Back in October 2013, I grabbed a digital copy of Dead Island for $4.99 on the PlayStation 3 and played for a little bit, actually finding it too unnerving to play solo, given that any group of three or more zombies proved deadly, and the to-ing and fro-ing for fetch quests felt both depressing and lonely. I don’t think I got out of Act I or even hit level 10 with whatever character I selected before putting the whole thing aside. Flash-forward to February 2014, and Dead Island is given out as a freebie for Gold users on the Xbox 360. Figured I’d try one more time.
For those unaware, Dead Island is a first-person, zombie-killing survival loot fest. What does that mean? Well, you will kill zombies, find better weapons, and use them to kill more zombies. There’s a high focus on melee weapons though guns do pop up later and are less exciting. The game takes place on the fictional island of Banoi, a tropical resort destination located off the coast of Papua New Guinea. You play as one of four survivors who discover, after a crazy night of partying, that the island’s gone to heck–undead heck, that is. Back on the PS3, I started off as Xian Mei, a hotel receptionist and spy for the Chinese government, but decided to go with former football-star Logan Carter for this second go-around, seeing as he is much better suited for wielding blunt weapons.
Your goal is, naturally, to get off this zombie-infested island alive. Along the way, you’ll do smaller quests for other survivors, like finding a necklace or reuniting siblings. All the quests exist to simply get you out in the wild, killing zombies, finding new weapons, and gaining XP. This can be a lot of fun, generally when it is you versus one or two zombies; it’s all about crowd control and managing your stamina, which runs out fast with each hard swing of your hammer or spiked baseball bat. Breaking a zombie’s bones or slice its head off in one swift action is very satisfying, even if the game occasionally bugs out or feels too tough for one person to get through.
Well, something happened the other night. I was playing through the campaign by myself, specifically the Act 1 mission where you have to protect a mechanic’s workshop while he tinkers with upgrading your van with some zombie-blocking armor. Naturally, all the noise he creates draws in a bunch of biters; I finished the mission just fine when, out of nowhere, another player joined my game. This player was clearly much higher in level than me–his gun shot bullets that set zombies aflame and put them to the ground in one single trigger-pull–and I figured he’d see what I was up to and decide I wouldn’t be fun to co-op with, given the differences between our characters. But no–he lingered. And then two other players joined, both just as high in level as him. They wanted to adventure with moi.
With these three other power-spewing players by my side, we blazed through the remainder of Dead Island‘s Act I and got pretty deep into Act II before I had to drop out to make some phone calls and play something less terrifying before bedtime. I wouldn’t necessarily call it fun for me or how I even wanted to play, as I spent the majority of my time just walking behind them, watching zombies getting slaughtered and free, unearned XP added to my character, and there seemed to be little I could do. Given that Act II begins in a new area, I wanted to explore more slowly and on my own, but these three were eager to just move on to the next mission, often firing guns in the air as a signal for me to hurry up and over. A part of me felt bad for abandoning them; heck, they joined my game, and were here to assumedly help me. So I followed behind for a good while, earning lots of XP, money, and weapons, and missing every important story beat along the way. Now that they’re gone, I feel very out of my element–like I don’t belong in Act II.
As you explore Banoi, the game is constantly letting you know that so-and-so is nearby, just click this button to join their game. I tried it once or twice, with it putting me really far away from the other player, to the point that I was basically still just playing solo, but listening to someone’s choppy voicechat. It’s a neat function that seems to work well enough, but I think I need to turn it off, at least until I complete the story once. Right now, I feel like I’m missing a lot of the atmosphere and small details by just jumping from quest to quest, completing a handful in under an hour. Maybe they were all boosting for Achievements, but I’m not really interested in that stuff anymore.
It sounds like Dead Island is a pretty long game. The level cap is 50, and I just hit 25, and there are still two more acts to go. I’ve come across some online grumbling about how these final sections are less fun than exploring the beach/resort area. Already, I’m disliking the city/church area, as there are way too many zombies to realistically handle; I’ve found myself sprinting past enemies more often to not. It’s also more closed off, with narrow alleys and buildings, whereas the beach felt very open. I’ll keep going though. I don’t want to be a zombie.