5 Disappointing Things About My First Hours On Dead Island

From its bittersweet debut trailer to its brutally gore-ified combat,Dead Island has captured the attention of zombie gamer around the globe. Earlier this week it captured my attention for several hours, and I wasn't entirely pleased.

We've seen plenty ofDead Islandhere at Kotaku since it made a splash earlier this year. Drew Cohen talked about its rich atmosphere. Michael McWhertor called it the "Zombie Apocalypse of (his) Dreams", citing its technical prowess and the overall feeling of being a normal human in the face of overwhelming odds.

I noticed all of those things in my play through of the most recent one-hour timed demo of the game. I also noticed several things I didn't like.

Aside from all the damn zombies.

Say My Name, Bitch

Before the demo begins I was asked to choose one of four characters — not avatars, but characters, each with a lengthy biography describing their upbringing, their motivations, and what brought them to the Island of Banoi. Sam B is a tough-as-nails, down-and-out rapper known for his one hit single, "Who Do You Voodoo, Bitch". Xian Mei is a police woman from Hong Kong tasked by her unappreciative superiors with spying on high profile tourists. Logan is a former NFL star from Texas that shattered his career and his left leg during a reckless street race. Purna is a half-Aborigine bodyguard that blew her police detective job by firing on a well-connected businessman that had sexually abused his underage daughter.

Each of these four is a strong figure with emotionally engaging biographies. I wanted to know more about them, explore their tales. Get inside their heads as they were placed in this hopeless situation.

That certainly didn't happen within the first hour of the game.

Each of the three characters I played as — Xian Mei, Purna, and Sam B — woke up in the same hotel room, underwent the same starting experience, and performed the same tasks, the dialogue adjusted only as far as using the correct male and female pronouns. Aside from the odd exclamation during zombie battles, the only difference between them was in the skill trees available to sink points into and the hands and feet wielding the game's various weapons. Speaking of which...

The Level Five Pipe

Sam B is listed on the character selection screen as an expert in blunt weapons. He is the master of all things blunt. He speaks bluntly. He might even smoke blunts, as rappers have been known to do. He effortlessly wields oars, odd bits of wood, hammers and sticks modified into nail maces via the game's weapon crafting system.

But then I came across this pipe. The level five pipe.

Now I understand role-playing games need to put limits on the power of weapons that characters can wield at any given time, and with experience points and levels,Dead Islandcertainly qualifies as an action role-playing game.

But this is a pipe. I was swinging around one much like earlier, until it was broken beyond my ability to repair it. What about this new pipe made me incapable of hitting a zombie with it? Is it magical? Did I need to develop my pipe affinity? I am a master of blunt weapons, dammit. It's not like you're going to tell throwing expert Logan that he's too low level to forcefully drop something.

I understand the need to impose artificial constraints in game design, but this is a little silly. Damn pipe.

Oh Look, a Beach Ball

I like to fiddle with things, so when I stumbled across a beach ball lying in the blood-spattered sands of Banoi Island, I couldn't resist poking at it. It skittered out of my way in a rather unrealistic fashion, but at least it skittered.

It was a nice touch, but for me it also reminded me that so much of Dead Island's expansive environment is static and unchanging. Books, dishes, and various other props lie scattered about the beaches and beach houses of the island, rooted firmly in place. The swing of a weapon at them did absolutely nothing — it was as if I was swinging through air. In the grand scheme of things this is a small annoyance, but it also carries over to some of the game's larger bits of scenery.

Take beach chairs, for instance. They weren't nailed down. They aren't particularly heavy. Yet a rampaging undead creature still had to go around them in order to reach my sweet, succulent flesh. It's the same thing with bar stools, randomly placed surfboards, beach umbrellas, et cetera. These are things that should be flying out of the way as decomposing fiends charge towards their next meal.

I guess that's just something I need to get over, like the fact that the survivors are holed up in a lifeguard shack at the beginning of the demo, protected from the hordes by only a flimsy pair of wooden-slatted doors.

Play Area? You Think This is a Game?

I got incredibly excited when I realised I could swim in the ocean.

Give me an open-world game, and the first thing I do is test its boundaries. I know there has to be boundaries, but I'm always interested to see what form they will take. Is the bridge out? Is there a fence?

In Dead Island's case, as I waded out into the crystal clear waters of Banoi I fully expected to encounter water too deep for me to navigate. Perhaps they'd have water zombies, waiting to drag me beneath the waves! Maybe I'd swim until I ran out of stamina and drown!

Nope.

A warning flashed on the screen, alerting me to the fact that I was exiting the play area. A few seconds later, the screen faded to black and I was deposited back at the lifeguard shack I started from.

Out of bounds? In this day and age? What a lazy way to corral the player. That amazing atmosphere I mentioned earlier just took a serious hit.

And This is Me Nitpicking

The rest of my problems with myDead Islanddemo are smaller annoyances that might simply be me being injecting a bit too much "anal" into my analysis. Things like having to spend money at work benches in order to upgrade your equipment. I understand gathering cash to buy supplies from a particularly opportunistic survivor, but why am I spending cash at a standalone work bench? Is there a miniature Home Depot in there?

I also didn't like the fact that the very first mission presented me with the option to take it or decline it, the former advancing the game and the latter locking me inside that lifeguard shack until I changed your mind. Do they really think those flimsy doors are going to hold a guy that regularly kills zombies with his bare hands?

And perhaps the smallest, cheapest nitpick of them all, when you kill a zombie and it falls into one of the resort's many swimming pools, there's no cloud of blood to accompany the spray generated by whatever weapon I did the deed with. I want blood in the water. Hell, I want zombie sharks. There's just no pleasing some people.

Problems aside, I was still pleased with my brief time on Dead Island.

I enjoyed attempting to drive the pickup truck down onto the beach, getting stuck between railings while zombies slowly chipped away at my health from the sides.

I loved the tension of having my sole weapon shatter in the face of my first encounter with an undead bodybuilder.

I reveled in having relative free reign to go where I wanted to in the environment, limited only by my bravery and the staying power of my chosen weapons.

I even had fun finding flaws.


Comments

    I think they are all valid points and need to be brought up with devs. Sounds a bit lazy on their part.

      Indeed. Static scenery in this day and age is very debateable. Something like deckchairs being immoveable is somewhat ridiculous. Barstools can be explain as they're 'bolted down' like the ones at my work, but deck chairs would not be.

        Exactly, and do the devs not realise that little things like this make the game feel more interactive or involving. Sigh lets hope this game does not suck when it finally comes out.

          The warp back to start thing would bother me even more. You can understand why it is there, the purpose it has but it takes you out of the game so much, I would probably rather if you died if you got neck deep in water.

          I have to say I have been very cautious about this game, there seems to be a lot of hype for it when there is very little information. It seems people have just heard 'zombie game' and assumed it would be great because they can imagine a great zombie game.

          Reading this article I think I was right to stay cautious, I don't think this game will live up to its hype.

            Yeah... none of this sounds game-destroying, but it does sound like the kind of corner-cutting that makes the difference between a great game that people will buy at launch vs something they'll pass on or wait until it hits the bargain bins. The difference between games that score 6s and 7s compared to games that pay attention to these kinds of details and score 8s and 9s.

    It is just a demo, hopefully some of these are fixed before released

    That gripe with the pipe and being too low level to use it is just simple fact of RPG mechanics. I didn't see you complaining about the guns of borderlands or the swords of diablo this way. Changing this would be gamebreaking.

      Neither of those games imply realism as much as Dead Island does.

        I don't think they're going for realism when you can make electric swords etc like in Dead Rising.

      In addition to what Brontothunder said, you could also make the case that many projectile weapons are harder to use than others. You might even be able to say the same things about swords depending on their weight, balance and composition. This is a pipe. A pipe. How can a pipe be unwieldy?

        Yeah was going to say that maybe they just need to change the pipe to something that actually requires some "levelling".

        Not really a biggy, kind of funny though =P.

          With weapon levels why don't they let you use them and only do 10% damage until you are proficient with them i.e. level 5. That would make more sense in my opinion.

    I think what we need is pretty much Crysis 2 with zombies

    for a game that is trying to sell their product with a emotive immersive trailer it's pretty inexcusable to punk out on the things mentioned above.

    Pretty stock standard must haves in this day and age.

    Pfft people are actually excited about this game? Zombies are so 2007.

    I will only be disappointed with Dead Island if it fails to turn a profit, as DNF did. Regardless of these bugs (which probably won't be in the finished thing, mostly) it still looks like a far better game and it would be a tragedy for it to not make money and thereby encourage more of this kind of game.

    Sounds like a lot of these gripes are the result of gamification creeping into a simulation.

    The whole "moveable debris" issue was part of what made havoc physics so popular, you could just leave stuff strewn around but still behave appropriately.
    Unfortunately, it doesn't suit all games and so you have this.
    I'm not too bothered by the lack of blood bloom when zombies fall into water, but the whole game area thing is a disappointment, along with the "level 5" pipe.
    Don't take away the ability for someone to hold something, just make it less effective if it's unweildly or something.
    Hopefully both are just relics of the stage game development was at when the demo was made.

    "I like to fiddle with things"

    Something not right with that statement Mike lol

    Can't wait for the game, these things are only minor and would not really bother me.

    yea I got this feeling in the playthrough I saw at Mana Bar.

    Game could've been evolutionary for the zombie genre. Unfortunately it is not.

    They should have just released the game after the first trailer.

    Since then, all other media and news has obliterated all interest I had for the game.

    when i first saw the game and the infamous opening trailer i had high hopes for the game, i was (silly old me) thinking it would be the zombie game that i am waiting for
    - mature themes (not something as zanny as left 4 dead or dead rising)
    - darker tones (ala night of the living dead movies)
    - weapons could range from almost anything
    - and open world

    BUT then i saw the gameplay..i saw numbers/scores flying out whenever you hit a zombie, it turned me off big time!!..

    come on!!cant we just have a zombie game where its about survival?..surviving and maybe meeting other NPCs and or online players trying to survive, holding out on an abandoned house gathering supplies or being trapped in a small grocery store and defending it from the undead (just a few zombies not ridiculous numbers - im looking at you left 4 dead!!)..going to an abandoned house with your friends (or by yourself) then either claiming that house for yourself or trying to gather friends and holding up there for a while..
    GOD!!!!would i ever have this kind of game??!!it always seems that i hear a zombie game thats kinda close to what i want then all of a sudden it doesnt turn out that way!!

    i think its either there should be like minded developers out there that should go make this game OR i make this game myself, which knowing me would just involve a flip book and drawing a few stickmens there and possibly a red pen for blood..

    look if we can make dozens of cooking mama's and hundreds of Cabela's stupid hunting game - that by its next hundred iteration all the animals will be extinct (thanks Cabela!!) why not the game that im proposing?..im sure some people have toy'd with the idea and im sure it would sell pretty good (maybe not as much as stupid Cabela's game) but would still defo sell

    arrgghhhh im sooo frustrated!!1111dwsgwegewqg

    was interested at first, but slowly im starting to lose it. It seems generic, and after hyping up for DR2 (and hating it)a zombie game really has step up a bit and be innovative and really let the person choose how to survive, without having to well like a chore. Give it proper RPG mechanics and a morale system which impacts the endings and the options you have to choose and i'll be interested

      www.minecraft.net :)

      chris

        oops, wrong reply link, this was meant for whatthi

    After reading this and seeing the demos and other videos of the game, I get the sinking feeling that this will be average at best. Shame.

    I still got high hopes, the problems pointed out above are not what I would consider game-breaking issues and I continue to look forward to some open-world zombie bashing co-op. Bring it on!

    i reckon you have good points but when it comes to blood and gore , they might be trying to keep the rating down like in Australia they would have to cut heaps just so we can play it

    I'm with Big Chris, Minecraft covers pretty well everything whatti asked for.

    This still looks like a great zombie game- I just wish more games would follow Crysis when it comes to boundaries- It doesn't seem like that big a deal to put something out in the water perimeters that can kill you, ie SHARKS! I remember swimming way out into the ocean on Just Cause 2 wishing, WISHING I would get eaten by some glorious dark shadow beast.. but no.. just tiny fish swimming by me like tiny snacks. Hopefully someday I will create a game and put these lazy devs in their places ;)

    Hopfully Riptide will fix them

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