My name is Jared Whittaker, one of the hosts and Audio Chewbacca of the Super-Fly Podcast and PCW! Welcome to Game Changer, a weekly burning missive about all aspects of video gaming with a little bit of opinion thrown in for fun. Proceed with caution and tread lightly, gentle gamers. It’s going to be good time. Like the first time you saw Super Mario 3 good time.
After a few weeks of scrounging up money, I finally managed to pick up Dead Island. Easily one of my most anticipated games of the year, I was pretty amped up to start playing the melee-based, open world zombie apocalypse game. Rather than do a standard review, which would be pretty impossible with so much to do with everything that can be done in the game, I figured that I’d record my progress in Dead Island up until the last time I played it. Here is a loose record of my first 8 hours with Dead Island.
00:00 – 02:00 – Starting out, you are dropped right in the middle of the action. After choosing your character, (I, of course, choose Sam B, the one-hit wonder rapper) You wake up in the hotel after the opening cutscene and get a feel of how the game plays. Picking up items, looting bags and fighting single zombies. It was still trippy to see a rambling zombie slowly coming toward you. This is a game of realistic zombies. Sure, they start slow and a one-on-one incounter seems like a breeze, but if taken lightly, you could end up taking a few shots and almost dying. This isn’t like every other zombie game that’s out there. This isn’t like Dead Rising, where you can mow down hundreds of zombies at a time. You learn REALLY early that a pack of zombie could be the end of your life.
You then ‘meet’ a voice over the hotel PA, directing you to the lower levels of the hotel. You’ll find out about this guy later in the game, but at this point you don’t know much about him, but you don’t have much to go on. After turning a corner and incountering the Infected zombies, (what the the running zombies are called in the game) you think that that you’re safe, only to get jumped by another zombie. You black out and are revived by the first round of survivors. Led by John Sinamoi, you end up with a group in a lifeguard center by the beach. There I was encouraged to help the survivers in the bunker with odds and ends quests. Mostly fetch quests at the beginning: go here, pick up this, bring it back, get weapons or money type situations. Not bad, but pretty standard. These quests are to show you the beach and hotel areas and get you familiar with the terrain. At this point, I was still tripping off how much trouble you could get into with just a few zombies. While trying to check on a survivors’ husband, I got swarmed by five zombies. You have a stamina bar and it effects everything you do. Running, attacking, ducking and dodging, everything. After three or four big swings, I was beat and couldn’t run away. So, I ended up eventually going down after killing two of those suckers. Hey, you win some and you lose some…..
02:00 – 04:00 After scouting around and doing jobs for people, you find out that there are more survivors on the island. They had a difference of opinion with Sinamoi, decided to not wait around to die and took off for a nearby lighthouse to try and get off the island. Those quests have more to do with furthering the rescue mission: spelling out ‘Help’ with bags, finding a radio transmitter to receive broader radio transmissions and re-routing power to the lighthouse to signal any help that might be coming your way. At this point, I was getting used to the weapons and the upkeep factor. Early on, money is pretty scarce and you really have to have a plan on what you are going to carry and repair. I had a spiked baseball bat and a hand sickle as well as a hammer and some Molotov cocktails. (You find out early on that, just like “real” life, burning zombies is the easiest way to kill them) Keeping all of them in working order is very difficult. Footing it from one place to and other got to be murder on my gear. Luckily, finding new gear and weapons, as well as items to raise you health bar isn’t hard at all. Finding good gear and weapons is another story. For the first few hours, I was fighting with the same kind of weapons: wrenches, boards, bats, oars, pipes, fishing knives, boxes, quite frankly anything I could find on the ground. Once you finish some of the main quests, you start getting mods. Mods are blueprints to make more powerful weapons and items. Dead Island, as much as it plays like zombie Fallout, it has a mean Diablo streak just underneath the surface. Colors show the level of item you have. While weird to think that I had a legendary pair of brass knuckles, you better believe that I was punching the undead the hell out with them and its added stopping power. The fact that you can trade with your co-op partners only makes the comparison stronger.
Things really pick up when you finish an early quest that allows you commandeer a truck. After that, I took a break from getting stuff for people and checking on loved ones for some payback. Early on, the streets are littered with Walkers and Infected zombies take run straight at you. It’s hard to deal with with just a baseball bat. But with a truck? Let’s just say that if you’ve ever wondered who would win between a car and a human body, you’ll find out quick. Running over zombies was the most fun at this point in the game. Just when walking everywhere and getting jumped by zombies at every turn starts to get real old, the new element of the truck really equals the odds. Fun, fun, FUN!!
The visceral sound of the game is really the star here. Walking, you hear zombies grunting in the distance. The ambient drones are not unlike any good zombie movie you’ve seen. The drones pick up when the undead are close. Playing on Steam via my laptop, my studio headphones really got a work out. I will fully admit freaking out and looking around at a sound that I thought I heard. The use of surround sound in the game really gets you immersed. Later on, special zombies, like the Thug, the Infected and the Ram have their own sounds and you can hear them in the distance. Hearing your character screaming “I don’t want to die like this!!” as you’re getting pushed down and swarmed is awesome in the game sense and terribly scary as you flail around trying not to die.
04:00 – 08:00 By this point, I had most of the main quests done and was gearing up for the final quest of Act 1. “Misery Wagon” has you taking a Brinks like truck you stole from the hotel parking lot to a body shop to get it fitted with armor to make it to the next location in Act 2. If you’ve watched the remake of Dawn of the Dead, you’ll catch the fan service as the truck looks just like the truck in the movie. While the body shop owner Earl works on the truck, you’re tasked with the awful job of keeping zombies away from the shop. At this point, depending on your level, (the game keeps all the enemies at your general level) the Infected will be the enemy of choice in this section. By now, I had made the shock knife, a machete with a modified car battery hooked up to it. Yeah. Again, I had a machete with a modified car battery hooked up to it!!! Shocking the crap out of zombies while cutting off heads is the most fun, while being the most scary thing I’ve done in a game in a while. After fighting about twenty screaming, running undead monsters, the truck was done and I was barely still alive from the fight. Using exploding propane tanks and throwing broken weapons at bad guys to slow them up for a second before breaking out my favorite weapons, the scorch bat (a baseball bat soaked in oil and on fire) to crack the remaining corpses in the head.
The feeling of fear of being overwhelmed is constant. It should be always on your mind. No matter how good of weapons and gear you have, the fact that you could get killed really, REALLY easy is a new feeling to me. Games have gotten a lot easier in the last generation. The fact that Dead Island does not hold your hand is a great throwback to the days of Ninja Gaiden on NES being SUPER hard is a welcome change. When you die, you know it’s because you messed up and overextended yourself. Your weapon load wasn’t right or you didn’t have enough health packs. Or you were just too slow in beating a hasty retreat.
So, that’s where I stand at the moment. I’ve just started Act 2 in a church and it’s starting to pile on. I really love this game already. And with Personal ID cards, Banoi Herald Excerpts, Tape Recorder Locations and Skulls to collect, it sounds like I’ll be playing this for a while and finding new stuff along the way. I’ll keep you up to date with how I’m doing. As of now, I can say for sure that if you like zombies, open world games or challenging action games, you need to play this game. Now.
We’re choppin’ heads, son. It aint safe no more…..(pause for the three people that are going to get that Wu Tang reference.)
Jared Whittaker plays a lot of games. Not as much as he’d like, but as much as time and money will allow. If you want to play some games with Jared, you can find him on Playstation 3; PSN tag: JFX. He is also on Steam and Battle.net as JFX316 and while he doesn’t have an Xbox 360, he has the coolest Gamertag in the world: Obiwan Jaborni. Feel free to add him as a friend or email him at JWhittaker@PanelsonPages.com. and on Twitter as JFX316