Journal – Day One On Dead Island

Zero Hour

I’d been planning this holiday since 2008 when I first saw demonstrations of the technology involved in making the island. Unfortunately that was the last I’d hear about the island until 2011 as everything went quiet there. Eventually a story emerged from the island of a little girl’s struggle to get to her parents and the story was so moving that everyone soon heard of Banoi, the island paradise of Dead Island. Shortly afterwards we were able to preorder from online retailers and I did so immediately. As Amazon guarantee the lowest price during the preorder period I received the game yesterday having paid only £30 for it. I’d already made a plan to get that money back and entered a competition here to win Dead Island. As one of the three winnersI received an Amazon Gift certificate for the current price of the game, as you can see below. That’s already been used to preorder more things but as they wont be released for a while I decided to take my much deserved holiday yesterday.

Money, my personal saviour. Money, material lust.
Money, that’s all they treasure. Money, in god we trust.

Day One

Arriving on Banoi Island I soon found myself looking through the eyes of another person who, while drunk at a party, proceeded to piss off every single one of the playable characters. That person passed out and the scene shifted to the character I’d chosen waking up in their hotel room with an obvious hangover. The hotel was deserted and an emergency message played telling people to get the hell out of Dodge. Considering the name of my vacation I had a sneaking suspicion that I knew what had caused the emergency message but I cautiously proceeded to loot explore the hotel anyway. Upon arriving at a balcony I soon found my first couple of dead bodies in a literally stunning fashion and decided that the hotel may not be the safest place. Luckily, guided by a friendly voice I managed to make it to safety and get some more sleep.

I awoke surrounded by survivors who were debating whether to put me out of their misery. One man, who I would later learn was a doctor, threatened to bash my head in with a baseball bat unless I nodded to let him know I was alive. Memo to self – medical school may not be worth all the money needed to go there. I soon found myself thrust into the role that nameless strangers visiting villages have been put into for centuries – that of fulfilling tasks for a bunch of hopeless arseholes who seem to survive well enough without them. In this case I started out helping the survivors I’d woken up around to set up in a more defensible position and get supplies together. During my trips into the heart of the island I soon found other smaller pockets of survivors and larger safehouses set up. Safehouses seemed to be collections of people who didn’t deserve to survive on their own merit and who needed help to do the simplest things, while the smaller pockets of survivors had more interesting situations and stories.

Hammer + Battery + Wires = Hell Yeah!

I soon learned something interesting about the zombies on the island – they’re not actually dead. Now I’ve not stumbled across a secret laboratory (you know there just has to be one, don’t you) with notes to confirm this. Rather it’s something I discovered myself. One of the very first tactics I discovered involved kicking zombies over into swimming pools where they’d take damage until they could raise their heads from the water. They were drowning (possibly the first time an enemy has done that in a video game rather than just disappearing into water) which is proof positive that these people are alive and infected with something rather than being the walking dead. The damage animations from other elemental effects such as fire and electricity show the sheer attention to detail given to the zombies in this game. They scream and flail in obvious pain, taking damage in ways you’d expect them to in real life.

My other tactics mainly involve running like hell. This is a first person action game where guns are few and far between (I’ve found one and very little ammo for it) and melee combat is the order of the day. Judging swings of my weapons and kicks to keep enemies at bay is much harder than simply lining a targeting reticule up and hitting the trigger. Combined with the open world aspect and the fact that zombies can come from any direction in that world, sometimes running huge distances to get to you, and the combat is fast and frantic enough to always leave you with a chance of being overwhelmed by the horde. For the very first time it feels like you’re barely surviving a zombie apocalypse as the difficulty is set so that a single zombie is no problem but three or more can easily take you down without the proper precautions. This is a hardcore vacation for players who are sick of the easier games released these days. Still, the way that the defeat system works (zombies steal some of your cash and you teleport to a random location to respawn) means that newer game players should still find the game easy enough to plough through if a little harder to become rich in.

Honey, I’m boned…

A final tactic learned in my first day on the island is that just like rock beats scissors, car beats zombie. The driving in this game is the best first person driving I’ve ever experienced in a video game and cars trash zombies in sometimes comical but always effective ways. Of course, like paper beats rock, stairs beat car so you can’t rely on driving as a weapon, but for covering lots of ground quickly and taking down the horde on the way, it can’t be beaten.

Dozens of quests later and my first day on the island ended (Main Quest Completion – 11%) with a request to go into the town. The absolutely massive area I’d been exploring so far is merely one of at least three that I know of. I realised then that I’d been so busy surviving and attempting to help others survive that I’d uncovered next to nothing about the mystery of what had happened here to change the people like this, short of a couple of recordings from an investigator during the change I’d slept through. Would I find more answers in the town as to what had actually happened on this island? Would I find a safe haven? Would I find an escape? Or simply more useless survivors who needed help to get things like food, water and booze? My money is on all three but I’ll find out today.

The beast appeared in front of me as I cautiously climbed the staircase. All I’d seen was a blur to my left and, already jumpy from near constant attacks, I turned towards it. What I didn’t know at the time is that the blur was the creature running towards me. It slammed into the wall mere feet from me sending dust and loose brick shards flying, then turned to face me.

My own height and half again, this creature was a wall of muscle. I knew for certain that those powerful arms could tear me to shreds like paper if they were given a chance. Luckily someone had seen fit to wrap them tightly to its chest in a gigantic straight jacket. Those jaws, hungry for my flesh, were likewise held in check by a huge muzzle. As the Ram turned towards me it struck me that someone had intentionally created this plague and engineered these creatures as weapons of war.

The Ram roared behind its muzzle, perhaps sensing I was closer to the mystery of its existence, and then it resorted to the one weapon left available to it – it charged at me.

Day Two

I spent the first part of the day checking out a crashed helicopter, meeting a new friend and a new enemy at the site. The rasping laughter of what I’ve come to call the Suicider is the bane of my existence now. In a world where firearms are about twenty times rarer than melee weapons like nailed boards and barbed wire wrapped around a bat, a creature that explodes when it’s hit or gets too close to you is a nightmare on legs. I try to keep a handgun on me at all times for that reason but I’ve also mastered the art of throwing melee weapons at these creatures and ricocheting them back into my hands. Not only that but I’ve started using Suiciders tactically, using them as bombs to take out nearby zombies and waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Of course, this means that I’m more open to a surprise attack while my focus is on the creature but there’s no way I can tear my eyes away from the undulating mass of tumours. The thought of it touching me or exploding on me is simply too much.

After helping out as many people as I could in the hotel and surrounding resort, I headed inland to the city of Moresby. My first port of call was the church as I figured most survivors would head there in times such as these. I wasn’t wrong and soon met a group of zealots lead by Mother Helen, a nun who has everyone convinced this is the End of Days and that demons and devils are walking the earth. I can see that leading to some pretty bad situations in the future, especially if a cure can be found and people have to face up to their actions.

There is no way in hell that religion and that many guns can lead to anything good.

The small group of survivors in the church decided to send me out into the city to perform errands for them. It’s here that Dead Island shows its pedigree as it’s obvious that the city part of the game was created first. Missions seem more focussed here, and more elements are introduced. Guns are a little more plentiful, but the main way to get them is to kill the gangs of looters who have taken over much of the city. The sudden change of pace to human enemies who are armed as well as you can throw you the first few times but it’s a welcome one that stops proceedings getting boring.

The city is full of new threats beyond the looters and the claustrophobic streets combine with a mess of alleyways and doorways to make attacks just as unpredictable, but defending against them a little harder. The beasts come in greater numbers now too and are harder to kill. Regular old Walkers are fewer and farther between and the Infected (who like to scream then leg it at you like something out of a nightmare) are more prevalent. Besides the looters and the rise in Infected, there are also new creature types in the city. Some zombies have some sort of toxic smoke coming out of them that can poison and paralyse if exposure continues (okay, it’s an assumption but I’m not taking the chance), so these are best dealt with from a distance and quickly. And then there’s the Ram which you read about at the top of this entry. That wasn’t my first experience with him, and I escaped by hurling myself into a sewer to the side of the staircase. He throws himself at you, demolishing all zombies and survivors in his path and only stopping when he hits a wall or runs out of steam. Typically he is best damaged from behind, taking only miniscule bits and pieces of damage from the front, and tends to show up with a mess of zombies to get in the way of an easy tactical manipulation of his positioning.

Yeah, this is probably the worst position to be in right now.

My day was spent dealing with these new threats and setting up the survivors in this area with as much protection as I can. I’m eager to leave, partly so Mother Helen doesn’t notice the bite marks and decide I need to be burnt at the stake, and partly because the main storyline is calling to me more strongly now. I know another district of the city has been sealed off and I have the opportunity to get there if I want but there are still people to help here and things that I may have missed.

I’ll likely be here all the way through day three as well so I’ll probably write more on day four unless something important happens.

Day Three

I’ve just left the city after a few story developments. Nothing major to report but I’ve been staying with some interesting people while on this island. Not one of them is obsessed with hatches or numbers either, so that’s a bonus.

To say that the design of the four people I’ll be spending most time with on this vacation is a little eclectic is an understatement. While the look of each of the playable characters fits every possible gaming stereotype (big, bad guys and girls with more cleavage and flesh on show than is practical in these circumstances) the stories behind them are far from traditional fare, and indicative of a dual design approach that permeates the core of this game.

The back stories to the characters in this game are told in their own words in a voice file before starting the game. It’s here that you find out that Sam B wrote “Who Do You Voodoo” as a joke and was devastated when he made it big with that yet nothing else he wrote took off, that the child molester Purna shot had caused his fourteen year old daughter to commit suicide due to his abuse and didn’t even die when she shot him, but had the political pull to get her thrown off the force and evidence buried, that Logan blames others for his own failings and justifies things with “someone else is doing it anyway” type of excuses. These are real insights into what would otherwise be caricatures for cutscenes. The game itself blatantly thinks of them as the gun one, the sharp weapons one, the blunt weapons one and the throwing one and would love to just call them that and be done with it.

This sort of fractured design is evident all over the game and pulls it apart over the course of play. The story tries to concentrate on the human aspect of these events, showing you the need these people have for survival, how hard each death is on them, how awful each person turning is. There are events all over the place that push this to the forefront and the music in the safehouses, particularly the church, pushes that aspect forwards. The game, on the other hand, tries to make the carnage as much fun for players as it possibly can. Both of these aspects make for an interesting experience and, with the right quest choices, you can stick to one for a little while. However, when they mix they don’t mix well.

The real reason my packages are always late, and what I have to go through to get them.

A couple of months of extra story editing for a few added cutscenes as well as more incidental comments from the player characters could have emphasised the humanity aspect a little more without detracting from the fun of the game, but as it stands each of these wildly different approaches to the game makes the other a somehow lesser experience. Still, even that could be seen as a statement about humanity and how easily we can turn the most horrific things into fun in dire circumstances, if only to stay sane.

I spent most of Day Three telling you about the friends I met on holiday but forgot to mention the Floater I discovered in the sewers. No, not that sort… The Floater is an infected type found mainly near water who has become bloated and swollen from the water. The toxic waste dumped in the sewers has caused them to projectile vomit flammable waste products as their main weapon. Luckily they can’t do this when their swollen bellies are being relentlessly beaten with a sledgehammer, so my tactic for these guys is to get in close fast and swing like crazy. Typically they tend to come with friends who make that a little more difficult.

The fat guy is the Floater. He’s late for his interview and didn’t even wear a tie. Punish him with death.

Day Four

The 1.1 patch arrived as I loaded up the game and things are running a bit smoother. Already glitched quests from early in the game have been automatically added to the finished quests list so I’ll have to play through again to see if they’ve been fixed, but the entire game seems a little more stable now than it was before.

I finally made my way out of the cramped environments of the city and got back to the resort surrounding the hotel. It’s only by being back that I realise how badly designed the city actually is. While it’s probably a thrilling environment for co-op adventures, for single player it’s nothing short of frustrating when you suffer countless deaths thanks to the level of challenge not being set properly in this area. The resort is much better designed and, in this open area at least, makes Dead Island stand above other zombie infestation games. After helping out the survivors in the city and resort I’m being urged to enter the jungle and find the cause of this infestation. Again I get the feeling that more has been cut from the game as cutscenes seem to reference events that I haven’t discovered. A similar thing happened in the city where reference was made to the police station in a cutscene even though I’d never been anywhere near it. Either way I packed my stuff and headed into the jungle, glad to see the back of the city.

Can’t think why I’m glad to see the back of this place. Can you?

Welcome to the jungle, we’ve got fun and games.
We’ve got everything you want, and we want to eat your brains!

Rather unsurprisingly the jungle has more than its fair share of undead too, as well as a group of guerillas akin to the looters in the city. However, being back in a wide open environment suits Dead Island much more and the game settles back into its rhythm easily enough. As such I believe that the city should not have been in this game. I think that the missions and unique environments in there (trying not to give spoilers here) could have been transferred between the resort and the jungle easily enough, perhaps using the sewers to get to some of these environments. That’s my opinion anyway and I believe the game could have been deeper and better paced if that were the case. Anyway, let’s have a look at the jungle.

At first I loved the jungle and was having fun wandering around, until I came across the Butcher. This beast is the same size as a regular zombie and hard to differentiate in the middle of a battle. Unfortunately he hits like a tank with the sharpened bones that used to be his forearms (I have no idea who cut his arms off and sharpened the remains but the thought really creeps me out) and has a nasty habit of ducking and dodging your attacks. That’s right folks, zombie fucking ninjas!!! These guys aren’t fans of guns and can be taken out pretty easily from afar, so long as you have the bullets and can tell them apart from the hoard they tend to appear with.

See that mass of tumours in the back? That’s a Suicider and I long for the days when they were my biggest problem after meeting the Butcher.

Luckily I’ve been collecting blueprints all the way through the game and am able to not only modify my existing weapons but make all new ones too, including bombs and ammo for my guns. In the later areas of this game this becomes a much more important aspect as you’ll regularly find enemies where the few extra hits of fire or electric damage are the difference between life and death. There are miscellaneous items all over the island that can be looted and these can be used to modify weapons in multiple ways. Each blueprint contains a list of the items needed to modify a weapon as well as a long list of the weapons that can be modified that way. Blunt weapons can have extra weight or blades added to them. Wooden weapons can have fire added while metal weapons are best with electricity. Each modified weapon shows the ad-hoc additions in the game with batteries duct-taped to knives and ground glass in glue covering a bat. It all adds up to more efficient and brutal zombie slaughter in the long run but is also compulsive as you try to find all of the blueprints.

My personal preference is for electric weapons as I love throwing them at the enemy and having them boomerang back into my hand while the enemy is left frying from a critical hit. There’s nothing quite like that for cool factor. I also tend to build molotovs when I have a chance, as the larger enemies are easily felled by those as well as large groups of infected. Of course I’ve blown myself up more often than not, but that can be half the fun in a game like this.

A little fire’ll show ’em who’s boss!

I’ve just come across a laboratory run by a Doctor West (if his name is Herbert then I think we’ve found our culprit – Furie points if you get the reference) so I think I’m close to the cause of this. A secret lab in the jungle and a zombie outbreak. They’ve got to be connected right? I don’t know to be honest. The game is acting as if these people are innocent for once. We’ll see, but I feel I’m reaching the end of my adventure and will be rescued from this nightmare soon. I hope…

I told him to stay back, told him I’d deal with it. He didn’t listen to me and that’s why it all fell apart when he ran forwards. My life after that was a walking nightmare. One mad dash after another to the end.

Day Five

I’d been working my way around the jungle attempting to help some scientists come up with a cure for the disease that was turning people into monsters. After a particularly dramatic moment I found myself ready to move on to the final area – the prison. Banoi used to be a penal colony you see, and the worlds terrorists are housed in that prison. A great place to go for help, eh? As it turns out the prisoners were happy to help me out and give me missions, while the guards had a habit of shooting at me and trying to turn me into paste. Unfortunately it was this help from the prisoners that screwed me over in a massive way.

Let me preface this story by explaining how the save system in this game works. You get to a checkpoint in a mission a certain place or a certain amount of time passes and the game autosaves. You want to come off and you progress is saved while your position is reset to the last autosave. When you reload, the game places you in the state you were. There are no multiple save slots so you can keep a backup and go back to it. If you make a bad decision you’re stuck with it, and if the save gets corrupted then it’s lost. This is normally not a problem in a game like this and hadn’t been for the majority of the forty hours of gameplay I got out of the game. That is until the escort mission.

I’d been playing Logan the throwing expert all through the game and had a bit of a hard time due to the game being built for four players and not rebalanced for single player at all. Logan gets bonus damage and a chance of instantly killing an enemy if he throws weapons at them. As he has a skill that gives a chance of the weapon boomeranging back into his hand after throwing it makes a lot of sense to hurl like crazy when confronted with a tough enemy and hope he goes down before you’ve lost all your weapons. If you do lose them all they’ll usually be sticking out of the zombie and you can dash in and grab them from him if you can avoid getting hit. It’s a tactic that had been serving me well for the last twenty hours against the larger enemies but this time was different.

I’d been tasked with finding and rescuing someone trapped in a cell block and was escorting them to safety when we came across a Thug zombie (bigger and tougher than most but not quite one of the boss types). I resorted to my old faithful method and threw weapons, hitting weak points and severing his arms. Eventually all my weapons were in the zombie and his health was so low that he needed one final hit to take him out. I stepped forward and aimed at one of my weapons, trying to pull it out of the zombie. At this point the person I’d been escorting decided he needed some glory and he rushed forwards, directly into the waiting teeth of the armless zombie who killed him with one bite. The mission failed and I was forced to reload from a checkpoint. I loaded in happily enough but then found that not only had the weapons I’d been building up and finding throughout the game weren’t on my character, but that a new zombie had replaced the old Thug and my weapons had disappeared from the game entirely.

Weapons, lovely weapons. I remember those.

I spent the rest of the game using whatever weapons I could find around the prison as I went. To give you an idea of the difference that made to the game, my weapons did about eight hundred damage minimum, while the ones I was finding in the prison were mostly able to do between three hundred and five hundred damage. The almost constant stream of deaths thanks to using the quality of weapons that I’d been finding over ten hours ago made sure that I had no money to even buy newer ones, and the final boss of the game became a nightmare. Actually, scratch that. He’s a nightmare in single player anyway, but I was so woefully unprepared by the time I got to him that I only barely beat him through luck.

I’d put up with a few odd design decisions in this game, the lack of balancing, some glitches and even the fact that so much of the game story seems to have been cut out to save on disc space. I put up with those problems because despite them the game was an incredible amount of fun. To get that far in and have all the hard work I put into gathering my weapons and modding them for extra damage and effects snatched away from me was devastating. I had no way to return to the island to even do sidequests in easier places and rebuild my weapon stash, no way to get better weapons at all. I just had to slowly grind through enemies, running where possible and dying repeatedly. Put simply, the last five hours of this game were a chore for me rather than the fun they could have been due to the way the saves work and the unforgivably stupid AI of that escort mission. It dragged the whole game down for me.

I’ve started a new game with a couple of other characters. Luckily none of them have a reliance on throwing weapons so I shouldn’t have that problem again. All in all I enjoyed my time in this game and I’m not going to let the one in a million chance that destroyed my first game ruin the rest of it for me. It may not be a perfect game by a long shot but there is a hell of a lot of fun there and, if the developers were to make another, I’d recommend they stick to the wide open areas as this is where the game shines. I’ll be taking even more time going through in my future playthroughs and arranging more sets of weapons to keep in storage towards the end of the game. Forewarned is forearmed after all, and with an army of zombies after you, you need as many armaments as possible.

Put the kettle on. I’m at the airport and getting in a taxi.

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11 thoughts on “Journal – Day One On Dead Island

  1. On second thought, I just tried it out at a friend's yesterday (xbox version, a special edition, comes in a black box) and judging from this I'm not impressed. Too much running around, not knowing what to do. Hm…

  2. There's a map which lets you place markers and a quest list where you can set which quest to be lead to. Once you're used to that system it's much easier to know where you're going. The majority of the game is exploring though, so there's plenty to find off the beaten path with survivors and besieged houses.

  3. It looks interesting, except in the version my friend has there's a glitch of some kind, because in all the film clips in-between the protagonist is the girl character, even if the player plays another character. It takes a bit of the magic away. I don't know if this is general. My friend is a devoted gamer, and by the way he says he knows you, Mik, from some gamer site. Just in case you needed an ego-burst today. Looks like you is famous.

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