Eventually, I just had Sam B run for it—well, maybe, I had them run for it, I guess. I was alone at my desk and there wasn't an alert telling me someone had joined my game, so I had to be maneuvering through, shooting and swinging at, kicking down, and simply surviving the zombie infestation of the fictional island of Banoi by myself. Why, then, was Sinamoi insistent on thanking and pleading me with plural pronouns? Panning my first-person perspective around, I could see the surroundings, my character's leg and feet, and the electrified machete he wielded in his right hand. Yet, despite all of my effort, I couldn't find another companion in my party.
Dead lsland's game box makes it a point to let you know there is “Thrilling story based 4 player Co-op,” but at this time, my Xbox LIVE lobby was empty. Perhaps I had misunderstood the lifeguard-turned-survivor-leader in his message over a crackling CB radio.
Upon reaching [their] destination, my [group of survivors] completed the task [they] accepted and [were] rewarded with experience points and an item before the screen faded to black to queue up a cutsceen. A short pause later, animated in with the same stiff puppetry movements and lifeless delivery of a “Thunderbirds” show—think “Team America” if you don't get the reference—a group of four deliberated over the next course of action.
Where had this gaggle of unlikely compatriots appeared from? They seemed to be acquainted with one another, knew the key story missions I had just experienced, and had a general sense of camaraderie. Where was Purna's bullets, Xian Mei's sharp knives, or Logan's projectiles when throngs of the undead had taken swipes at me earlier? Their skills, and persons, weren't there when I needed them, but they all of a sudden exist and are spoken to even though I had Sam B conquer menial fetch quests alone! Their input and physical presence could have been used outside of each nonevent cutscene.
When would they have even met, anyway? I wondered. Nowhere in the game's eerie opening had their coming together been acknowledged, besides the front end cinematic—which I thought was only for introductory purposes, highlighting their place on the island. Their participation in missions doled out by stronghold survivors throughout Banoi's various locales (beachfront resort, jungle, inland city, etc.) made sense when a friend or random player joined in with the smartly instituted “nearby” multiplayer function (whereby someone close in progress and proximity to me could jump in my game); otherwise their enigmatic appearances were, are, nonsensical.
Maybe that's what Techland wanted though: a stream of random occurrences set on an island where no one cares who you are, as long as you do stuff for them. Never mind the expectations the debut teaser trailer created—Can we have a zombie game in which there's more to it than mindless violence against the flesh-hungry?—it's the general execution that hurts Dead Island.
Looting hundreds of dollars or usable items from a zombie you cut limbs from or break the bones of with weapons you fashioned with effect-changing inventory (like the machete above) is senseless fun—but there's a difference between a fun game and a good game. That fun wears thin when that's all to the experience. Jumping in with a friend for some zombie bashing tempers the result somewhat, but then you're just completing the same set of go-here, get-that tasks more easily. Techland try to spice things up by introducing gun-toting uninfected at various points, but such is done with little precision from stand-still A.I.
Once you realize all you're doing is chopping through the skin-gnawers to get to your objective and slicing your way back to complete the goal and reap the reward—that's when you start to run.I wasn't running through the hordes out of desperation or fear, even though weapons can degrade and it costs increasingly more money repair them the better quality they are; I was running from the tedium of hacking at the same obstacles in my way of more XP and additional meaningless levels. Once in awhile the urge to decapitate a shuffler piqued, but it was soon quelled when a few heads rolled after bee-lining to the same locations they inevitably respawned. If Left 4 Dead achieves excitement and can disorient with the unknown, Dead Island pacifies and settles nerves with familiarity. The first moments you take control of your [characters] are creeping, but everything beyond plays out as expected doldrums.
Like the insurmountable force they portray, zombie games are almost undying; they're nearly perennial. Unfortunately, the ability to capture the possible sentiments and distressing consequences caused by the situations, besides the fight to survive, seem to elude developers. Dead Island's teaser trailer made it look as if the game was going to be one to actually bring the emotional conflict to the forefront, something they almost achieve in once instance out of many. Instead, the game's released as but another vehicle for insipid violence. Without scare, engaging story, logical delivery of events or characters, and with a melee weapon system that causes more aggression towards its degradation mechanics than tension while in the game, Dead Island only amounts to hours-worth of doing the same repetitive action: killing zombies. It can be fun for a bit, and the outdoor environments look gorgeous (the recycled human models, not so much), but Dead Island doesn't offer much else.
Are you content with the state of the zombie game? Or is there more to be achieved with the walking dead? Let us know on Twitter @gamers_hell