Saturday, 26 May 2012
That’s actually a downright lie. I’ve been playing very little this week. I actually move through video games quite slowly and methodically. As cultural forms go, video games are pretty good value for money in my estimation. Some are better than others. Some are over very rapidly and for their price the excitement seems short lived. Others can seem to go on forever and we are happy to immerse ourselves in either the expansive natures of their fictional universes (Red Dead Redemption, Oblivion, GTA, Fallout 3) or a repetitive but rewarding experience (Left for Dead).
In terms of video games I have a particular fondness for zombie games. Zombie films can sometimes be disappointing and examples of good zombie literature are few and far between. Zombie video games tend to boil down the best elements of the genre into one interactive experience. Usually the player is cast as a survivor of some kind of zombie apocalypse and zombies are abound in glorious, gory detail. I think that there is also something interesting going on with how the zombie genre reflects the real world. I think that the genre says something about the modern world and does this better than perhaps vampire or werewolf sub-genre. Perhaps the original Dawn of the Dead communicated it best. The modern world could be viewed as already full of zombies, wandering around soulless cities and mindlessly consuming whatever is available – political lies, consumer brainwashing and reality television role models. The apocalypse has already happened! Is there any wonder that the survivors cast in these games, films and books want to take a chainsaw, shotgun or Molotov cocktail to it all?
My latest foray into the genre was Dead Island. I've been playing it for a while and have just recently completed it. I’d seen the trailer for the game and was very impressed by it. It generated a suitable mood and genuine sense of expectation for the game with its cinematic tricks. Check it out. Then check it out reversed.
I found the game itself to be enjoyable but it didn’t fulfil the promise of the trailer. You are essentially cast as the survivor of an epidemic breaking out on a South Seas tropical island. The disease kills islanders in their droves before reanimating them as manic, gut-thirsty zombies. It was a game that started off very well – but deteriorated in quality and inventiveness as it went along.
-The setting is completely at odds with a typical zombie film / game being a beach resort in the roasting Summer sun. It shouldn’t work but it does.
-Weapons and scavenging. The game gives you opportunity to pick up many seemingly useless items on your travels through the resort that you can then use upon finding a work bench to make more interesting / devastating weapons. Found baseball bat plus found nails equals a spiked bat that does greater and gorier damage.
-Calibration and close combat. Different weapons inflict different amounts and types of damage. Hammers, bats and oars etc. Crush skulls while axes and machetes cleave off grasping, infected limbs. Also the guns suck in terms of stopping zombies (bullets mostly passing straight through them) and ammo is appropriately rare.
-Missions. Missions are largely restricted to moving between groups of survivors and doing things for them. Your character seems to be immune (obviously!) and so can do this. Many missions are mercy missions to save lives but some of the more interesting one involve moron survivors trying to save their valuables rather than their lives and you have to choose whether or not to risk your life (zombies can still kill and eat you) in pursuing these for rewards.
-Detail. The game is appropriately gory.
-Vehicles. Cars are deadly weapons on the island and if you can get to one them mowing down zombies in the road can be sickeningly satisfying (until your windscreen smashes and your engine begins to belch smoke).
-You may select one of four characters who are introduced in the cinematic intro. You go around alone as one of these characters. The intro is good but when you get to an inevitable cut scene suddenly the three other characters pop up. It jolts you out of the gaming experience.
-Missions can get repetitive in nature.
-The story. There is very little of it and the game generally boils down to trying to get off the island.
-Guns. I’ve mentions these as a plus. While it is realistic that the guns do little damage it is not very satisfying. It also means you have to get up close and personal with hordes of zombies in close combat which is the last thing a survivor would want to do.
-Multiplayer. The game tries to do something interesting with this by allowing other players to join you if they are at roughly the same stage in the narrative as you. Sounds great but creates a contradictory desire to stay away from other survivors in case they largely do missions for you or grab interesting items that you think you might need.
-Character chemistry. Zero. No chemistry to speak of between the four characters even when they are foisted upon you in the cut scenes.
-The end. The beginning, which you are skulking around the resort with only improvised weaponry and zombies everywhere is genuinely unnerving and the best bit of the game. The end just turned into a kill the grotesque boss-fest and even he was pretty easy to defeat.
All in all, if you like zombie games (like me) then Dead Island is for you. Prepare yourself, however, for a game that does suffer from diminishing returns and isn’t a touch on games like Left for Dead and Left for Dead 2. In fact, upon completing Dead Island my immediate instinct was to pick up Left for Dead 2 again.
Any recommendations for other zombie games welcome!