Hanging out with the dead: my meta holiday on Dead Island

I have been on holidays for the last week and for a large part of that I have been sitting indoors enjoying staring at a much larger screen than the one I have at my desk at work, while the season changes rapidly from a cold Canberra winter to a smashing warm Australian spring.  And don’t be like that, I wasn’t watching life pass me by,  I occasionally would look out of the window at the sunshine, and sometimes even hear the birds singing if they were close enough to my balcony.  So I am well aware I am alive, thank you very much, even without all the sun and the birds and the like, my bladder kindly reminded me of that fact far too often.

Because rather than spending time in the WC, I would much rather have spent that additional time on the island of Banoi fighting off hordes and hordes of bikini-clad undead in a holiday gone horribly wrong.  Yes, I have been spending an inordinate amount of time with the ridiculously broken, but equally as fun Dead Island.  And I would argue that it was time well spent.  Roaming a pseudo open world looting dead bodies and their luggage and making-do with whatever weapons I could find to save myself from some rather unfortunate looking undead was bloody great fun.  Aaaaah, the walking dead.

But a Walking Dead game this is not.  There are no choices to be made and almost zero gravity to anything you do, even within the scripted story events.  And when I say story events I should highlight the fact that  the story is non-existent, that is when it’s not being utterly retarded.  And the voice acting supporting any semblance of a story is seriously as bad as MacinTalk.  Actually, it’s worse.  What is that accent?  Papuan? Australian?  I am Australian and I don’t know where you’re from.  Seriously Sinamoi what are you saying?  Oh just shut up.  If we ever get off this island don’t call me.  And change your name, what kind of a name is Sinamoi anyway?  Oh god I’d rather hang out with the zombies.  And the punks.  Yes, there are punks in this game.

Personal differences with the other survivors aside though I found my time with Dead Island to be a pleasant one in spite of the too numerous to mention technical glitches and all-round unpolished nature of the game.  The island isn’t as sprawling as other open-worlds, nor is it as seamless as it is broken up into discreetly contained areas.  But exploring the resort and its adjacent city provided just enough in the way of variety to hold my interest in the infrequent lulls between combat encounters.  Sure the beaches aren’t as nice as we enjoy down here in Australia, but is does a good enough job of capturing what a beach resort should feel and look like that it was easy to get lost in the world for hours at a time.   Of course just when you were starting to become immersed in the world, the unpolished technical side of Dead Island would rear its ugly head.  And a rather large head it has.  Not a moment would pass where something would just feel not quite right technically with Dead Island, to a point where I actually exited out to the main menu to see if a QA team was mentioned in the credits for fear that perhaps that step of the development cycle had perhaps been missed.  Technical misgivings are the domain of the fantastic chaps over at Digital Foundry but lets just say that frequent texture pop-in is the least of Dead Island’s worries.

But luckily what the game is missing in technical brilliance, it more than makes up for in the gameplay it presents.   At its very core the same thing that required me to spend almost 100 hours wandering the wastelands of Fallout 3 – I felt compelled to explore every nook and cranny of the island looking for weapon schematics or random survivors to save from the incredibly hungry undead.  And Fallout 3 is an apt comparison for the core mechanics of the game.  You collect components to make weapons, you find bottles of energy drink to replenish your health and you receive quests from poor survivors just trying to make their way in the world (read: fetch quests).  But a poor man’s Fallout 3 this game is – the world isn’t nearly as open or interesting as Bethesda’s expertly crafted post-apocalyptic Washington DC, and the quests aren’t complex nor do they carry any weight in the way of narrative even for a fleeting moment.  Sure there are a few interesting missions that attempt to pull at your heart strings – for example at one point a man asks you to break into his house and kill his zombified wife and daughter – but for the most part they are simply devices to send you traversing across the map in order to kill whatever enemies stand in your way.

And that is just what Dead Island is.  For each if, there’s a but.  But that’s okay because I wasn’t expecting this to be a triple-A release that had billions of dollars, focus testing and high-profile producers thrown at it during development. Techland have achieved a minor miracle in releasing a game that doesn’t just not suck, but actually is a great foundation for whatever that developer does with the franchise next.  Sure it has it’s issues, but it has enough great stuff weaved in between them to make it a worthwhile experience.