must be used judiciously, with repairs extremely expensive.

That’s combined with your own frailty. You’re pretty tough, as it goes (somewhat dependent on which character you picked and their personal skills), but you’re still human. Stamina plays a massively important role, meaning you can’t just endlessly swing a weighty axe into the faces on the oncoming hordes forever and ever. In fact, you’ll get tired extremely quickly if you play this way. Instead you must fight wisely, aiming your blows carefully, and using your equipment cunningly. For instance, randomly thwacking at a zomb is not nearly as effective as sweeping their legs out from under them with your mace, then brutally stamping their head in when they hit the ground. Your weapon lasts longer, and so do you.

Missions make sense for the setting. Someone may ask you to find a trapped loved one, kill an undead family member, or recover their teddy bear. Er, it’s quite a creepy adult women who asks for that one. And while you can spend too much time traipsing between them, there’s generally an awful lot to do.

Right, that’s the framework, here’s what actually happens:

I think it works. I think it works well. Except for, well, all the things that don’t work so well. I’m good at this writing lark. But the most important thing is, despite the collection of issues, despite the dumb decisions and leaden movement, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing it. I want to play it more. Although that’s not to say that I don’t have lots to complain about.

I think the most significant, immediate, and constant failing for me is the movement. It’s so, so sluggish. Oddly it gets sprint right where most games get it terribly wrong – you can run for a good distance, with the clever expense of meaning when you encounter some bads, your stamina will be lower for the fight. But the general air of the game is one of walking in custard, flinging your limbs around as if they’re bags on sand on the end of rope. And this becomes most frustrating when you sidestep. Walking forward goes at a slightly too slow pace, but dare to hit A or D and you’ll grind to a crawl. Which, you could quite reasonably argue, is realistic. Walking sideways does slow you down, after all. But let’s just say that Dead Island isn’t a game that lets realism trouble it all too often.

Good lord, it’s weird. This is a world in which it costs over $1000 to fix a broken baseball bat. Who is charging this money is never explained, and exactly what it’s being spent on is never made clear. But so it is that when it comes to repairing your favourite augmented weapon, the bill can be staggering. It’s damned strange enough that people are selling you the bare essentials for survival as it is. After all, you’re the only person who dares to go outside, and you’re working to save their lives. But still, they want over $3000 for that machete they have. But that you have to pay money to fix or upgrade your equipment is mind-boggling.

Of course, it’s a way to force more careful resource management. Money arrives from all over, in this peculiar parody of capitalism, with about half the zombies you kill carrying a pile of dosh, much more to be found in discarded suitcases, and then large wads of the stuff handed to you in return for completing quests. “But, if you’d just stop valuing your money in such a weird way during this apocalypse, this would be so much easier for everyone” I lecture the game.

Things get even more strange in your inventory. You are capable of carrying about ten weapons at the start, with more slots unlockable should you spend your skill points on levelling up on such things. But then you can also carry infinity bits and bobs for the recipes. Apart from bottles of alcohol, that take up a weapon slot. Even though they’ve visibly smaller than the bottles of water, of which you can carry hundreds. Sure, games and their inventories have always been bizarre, but here it really seems to go out of its way to be unhelpful. And perhaps I’m just Earth’s greatest genius, but I’m not convinced I need to collect a set of instructions to know how to drive some nails into the end of a baseball bat.

Perhaps a more serious issue appears in the combat, which is for the most part absolutely brilliant. Sluggish, yes, but the enforced thought that’s required to survive a crowd of zombies makes for something so much more interesting than the average first-person melee game. I love deliberately aiming my cleaver at the arms of one of the tougher baddies, a Thug, so he’s got nothing left to punch me with. And in the game. And wow, is it gory. So very, very gory.

I cannot remember a game this gruesome, and really any argument that gaming hasn’t desensitised me to fantasy violence is proven as nonsense by my willingness to tolerate the horror before me. As I’m deliberately slicing off the head of a fallen former-human, such that the neck stump gushes forth with vile, congealed blood, the viscera-smeared face rolling away in a fixed grimace of pain, I do wonder what’s become of me, and society. Then I do it again. Combined with the wonderfully hideous sound effects (so bad my squeamish fiancée left the room before she’d even looked at the screen, and even my cat became too upset by it all to sleep on my desk as I played), this is the most remarkable display of grotesquery I’ve seen.

Annoyingly, later on it starts to be a bit cheaty. On a micro scale, enemies seem to be able to hit you despite your clearly having hit them first, or reach you despite your having backed off considerably. Which if it’s a killing blow feels needlessly unfair. On a macro scale, the strange choice has been made to have the zombies level to match you, no matter where you go. Clearly this makes for a fair fight as you progress, and you’ll not encounter an area you’re not ready for yet if you choose to explore. But it also means that returning to those opening resort beaches to mop up a missed quest offers no satisfaction whatsoever. Heading back at level 20, I was really keen to give those level 1s to 15s what for. But the dead bastards were all 20 and 21 now, and I was offered no sense of having progressed or improved.

However, there’s a decent mix of zombie types, which at least keeps things more interesting. Walkers do exactly that (while also offering the entertainment of seeing my name above the monstrous rotting carcass of a bikini-clad horror), and will stumble menacingly, then freaking you out by lunging forward and grabbing you by the lapels. The Infected, who troublingly look more human, sprint. And they sprint fast, from around corners, while screaming. Timing the swing of a larger weapon becomes essential, or they’ll take a chunk out of you. There are Thugs, bigger boys who take much more tactical attacks. And there are the straight-jacketed beasts who ram into you, sending you flying. And so on.

It’s probably important to note that the review code I was working on is clearly not the same as the accidentally released dev code that came out in the States this week, and I’ve not found it to be a particularly buggy affair. There have been a couple of strange error messages popping up, but neither actually crashed the game nor seemed to make a difference. And while vehicles seem to be a bit prone to getting wedged in between the scenery, beyond this it’s seemed impressively stable.

And gosh, it’s beautiful. The island looks incredible with the PC settings cranked up, only spoilt by an unnecessarily short draw distance for grass textures. Water and fire are clearly shortcuts, which again is a bit of a shame, but otherwise it really does look spectacular. Which makes walking through the soup of victims’ body parts at the end of a larger fight all the more stomach-turning.

Back to my initial marriage. The Borderlands comparison is because this really is incredibly similar in design. Four-player co-op that scales down to solo, with hub-based quests, moddable weapons, and RPG skill trees and XP. The other reference is more… metaphorical. For me it was Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. While what I’ve encountered (to what I think may be only the midway point after about 15-20 hours of playing) has certainly not offered anything of the extraordinary writing, twists and intelligence of Redemption, and indeed hasn’t collapsed into unfinished madness (there’s still time), I can’t help but shake that sense that this is a game that will be much misunderstood, and horribly underappreciated.

That initial cinematic, the backward video of the death of the child, was always going to be something Dead Island couldn’t live up to. What’s good is that it doesn’t try. It’s sombre in places, and some of the quests are pretty tragic in tone, but it’s ultimately about plunging electrified cleavers into the screeching faces of recently revitalised corpses. While you perhaps spend too long in each hub, with different areas looking extremely similar, there are so many side quests being thrown at you that there’s always something to be doing. The map will intricately guide you to wherever you need to be, and there’s even fast travel between hubs for when you get sick of traipsing down the same streets.

For once here’s a game where I want to stick a score on the end of the review, just to make it clear that the 5s and 6s it’s been receiving are plain wrong. There’s enormous ambition here, and much of it is realised. It’s on a huge scale, extremely involved, and for all its illogical inconsistency it holds itself together well.

And that’s just the single-player. Like Borderlands, I find myself actually wanting to play with other people – a feeling so rare to me I wonder if I’m coming down with something.

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143 Comments »

  1. Lavs says:

    “When playing the great game of marital influences, the most obvious route to take with Techland’s Dead Rising”

    Oops.

    • FCA says:

      “Game Z is a cross between Game X and Game Z” is lazy reviewing indeed ;)

    • Brumisator says:

      The game was already rereleased on steam after the unfortunate leak incident., AND the day one patch is out.

    • CaspianRoach says:

      It was only broken on US Steam segment iirc and there is a patch already which fixes that plus some other bugs for gold version.

    • John Walker says:

      Oh poo on you all. Fixed, thanks : )

      Also, this was the review code we were sent, which we reviewed from. It is, as I say in the text (weep), not the incorrect version released on Steam yesterday.

    • wild_quinine says:

      “I think it’s a little unfair to review the game on day 1 when it’s known to be a bit broken by complete accident and a patch is on the way, isn’t it?”

      1. No. Ship it working, or get bad reviews.
      2. Impressions, boy, impressions.

    • Balobam says:

      Not particularly, besides, he’s been using the review code and put in 15 hours, that’s a good amount of time to get a good impression. Or think. Is this a WIT or Just An Impression?

      Or is this some sort of amalgamation of the two, a “Just A Think” piece?

      The real kicker is that I was expecting something so much more different, I thought it was going to be a game in which the zombies actually outpower you, so you have to think fast and probably run a lot more than fight, like most people would IRL when this definitely happens.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      Well, despite all the speculation, Deep Silver hasn’t actually confirmed that it was a dev build. They did say it had some features that weren’t supposed to be there, but they haven’t stated one way or another anything about the build.

      All they’ve done thus far is release a patch that removes y-clipping and some junk developer files and such.

      It’d be nice if they’d release statement saying what was up.

  2. wild_quinine says:

    “that game YOU love that everyone else feels falls short.”

    Probably Tresspasser… so I can see the Island, where are my dinosaurs?

  3. Jockie says:

    For some reason I thought John would end up hating this game, from what I’ve read from other reviews – no good unless co-op, tries too hard to be emotional and completely fails, women with ludicrous proportions – pleasantly suprised and might have to pick this up.

  4. Burning Man says:

    Very nicely done, but is this a Wot I Think, or is it Just A Set Of Impressions?

  5. HexagonalBolts says:

    mhm, a little dissapointing, I’ll give it a go if I can get a motley band of friends to take on the undead hordes with me. I really do wish someone would come out with something a little more thoughtful than a zombie run and gun with a spattering of rpg elements, I mean there are so many amazing things you could do, survival elements, building a fortress to survive, rescuing and recruiting civilians to your fortress, rival fortresses…

  6. MultiVaC says:

    Argh, level scaling! Most of the other issues seem to be the sort of thing I wouldn’t have much trouble dealing with if the game is reasonably interesting and worthwhile, which it sounds like Dead Island is. But the level scaling… that one might be tough to look past.

    • Prime says:

      I was all set to purchase the game after reading about the gore but then the revelation of Oblivion’s broken level-scaling technique practically killed that impulse stone dead. Marry that to the ‘cheat’ aspects and you’ve got the experience of fighting the game rather than the Zombies. No thanks, developers.

      I’ll come back to this in a year or so. Maybe by then someone will have found a way to get around the baked-in stupidity.

    • Pathetic Phallacy says:

      I believe you’re confusing “I don’t like it” with “broken”.

    • Grygus says:

      I disagree, PP. If you have a level-based game and then give the enemies unlimited level scaling, you’ve broken your premise; what’s the point of levels if you are always the baseline?

    • Blackseraph says:

      I disagree as well with you PP, oblivion’s level scaling truly was broken, it was more than possible to make character in it that just couldn’t progress eventually, because of that level scaling, also you were able to win arena at lvl 1, in fact that was when it was easiest.

      I doubt this game level scaling can be just as broken than oblivions was (because that would be a trick), but it is a moronic that this game have that at all.

    • MadJax says:

      And I disagree with most of you, having played Dead Island for a good 8 hours now, one thing is clear about the level scaling.

      it’s not Oblivion.

      Oblivion was crap in the fact that your character was supposed to get stronger and better. Starting as a peasant and rising to a knight for example, so scaling enemies didn’t make sense.

      Dead Island isn’t about your character getting stronger and superhuman against the zombies, the levels, to me anyway, represent your character learning new skills and improving said skills. Yes, your health bar gets longer, but it doesn’t take much for a Thug and 2 zombies to tear you apart if yoru not careful.

      I’d be more concerned about the death system: You lay down for 7 seconds then appear a few meters away a few hundred dollars lighter… Not enough punishment.

    • Brise Bonbons says:

      “I disagree, PP. If you have a level-based game and then give the enemies unlimited level scaling, you’ve broken your premise; what’s the point of levels if you are always the baseline?”

      Leveling can be about more than just a vertical rise in power, though. It can be about gaining new options and further customizing your experience by specializing in certain skills. Horizontal progression is a perfectly valid scheme for a level-based game, I think – in fact, I’d argue that it almost always makes for more interesting design and play choices.

      To each their own, of course – clearly vertical progression is more popular. But for my money I wish more leveling games had scaling enemies. I simply don’t find steamrolling a bunch of dudes incapable of posing any danger to me interesting.

    • MadJax says:

      Brise, I feel Dead Island keeps a reasonably good mix of challenge and pure-easymode. A small group of walkers can be taken out quite comfortably, but throw in a few infected (Running z’s) or a Thug (Which are usually followed by Runners…) and things start getting more interesting.

  7. MattM says:

    If you auto level all the enemies with the player why include a level system at all? Just make it an action game with a crafting system and remove the stat increases.

    • sneetch says:

      I’m of the same opinion.

      I’m playing “Gruff Hero 2 The Smashening” I’ve played for 5 hours, I’ve hit level 10 and I’m wearing my Armour of Toughness +4, my Shield of Not Being Hit +5, I’m wielding my Mace of Smashing +3 and I have to go back to the start zone to pick up that clean underwear I forgot and I find myself struggling against the now level 10 rats then I feel a little cheated. It robs you of that sense of power and progression, hell I’m a bad ass now, I should be able to brush aside these rats without problem otherwise why bother levelling at all?

    • Prime says:

      Exactly this.

    • idiotapocs says:

      This! Counter-example: Yes, KotOR was a bit on the easy side during the ending, but hey, you were a powerful Jedi, and after all the pain and suffering during the early levels, you could feel that the Force is truly with you. I absolutely enjoyed the crap out of that game. I’m sending Dead Island to Oblivion.

    • Archonsod says:

      Because you can do more than simply make the player better able to bash stuff with levelling? If all levelling does is make the character better at something then you can equally argue there’s little point to having levels in the first place.

      In a four player co-op designed game you could utilise the level and skill system to replace the traditional class systems you usually find in such games, as one fairly obvious example.

    • JuJuCam says:

      There’s a skill system to go with the level system, almost all passive bonusses. Each character gets one unique “Fury” technique – very Borderlandsesque. In theory you will be better able to handle the hordes even if they are the same level as you, because your chosen weapon type will be more damaging than the average and etc. It opens some possibility of “Builds”, although from the very little I’ve seen of it (I’ve played roughly an hour an a half) it seems clear that there are useful skills that most everyone should have and a lot of not so useful skills you might invest in for character flavour or some such. But again, I haven’t looked much farther beyond the skills I’m allowed to buy and there’s quite a long list of greyed out options, so there may be a lot of viable character types between throwers, cutters, bashers and shooters.

      In short, I’m not sure the enemy level scaling bothers me at all, considering the enemies don’t get skills.

    • grundus says:

      Amongst all the news of Borderlands 2 I went back to it again recently. I love the non-scalingness, when you go back to kill Mothrakk you can pretty much wade through all the level 2 and 3 skags and idiots as if they were nothing. I do also like PT2 where everyone scales up by about 30 levels, though. You know what? I liked Borderlands, even if sometimes it’s more like Borederlands, so my interest in Dead Island is augmented.

      Wait, I just contradicted myself

    • wodin says:

      I thought Borderlands scales aswell?

    • YeOldeSnake says:

      Levelling is used to give you new ability points to spend , somewhat reward you and shamelessly restrict you from using some of the weapons. I totally HATED it when after having all my weapons broken , came across of what would be a lifesaving weapon , only to find that i cannot swing it because i am too immature and needed a couple of levels more.
      And that was pretty much the only thing that pissed me off in the game , and it is overall a GREAT experience.

    • YeOldeSnake says:

      You also can find enemies that are a level higher than yours , but theyre usually thugs.

    • steviesteveo says:

      @ YeOldeSnake:

      I thought the weapons – levelling thing was a little silly. I was surprised early on when the game wanted me to level up a little before it would let me hit zombies with a pipe.

      I can understand it if they had some incredibly fancy weapons that require higher education but the basic mêlée ones should just be learn on the job.

  8. Adda says:

    I’m still convinced. Roll on Friday!

  9. herschel says:

    Came expecting a zombie survival game, got massive cleaverage, grinned… left disappointed, though.

  10. Khalan says:

    “On a macro scale, the strange choice has been made to have the zombies level to match you, no matter where you go.”
    I hate these setups. It makes you wonder what the point of levelling up is. Hoping it can be patched / modded out to something more like the Fallout system (enemies are level capped eg. molerats will level up from 1-5 with you, capping out at 5) or the Gothic system (enemies level is set by the area they’re in).

    • Balobam says:

      Oh god I could just imagine what would happen in New Vegas if they pulled an Oblivion.

      The moment you reach 20, every enemy in the game is replaced by Death Claws, Cazadors, and Cazaclaws/Deathadors because the games just hates you that much.

    • Burning Man says:

      My favourite was the Borderlands system, where you received substantially less XP if you killed an enemy of a lesser level, and beyond a certain point, just received 1 XP per kill. The enemies were appropriately easy too. On the other hand, if you happened to wander into the wrong sort of area and meet a higher-level Badass Psycho, you’d have the time/fight of your life, but would also get a huge exp boost and be significantly better equipped to engage a foe of his level head-on again.

      Of course, if you did all the sidequests, you’d be severely over-leveled, but that was one of the things I enjoyed. Over-leveling, then decimating every single one of my Formerly Annoying Foes.

  11. Mayjori says:

    you forgot to mention how bloody tediously annoying looting is :/.

    Also, I’d like to say i have never understood the hate of level scaling, people claim it makes leveling pointless, when in fact it dosnt because you get skill points… to buy skills with. Personally Ive always hated games where if i go back to clean up quests and stuff, Im huge and the enemies are more like gnats.

    • Jarenth says:

      A lot of people dislike level scaling for exactly that reason, though. When I return to a lower level area, and the enemies are now like gnats to me, that means I’ve progressed. It means I can go to areas that were once terrifying and walk there a god among men, visibly more powerful than I was before.

      Note that a good use of ‘skill points’ or whatever systems can make this sort of setup work — as long as, at the end of the line, I’m clearly more powerful than the first enemies I’ve ever faced, I’ll be content. But if I get to level 20 and all the zombies are now magically also level 20, with all the benefits I have as well, a levelling system serves no point.

    • Milky1985 says:

      “A lot of people dislike level scaling for exactly that reason, though. When I return to a lower level area, and the enemies are now like gnats to me, that means I’ve progressed. It means I can go to areas that were once terrifying and walk there a god among men, visibly more powerful than I was before.”

      Best system i think was the system used in FF8, the monsters scaled but to a point wheres I didn;t notice it untul i went back to the starting area and scanned em. They scale so you still take a bit of damage from em , but you can kill the starting monsters with 1 hit from a basic magic.

      Best of both worlds, bit of scalin gbut feel like a bad ass when you go back.

      (Of course there was the 2 island where you would always run into level 100 monsters, that gave me a shock when i first found them at level 30!)

    • Archonsod says:

      “Note that a good use of ‘skill points’ or whatever systems can make this sort of setup work — as long as, at the end of the line, I’m clearly more powerful than the first enemies I’ve ever faced, I’ll be content. But if I get to level 20 and all the zombies are now magically also level 20, with all the benefits I have as well, a levelling system serves no point.”

      Doesn’t necessarily have to be more powerful. I could easily see this working if for example you had skills which enabled specific things such as say healing other players. It means you don’t need a dedicated medic class and so people who can’t fill all four player slots aren’t either penalised or forced to invite random strangers to cover for missing class types.

    • JuJuCam says:

      I think thematically in particular to this game it makes sense for the level scaling to work this way. A zombie is a zombie after all. It’s kind of annoying to think of the zombies having levels at all. How does a zombie gain experience? But then again the zombies that have been around anywhere on the island for a few days are obviously going to be a tougher sort than the ones that recently rose and immediately got clobbered by a paddle. So in that case scaling by zone would make little sense in this scenario.

      I actually think they could have avoided grief from the hardcore “Boo levelscaling” people if they’d changed the semantics somewhat and XP was just a measure of how far you are to the next skill point. Pretend nobody ever has levels, just amounts of skill points invested. And stats shouldn’t change at all, for the players or the enemies, except where a skill specifically increases a stat. DXHR essentially operates this way, but of course that isn’t a freeform open world game.

      Thing is, people love to see numbers go up.

  12. Gnoupi says:

    “Like Borderlands, I find myself actually wanting to play with other people – a feeling so rare to me I wonder if I’m coming down with something.”

    To be honest, anyone who spent more than a few games on the most popular zombie smashing multiplayer game (L4D2) with random people is bound to become misanthropic.

  13. Jimbo says:

    I haven’t played the game, but the ‘analog combat’ (ie. Mount & Blade control-the-swing style) option offered with a 360 pad looks like a far more satisfying way to play than the ‘digital’ option, which is (apparently) your only choice when using a mouse. If the (proper) PC version of this game doesn’t allow you to choose ‘analog combat’ option, then that seems like an unfortunate omission.

    • Mayjori says:

      /agreed, didnt know they had that in the kiddie consoles, but was irritated a bit when i couldnt choose where i hit from.

  14. puzl says:

    I bought it on Steam and unlocked it Tuesday. There IS a decent game underneath, but it’s absolutely ruined by developer/publishers f*ckups on an epic scale.

    Firstly they release a dev/unfinished build which is plagued by a terrible FOV, inconsistent mouse sensitivity (the menu sens is much slower than the actual movement sens in game, so you’re almost dragging your mouse off the desk just to move to the “ok” button), co-op that drops out randomly and horrible, massive subtitles/menu text that just screams CONSOLE PORT. Worse yet, they admit to their mistake, release a patch, which somehow manages to fix nothing yet introduce more problems like stuttering, slowdown and eventual crashes to desktop. Oh and the final icing on the cake? All our old save games were corrupted and made useless with the update. What?

    As of now, we’re left with an unplayable, unfinished mess of a game and no-one knows if they’re actually playing the final retail or still stuck with some old build.

    Whatever good game is hiding underneath this mess is lost simply because of the technical travesty the developers have given us. What a shame.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      Multiplayer seems fun, but it’s a total mess right now. Most people have turned it off completely because it takes up so many system resources pinging random people in your area that it causes the game to stutter if you have it on.

      Anyhow, from what little I’ve played of this game it does seem fun. I’m holding off playing it for a couple more weeks, though, until they release some more patches. Right now I can’t really play it for 20 minutes without the frame rate suddenly and inexplicably dropping, followed by the game crashing.

      But, yeah, this game could be awesome if the developers (or, barring that, some dedicated fans) start fixing all the bugs.

    • Stromko says:

      Not being able to change Field of View is definitely a problem. I hated Borderlands until a program came out to change the field of view (had to change from 70 to 90 to make it feel normal-ish), and a quick google doesn’t show any way to change the FOV in Dead Island.

  15. James G says:

    A great review. Its a shame that it couldn’t deliver solidly, but at least it sounds like there is something interesting here. I’m not sure its the game for me, I’ve never been a huge fan of melee combat for one, but it might be something I check out when its a bit cheaper and had a few aspects tweaked.

    It does sound a bit odd though, a nice reasonable in game explanation for why you are the one doing all the work, and then a crudely implemented purchase mechanism, in what is seemingly an island with rampant inflation.

  16. Ezhar says:

    Sluggish controls are a big no-no. Maybe once it’s on sale.

  17. Njordsk says:

    Damn, you’re tempting me back

  18. fuggles says:

    Gamesradar highlighted the fact that when you die, you respawn at the last checkpoint but lose all your items, which can make later levels impossible. Is this fixed in your version, as that’s a fairly big bug (
    That and the cutscenes showing all 4 people suggesting lazy design)?

    I want it, but very much feel that I need to hold back for it to be fixed/reduced in price, by which point something shinier will come along.

    • John Walker says:

      On the review code, you definitely didn’t lose any items. That sounds like a serious bug. There is a financial cost to death, but that’s it.

    • Tei says:

      I think what fuggles points, is a different problem. You fight a hard battle (maybe a escort mission) using all your 16 molotov’s and breaking your best weapon. And you still fail. Then you have to fight again, but since you have “consumed” the molotovs and weapon, you must fight again weapon-less. It don’t seems a bug, it seems a problem with a borderlands-like game where you are dependant on consumabled and weapons with durability.

    • rocketman71 says:

      In the Ars Technica review they say that that happens when in the dev build you accidentaly press noclip (Y key) and die while INSIDE a wall.

      What an amazing fuckup. The dev build thing, I mean. How could they NOT notice that they were uploading that version to Steam?.

    • fuggles says:

      As in what Tei said, you respawn without consumables so the game gets exponentially harder and then impossible.

    • sneetch says:

      Does it though? John says the cupboards restock themselves so surely you can go and gather your consumables again?

  19. airtekh says:

    Not a day one purchase for me I’m afraid, but Borderlands/Left 4 Dead/Dead Rising definitely sounds like something I’d play at some stage.

    Does anyone know if the game uses Steam for the coop?

    • Cunzy1 1 says:

      Very sensible considering the day one patch according to destructoid

      “fixed enemy reaction to fire,”
      “fixed the infinite respawning of shooting enemies,”
      “fixed bug causing all inventory to disappear.”

    • Enso says:

      Yes, it uses steam for co-op. Sometimes when you’re in a game you can join, most of the time you have to be at the main menu but I haven’t experienced any real problems.

  20. aeromorte says:

    One thing for shure: even if the game has some problems right now it wont have soon since one thing they are good at is patching thier games fast and efficient.

  21. Crainey says:

    This seems like one of those games that I’ll wait for the eventual price drop (dependant on the success of it?) then buy it and convince my friends they want to play it also. Upon looking at videos I can’t help but feel this game looks extremely static as such, the world looks stale and lifeless largely due to static props that look like cardboard cut-outs.If anything I want to buy this game because it still aspires to be that game that we all wanted and although it doesn’t achieve it I feel its ambition should be credited with my Great British Pounds.

  22. Rhygadon says:

    Did you really mean to reference Vampire: Redemption? Not Bloodlines? I’ve noticed Redemption on GoG, but never heard anyone mention playing it, and your description sounds very much like Bloodlines.

    If Redemption really was that good, I’d like to hear more … is it worth playing even now?

    • John Walker says:

      Oh sigh, I meant Bloodlines. I’m such an idiot.

    • Lavs says:

      Goodness, john. Two mistakes! You do have an editor, don’t you?

    • Burning Man says:

      Uh, John? It’s still wrong.

      “For me it was Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. While what I’ve encountered (to what I think may be only the midway point after about 15-20 hours of playing) has certainly not offered anything of the extraordinary writing, twists and intelligence of Redemption

      You mayy want to correct that one too.

    • Lars Westergren says:

      >If Redemption really was that good, I’d like to hear more … is it worth playing even now?

      Kind of? It has some nice writing, especially in the beginning of the game. If you aren’t familiar with the old World of Darkness mythology it is an ok introduction to the world. It is moddable and has a large fan community (I haven’t tried any mods or fan adventures).

      Where it because a disappointment for me, was in the gameplay. It became a Diablo style hack&slash quickly, past the first missions. Endless hordes of similar enemies which you click at to kill. They also depart from the mythos with regards to powers and leveling up. You can gain new powers and disciplines by reading a damn book at the end of each level. This gives a steady trickle of loot rewards for the Diablo crowd, but you become ridiculously overpowered quickly, and it makes little sense in the gaming world.

      In the Pen & Paper world many disciplines were restricted to certain vampire clans (Dementation required belonging to the Malkavian clan and being insane, Viscissitude required being one of the monstrously inhuman Tzimisce or infected with their alien blood which carries significant drawbacks). Gaining several dots in a discipline required either being a centuries or millennia old vampire, or going the quick path up the ladder of power by slaying other vampires and consuming their soul. The latter would be an act which both risked eroding the little humanity you have left and would make you hunted by other vampires.

      In this game, all apparently all that is required for gaining godlike powers with max points in every Discipline is glancing at a couple of books. I craved scary and powerful enemies with personalities, which could be beaten in various ways, and difficult plot choices. I got Diablo with fangs.

    • Prime says:

      The pedants, they are everywhere! Aaaaiiieeee!

    • ecat says:

      Redemption?

      The plot is pure cheese, the acting ham and the magic system adds a delightful dollop of Branston.

      heh, my opinion is severely distorted by nostalgia, Anezkaaaaaaaaa, but it is a game I recommend without hesitation. Unless you’re allergic to cheese, seriously, the plot is full of it.

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      Redemption fleshes out the universe & powers more than bloodlines, but it is categorically an isometric dungeon crawler loot grab with hubs, it’s as good and as bad as that sounds the only issue is it has some pretty bad balancing issues, get past the first few hours which are fairly tough & it’s gets piss easy, it’s also probably very ugly now.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      It was 7/10 when it came out and I can only presume it’s worse now.

      KG

  23. povu says:

    Oblivion style level scaling? Oh god…

    • Big Murray says:

      My thought exactly.

    • Spider Jerusalem says:

      The level scaling works fine tbh. Maybe because I’m playing with friends in co-op, but without the scaling combat would get really boring with all the backtracking you have to do.

    • Enso says:

      Been playing 2-player co-op and noticed a gradual change in the difficulty. At first you seem to stagger the zombies quite often, allowing you to plow your way through them once you get the hang of it. But moving on to around level 15-20 I’m having to advance my strategy. Not only can they now interrupt my attacks but I seem to interrupt theirs a lot less. They’re also increasing in number and I’ve had to become so much more careful and it feels amazing. It really is like scraping by, each confrontation is a worry and satisfying when it’s over.

  24. Freud says:

    This review was like IGN meets Eurogamer.

  25. oceanclub says:

    Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption, or Bloodlines? (Haven’t seen Redemption ever referenced much so wondering was this an error.)

    P.

    • oceanclub says:

      Aha – just saw John’s reply above. On that note, has anyone played Redemption? I’m a big fan of Bloodlines, occasionally see Redemption on GOG and wonder should i pick it up, despite it being a different genre.

      P.

    • Seboss says:

      Considering Redemption is not much more than a below average hack n’slash, definitely Bloodlines!

  26. DarkByke says:

    I still wish I could play it like the trailer. save the family… or something more emotionally investing. I have no attachment to these 4 characters and their done to death stereotypes.

    • MultiVaC says:

      Yeah, I’m also disappointed that the trailer was a complete misrepresentation of what they were aiming for with the actual game. I do love the over-the-top, enjoyably cheesy zombie thing, but let’s face it, it’s done to death. The trailer made me hope for something serious and intense, focused on survival and atmosphere. I was hoping for less “Return Of The Living Dead”, more “The Walking Dead”.

    • Enso says:

      The character bios are hilarious. “Then maybe that little girl would still be alive.” My favourite line so far “Go…Live your life! There’s nothing here for you now!” I’m getting the most enjoyment from pretending there’s no narrative and creating my own.

  27. MultiVaC says:

    How much of the obnoxious HUD stuff can you disable? Because I’ve heard that there are some options relating to that, and I really can’t stand the way it looks in some of the videos.

    I’m really having difficulty finding much concrete info about this game at the moment. There are so many conflicting reports out there; I’m not really sure what the deal is. Some people are saying that there are major issues that others insist they aren’t in the version they’re playing, and details about the whole accidental dev build release are sketchy at best. I’m hearing tons of people saying the “real” version is fixed up okay, but just as many saying their game is updated and still just as bad. Crazy. I think I’m gonna hold off on my decision on weather or not to buy it for a while.

  28. Pew pew LAZORS! says:

    The day when this zombie trend in games is over can’t come soon enough.

  29. DrunkDog says:

    ” “But, if you’d just stop valuing your money in such a weird way during this apocalypse, this would be so much easier for everyone” I lecture the game. ”

    I’m glad it’s not just me that finds themselves chastising games for their lack of logic. The amount of one-sided arguments I’ve had with my monitor…

  30. ChainsawCharlie says:

    That was promising. Did not except much for yet another Zombie game, but this sure sounds good.

  31. torchedEARTH says:

    It turns out that you are one of very few people who are immune to the bite of the undead. You can still be injured or killed by them, but you won’t become one of them. And that makes you special. It also means that you’re the person everyone’s going to ask to do their odd jobs for them.

    Hang on a second! Just because I can’t become a zombie doesn’t mean I don’t die. So it’s all very well these people coming up to me in their shack asking for favours – “Well, you won’t become a zombie when you die” “Yessssss, BUT, I still die don’t I?” and who says the zombies aren’t having a whale of a time being undead?

    This is selfishness, pure and simple.

    • malkav11 says:

      Anyone else that’s even bitten will die and turn into a zombie. You can be bitten and it just hurts quite a bit.

    • Saiko Kila says:

      But why would people worry what happens to them after they die? So what they turn into zombies? It’s like these people who don’t want to donate their organs after death. It’s just selfish.

  32. Gaytard Fondue says:

    Loadsamoney!

  33. Sentient Waffle says:

    It really does sound, as you say, a game that will be brilliantly awesome, EVENTUALLY, when fans have fixed the odd bugs and modded the annoying parts :)

  34. Big Murray says:

    My biggest hope is that somebody will have seen us all drooling over “that” trailer, and is right now thinking “Whoa … we need to make that game, it’ll sell.”

  35. TheGroovyMule says:

    Great review, shouldn’t have read it over breakfast though…

  36. El Armonista! says:

    Blimey, between smearing Orks across industrial scenery and mashing zombies on the beach it’s going to be a bit of a gory Friday really isn’t it?

  37. malkav11 says:

    FWIW, the little I played feels a bit more to me like a four-player coop, zombie-themed version of Precursors/White Gold.

  38. JackShandy says:

    If you want to make the monsters as hard at level 20 as they were at level 1, then make the protagonist scale sideways, not up. Just giving the player more tools as they progress is totally legit.

    If increasing your hitting power makes every enemy increase their armour- why does your game exist? Why does anything exist? Am I going insane? What is games? What am I? Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

  39. SpinalJack says:

    I thought your fiance mutilated animals on a daily basis? Or are imaginary people more gruesome than real animals? (Yes probably, I doubt limbs pop off quite so easily as they do in games)

  40. Ergates_Antius says:

    “It’s damned strange enough that people are selling you the bare essentials for survival as it is. After all, you’re the only person who dares to go outside, and you’re working to save their lives. But still, they want over $3000 for that machete they have”

    I’ve always thought this was strange in games – used to happen a lot in the old 8-bit days.

    “You’re Earth’s last and hope against he alien hordes, here’s an air-pistol and some cardboard armour. If you get any nice loot from the aliens, come back and we’ll sell you some better stuff.”

    • Matt says:

      It would be interesting to have a shop in a game where the prices decreased the longer you played the game without purchasing anything.

  41. Baka says:

    Great Impressions, now looking forward to it again.
    Though it would be really great if you guys somehow could go into the details of the main component of a co-op game: The co-op itself. I understand that that’s not so easy to do with a single review copy, but often, in a Wot I Think of games that support or even recommend cooperative play, the only thing you write about is the single player experience – While for me it’s all about how it’ll feel with my friends. As stated, I appreciate that this is probably rather difficult to incorporate, just wanted to state this as something very important to me (And I guess a lot of other players, too).

  42. nrvsNRG says:

    nice write up, that i think i can pretty much agree on. Having played just slightly less than you (level 15 ,10 hrs), i am extremely surprised at how much fun this is.

    I never got into L4D or dead rising (never bothered finishing), but this has really caught my interest. It looks gorgeous reminding me of the first time i played far cry and crysis but much much juicier. I really love the whole design of the island and it never feels too repetative or uninspired.

    i’ve chosen to play as the blunt weapon guy, so have no idea how different the movement is for the other characters but i am having no problems, but i do need to point out that i am using a 360 pad and think maybe this is the prefferable way to play?
    i am actually really looking forward to playing as the other guys too.

    somthing which you didnt really go into detail about was the skills you choose as you level, which are pretty standard fare, and are doing the job of making me feel more and more powerful (most of mine are going in the combat tree)as i go along, so even tho npc’s level with me i feel satisfied that i am getting stronger than them, and i’m having great fun punching and stomping them into the ground and then headshotting them with my nailed baseball bat.

    its not a big deal but i’ve just gotta say that i think its slightly unfair that you critisized the game for requiring the blueprint system for modding weapons for the more simpler designs, when really you could argue that you dont need bluprints at all . Yes, some of the ideas are very simple (e.g.nails into bat), but you can say the same for a lot more too so where do you draw the line?

    the ridiculous pricing of repairs and weapons may be odd but i think it makes things fair, if that makes any sense? they is still plenty of cash to be made so i always feel its balanced just right, so i dont have too much or too little.

    i’m so glad i bought this, and i think its sad that because of the screw up on release it could effect the way this its seen and remembered, as it really is a great game.

  43. Erithtotl says:

    Limited level scaling is the way to go. Grunts should not scale, but key encounters should, at least to a certain extent, so that key end game encounters don’t be come pointless. I seem to remember Bethesda talking about doing this with Fallout 3 but I’m not sure.

  44. takfar says:

    Aaaand… another game in which everything looks like it’s covered in plastic film. When will people learn to not misuse gloss and reflection maps?

  45. Stevostin says:

    ” On a macro scale, the strange choice has been made to have the zombies level to match you, no matter where you go”

    I’ll probably be the only one, but I am actually very happy they did that. Leveling is a plague in anything that’s about immersion. RPG stands for “Role Playing”, not “dick contest”. As pleasant as it is to see your avatar becoming ridiculously stronger, it’s also breaking all immersion as it’s of course completely senseless. You just don’t become 4 time more bullet resistant just because you killed 400 things. And in action movie the hero just gets more and more tired and wounded up to the climax, not the opposite. So it’s not even a good dramatic build up.

    Leveling is exactly the same kind of design politic than unlimited inventory. It’s, game wise, enjoyable, but it also breaks the illusion.

  46. brulleks says:

    So, Borderlands + Far Cry 2 then?

    Sold.

    “…deliberately slicing off the head of a fallen former-human, such that the neck stump gushes forth with vile, congealed blood, the viscera-smeared face rolling away in a fixed grimace of pain…” ?

    Solder.

  47. Solomon Grundy says:

    “I cannot remember a game this gruesome, and really any argument that gaming hasn’t desensitised me to fantasy violence is proven as nonsense by my willingness to tolerate the horror before me.”

    Thanks for making reference to this. That was actually one of my fears with this game, despite highly anticipating its release. I’m not some kind of anti-game-violence freak, but for myself personally I feel like I’ll take a pass on this game b/c I don’t know if I really need to spend hours at a time bludgeoning and dismantling human bodies into a soupy mess… The more gameplay trailers I see, the less I feel the need to play….

    Ironically, I’m keen to start playing Red Orchestra 2 next week, which seems like a bleak bit o’ mega-violence in itself… Choose yer own brutality I guess!

  48. wodin says:

    How come you wake up after making a nuisance of yourself…only to go around robbing everyones luugae\money befoe you even no anything is wrong…and why do you have to pay the lathe or workbench or something or soemone when your fixing the bloody weapons in the first place?

  49. cairbre says:

    Well I am thinking steam sale

  50. notjasonlee says:

    not a single mention of kicking? and no mention of JUMP KICKING? these are the most useful moves in the game! jump kick is still sending most zombies flying back for me at level 18.

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