This week, Zero Punctuation returns to the zombie apocalypse, again, for Dead Island.
One day I'm going to make a zombie game of my very own. It will be an apocalyptic survival game in which you and a small group of desperate survivors with complementary skills must navigate a deserted city without being crushed under an avalanche of zombie games, movies, and reinterpretations of classic literature. I'll call it Enough with the Fucking Zombies Already. Honestly, at this point you people just won't be able to cope if civilization ends any other way, will you? If the fucking Daleks invade or the entire world gets covered in carnivorous jam, you'll have to make papier-mâché zombie facsimiles just to get through the day. Except let's face it, however you might imagine zombie apocalypse as giving you a new lease on life, we all know most of you would start talking suicide pacts if the Internet went down for more than a week.
Still, let's indulge some weird fantasies one more time with Dead Island. No one's done a zombie game set in a holiday resort yet, have they? Except Dead Rising 2 and Left 4 Dead 2 - oh, fuck off. You're staying at a hotel on the island resort of Banoi, which is named after the sound I make when I'm both confused and aroused at the same time. According to the intro movie, you spent an enjoyable evening getting completely dog-buggered, and you must have gotten pretty impressively drunk because you have an altercation with yourself at one point. It's complicated.
Being one of those infuriating fucks who don't get hangovers, you wake up fresh and raring to go with the hotel and resort infested with the undead. And this begins an adventure that is the unnatural spunk-baby produced by a mutual masturbation session between Borderlands and Dead Rising 2, during which lingering eye contact was made with Left 4 Dead. From Borderlands it takes the four-player co-op RPG with MMORPG-style quests and environments, and from Dead Rising 2 it takes the bright vacation setting and the ability to pound heads with two random stocking fillers tied together with string. Oh yes, and it also takes zombies, lest we forget. There's quite a few of those running around.
Dead Island is a wonderful case for why you should never watch trailers, as if we needed one. It generated positive buzz from its very well-directed first trailer, but since it was pre-rendered we should all have twigged then that it might as well have been a random episode of Danger Mouse for all it told us about the actual game. Unless it was proposing to be some kind of "throw small children out of windows in reverse slow-motion" simulator, which on reflection I would totally buy.
It foreshadows Dead Island 's inability to keep a consistent tone. On the one hand it wants to be melancholy like that trailer was, which is why there's not an ounce of levity in the dialogue and virtually every character sits around whining like their parents were just killed in an explosion at the anti-depressant factory, and every now and again someone in the background orchestra leans on the saddest piano keys they can find. But on the other hand you can put a load of bolts and nails in the end of a sledgehammer and use it to break both a zombie's arms so that they flail around like swingball sets. Don't worry, grief-stricken survivor, the troubled soul of your loved one is now at rest. I jumped on her head and I swear her lower jaw went fifty feet!
So here's a sneak peak of the soundtrack to a lot of Dead Island: "Grr! Kick! Grr! Kick! Grr! Kick! Splat!" Your Duke Nukem mighty boot attack uses no stamina, interrupts every enemy attack, can't be interrupted itself, knocks enemies down and ragdollizes them if they're trying to get up, so for large chunks of the game there really isn't much reason to use anything else. And you'll spend a lot of time standing over a pile of bodies frantically doing the can-can until they've all stopped moving. Melee weapons operate with gun physics, meaning they don't seem to connect if you're not directly targeting the enemy or if the game feels you don't appreciate it enough. And as many games have done before, we fail to realize that melee-focused first-person combat only worked in Condemned because you were usually restricted to fighting one down-on-his-luck pauper at a time, and drunkenly flailing your way out of a dogpile of screaming fast zombies gets very confusing and very frustrating when half of them seem to be attacking you from inside your own torso. "Frustrating" really is the word, especially when they wheel out the big lads who knock you on your arse if they so much as brush dandruff of your shoulder.
After suckering you in with a beautiful tropical setting, Dead Island really pulls a black bag over your head in the second act when you move to the same ruined foreign city from any randomly selected mission of any Modern Warfare game or equivalent. And just as you're really nodding off, out come the sewer levels. Going through the main story missions of act two, I was put through something like three or four sewer sections within the course of about an hour of gameplay. It was like a water treatment sightseeing showcase, which wasn't even particularly well-directed because a guide tour of some sewers would at least visit a few different ones.
Honestly, though, I was bored even before then. When you have fifteen quest givers all packed together in the same survivor shelter so the minimap has more exclamation marks than a comic book series intended to raise awareness of Tourette's syndrome, I get major sidequest exhaustion. And since the map would only let you mark one mission at a time, I just ended up speeding through the mandatory quests hoping for an ending that never seemed to bloody come.
And finally, escort quests. I don't know if Dead Island is trying to raise support for some kind of genocidal regime that will bring about the extermination of non-player characters, but you'll certainly have a powerful hate for them by the end of all this. Characters you have to escort don't follow you; they run on ahead and have a curious blind spot to vehicles. I swear, more than once I found myself driving a car very slowly alongside an escort character on foot, saying "Hey, uh, more power to you for getting your cardio, but you probably wouldn't be picking so much of yourself out of other people's teeth if you got in the fucking car. Please? You can pick the radio station?" They also vastly overestimate their chances against the zombies and will charge in swinging a bit of twig like they're fucking Zorro.
And here's the best part: if you die, you just do the standard MMO thing and come right back to life taking a hit to the money like you slipped the Grim Reaper a bunch of fives to look the other way, but if they die you have to reload a save, and if you do that you don't get your ammo or weapons back. So if they charge right into a thug zombie's fist right when you've used up all your good weapons clearing the room, you get to do it all over again with your last unbroken feather duster.
So to close my arguments, Dead Island can go spoon a fucking lathe.
- Dead to the world by half eleven: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Funny how I've ended up reviewing four games in a row starting with D, not that I'm getting fixated on this or anything
- Why don't we ever see a mummy or wolfman apocalypse, hm