After the Apocalypse: A Dead Island Retrospective

After the Apocalypse: A Dead Island Retrospective

The Dead Island you ended up playing isn't quite the Dead Island that was meant to be.

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Interesting read, and illustrates very well why I look with dread at the industry's current obsession with putting co-op and multiplayer modes into everything.

Hm, I really liked the game. But it's mostly gameplay and nice visuals. Main story is mildly entertaining, if a bit cliche, but sidequest stuff is very boring. It's generally an excuse to make you kill some new zombies/special zombies and reward you with nice loot.

I would also note that this game is highly entertaining despite every character being 100% unlikable. I hope they will make a sequel. Isn't it the only game by their company that made sizable profit in recent years?

So they had a chance to make a zombie game that was different from all the others thanks to a strong narrative that actually brings the despair and horror of dealing with a zombie apocalypse... and they drop it in favour of wacky 4 player co-op shenanigans.

...idiots.

Very interesting interview.

Dead Island sometimes feels like it's attempting to do too many things at once. The game switches between a personal linear storytelling style, and a sandboxy world narrative. It sometimes atttempts to mix some very serious themes with the outright wacky. These frequent switches in styles makes it hard to take any of it seriously.
Multiplayer coop is probably not the best context to use for heavy social commentary.

I found that the fact sheets and audio logs felt mostly out of place and bolted on. I think when adding flavour like these, it is important to keep them relevant to gameplay. Good examples of how this can be done is the Civilopedia from the Civilization series, and the fact notes from Assasin's Creed. If Dead Island had used factoids about things I could do or see in the game, they would probably have felt more relevant.

The storytelling that Dead Island does best is the one made through level design, and what happens through gameplay. This should in my opinion have been the main focus, and that would probably have translated better to coop.

I strongly disagree that the technology of video gaming is holding storytelling back. But the medium needs to be used wisely. In a stageplay you can't make a believable representation of a volcano erupting, so they stay away from that kind of effect. If the uncanny valley phenomenon is preventing a game from being believable, maybe the best approach is less realism instead of going for more. South Park can tell good stories without realistic looking characters, and so can video games. You just need to choose your battles wisely. Bastion and Grim Fandango are just two of many examples of great game storytelling that comes to mind, that manages to integrate gameplay and story without having to go to technical extremes. Creativity is holding back the genre, not technology.

Most of the reviews I read (but I didn't read many) said the thing they loved about it was the environment and unique setting and the things they hated about it were the awful quest structure, scaling zombies RPG elements that didn't quite work sometimes, the fact you leave the wonderful island for a grey generic city and generally just the crud load of bugs.

I thought a lot of people felt the environment connected enough to tell the story well and the real story weakness was in the quests and how they felt in context of the game

Sixcess:
Interesting read, and illustrates very well why I look with dread at the industry's current obsession with putting co-op and multiplayer modes into everything.

Exactly. The line that stood out for me was "We want players to play the game they want to play."

Um...then why build a game at all? The whole point of making a game is to give players the kind of game you want them to play.

If someone doesn't want that kind of game, it's OK, because if you executed the game properly, those that do want to play your game will flock to it.

Smokescreen:

Sixcess:
Interesting read, and illustrates very well why I look with dread at the industry's current obsession with putting co-op and multiplayer modes into everything.

Exactly. The line that stood out for me was "We want players to play the game they want to play."

Um...then why build a game at all? The whole point of making a game is to give players the kind of game you want them to play.

If someone doesn't want that kind of game, it's OK, because if you executed the game properly, those that do want to play your game will flock to it.

Indeed, and when executed well those that thought they didn't want it, sometimes find out that they like it anyway.

When I go to a movie, I want to see a story the way the director envisioned it, not the way he thinks I want it.

When a trailer says one thing and the game is another thing well...Where I come from we call that a bait and switch.

Just another reason why I don't pre-order games or purchase without a review or recommendation.

So nearly everything that i hated about that game was due to the fact that they wanted to make the 4 player coop core gameplay?
All right then, good to know.

I never made it halfway through before i sold it back, i didn't know anyone else who had it for the 360, and playing by yourself was the dullest, most repetitive, and boring gameplay that i've experienced in quite some time.

I understand what he's saying about story getting lost in the noise of co-op, but putting everything into newspaper clippings and voice logs makes for a profoundly isolating single player experience.

So Russ Pitt is back?
But not as Editor in Chief?
So he did this article and reviewed Halo aniversery...
WELCOME BACK RUSS!

Despite the obvious intent for it to be played co-op (STOP DOING THIS!!!!) I really liked Dead Island. One of my favorite places was in the beginning, after fighting your way through the outer cabins, making your way into the plaza between the towers of the hotel. Maybe it was a fluke, but there weren't any zombies there. All you had was overturned furniture, blood splatter everywhere, and the wind echoing between the buildings. The soft sunlight and palm trees made it all perfectly eerie. A shame that they didn't run with that theme.

I think this gets to the gist of the problem. Deep Silver was developing a multi-player co-op game intended to basically be a cash in on "Left 4 Dead" where, the player base has generally wanted a strong single player zombie apocolypse game with a lot of attention paid to the lore, horror, etc... The trailers implied the game to be more along those lines, where the reality was substantially differant.... even if you could determine that this was first and foremost a co-op cash-in game if you did a bit a lot of seperate reading about the product.

I DO hope that someone will pick up the torch after the trailers we saw, and we will see someone try and make a Zombie-based RPG game more in that vein than what we wound up getting. Dead Island is a good game, but not quite the game I, and a lot of other people apparently, really wanted.

One thing I will say is that the guys doing these games need to stop trying to make these games funny, either through the intended multi-player vibe, or through the material itself. We've see so many parodies of the genere via things like "Dead Rising" and the tongue-in-cheek attitude that is cultivated by Left For Dead, that we're rapidly not seeing any serious treatment of the material to draw a comparison with.

Reading stuff by developers over a period of time there seems to be a tendency for them to want to "lighten things up" when dealing with especially serious, or grotesque material, but really that isn't what they should be doing in a horror game, the should be looking at how messed up something is, and then once they hit bottom find ways to gradually make it even worse. The elation shouldn't come from humor, but at the very end of the game when you (or your character) survive despite all the odds and how bad things got.

Likewise I'd also say that attempting to humanize such situations through having a protaganists with a connection to family members or whatever that are present in the game tends to actually lower personal committment and association with this being "you". To be honest I think one of the problems with Chuck in "Dead Rising 2" was his focus on Katie through the entire game rapidly made it clear that I wasn't really the one adapting to the situation, rather I was following pre-scripted queues.

Ultimatly I think what someone needs to do to capture the essence of what "Dead Rising" was going to be in many people's minds is to create something like say "Fallout" but with a zombie apocolypse instead of A-bombs, and less cheeky, omni-present satire. Honestly a zombie apocolypse is the exact time you might see a lot of people becoming very sociopathic out of nessecity, and an alignment or "karma" system might actually make sense and be a way of tracking that if nothing else to see where it goes. None of the zombie games I see now really have a chance for you, the player, to wind up gradually becoming that survival obssessed maniac.

The interesting thing to also consider though is that in the spirit of such games, it's a good place to turn the normal quest dynamic on it's head. Normally in most RPGs it's a simple format of someone asking for help, you rendering it, and getting a reward. This is exactly the genere where someone might ask for help, you render it, and then they try and shoot you and steal your stuff. A few occurances like that and you might start seeing players get into a properly ambigious mentality for the setting. In such a properly presented enviroment remaining the good guy/white knight actually winds up meaning a lot more in a way the clear cut good/bad choices in most games do not. After all in such an enviroment given the unknowns involved what's "bad" and being a "maniac" could also just be considered being pragmatic. Most zombie movies do a bad job when it comes to the specifics here, but questions like that are in part what they are trying to be about (or were in the beginning).

All I can honestly say is NO FUCKING SHIT! The problem with Dead Island was the multiplayer mode, it just didn't NEED to be there. Thanks for the great read, as always.

Ok, so basically, they sacrificed EVERYTHING that could have been interesting in this game and for what? "four player co-op"-feature??? No wander i was bored to death past a quarter of the game. Such a failure.

"Borderlands and Fallout 3 are open world RPGs, but Dead Island has a very different feel since it isn't set on another planet or in an alternate future. It's set in today's world with all its conflicts, politics, prejudices and problems."

I'm pretty sure that a zombie apocalypse isn't a part of my everyday problems (though preparing for one might be)...

I found that I could relate to Fallout 3 more than Dead Island in the sense that there were people with problems that I could assist with and become immersed in their world, rather than in Dead Island where I was merely doing a quest for the money and loot and not that person's problems.

Dead Island could have been such a better game and especially better executed than what it was.

Therumancer:
The interesting thing to also consider though is that in the spirit of such games, it's a good place to turn the normal quest dynamic on it's head. Normally in most RPGs it's a simple format of someone asking for help, you rendering it, and getting a reward. This is exactly the genere where someone might ask for help, you render it, and then they try and shoot you and steal your stuff. A few occurances like that and you might start seeing players get into a properly ambigious mentality for the setting. In such a properly presented enviroment remaining the good guy/white knight actually winds up meaning a lot more in a way the clear cut good/bad choices in most games do not. After all in such an enviroment given the unknowns involved what's "bad" and being a "maniac" could also just be considered being pragmatic. Most zombie movies do a bad job when it comes to the specifics here, but questions like that are in part what they are trying to be about (or were in the beginning).

I've always thought that games like Fallout 3/New Vegas could do with a chance certain quest giving (or non-quest giving) NPCs could betray you (I'm going with F3/F:NV as an example because it's not just applicable to zombie games).

It would depend upon things like how strong/weak you are, your level, your reputation with certain factions.

For example, early on you are captured by a small group of raiders (maybe it's a combat/stealth tutorial). You manage to discreetly untie yourself and your quest is to sneak to where they keep unused weapons and steal one, then kill all the raiders, then you rescue your fellow captive "Monterey Jack", an ex-soldier who is well trained in fire arms, but would become stronger he became a companion.

From here, there is a chance that when you turn away he'll try to rob you and take your stuff to ensure his own survival. For this context, he is no more powerful than a few raiders, as his gear is pathetic, however he has a powerful melee attack (presumably because of his training from the Great Offscreen War of Exampleland).

You remember this and now it's your second playthrough, do you try to rob him first? He could turn out to be a possible companion, but might try to rob you of what little gear and weapons you have. Leave him there? He won't slow down any raiders that come after you, and as I mentioned before, could become a companion, but might try to rob you instead.

It was the same issue I found with Singularity. The trailer had very little to do with the end result. I expected a deep cinematic experience, much more of a paced and connecting affair. Instead got a watered down Bioshock. Overall I enjoyed the game, and would wholly recommend it at discount price, its just my expectations were so high the game suffered because of it.

With Dead Island I went in expecting the same engaging hopelessness seen in the opening trailer, and instead got a rather sub-par rpg. Again, based on its merits its an enjoyable game, I just wish the trailer hadn't mislead me. It just ended up hurting my impression of their game.

I bought the game to fuck around with it with my girlfriend, though sadly her computer isn't up for long stretches of it. I played it singleplayer and it was overall okay. I wouldn't mind there being some sense to the number of zombies in areas. (I know there'd be some replenishment due to wandering but complete replenishment after trudging over the area 50 times?)

If they make DLC and clearly mark it as multi-player centric or single-player centric and don't make them interdependent that'd be something I would really recommend to people.

Or if they had the time, standalone expansions which are again clearly labelled as being one or the other.

I think a daring, challenging, and nuanced story will one day be found in a game, but for that to happen it will need to match the gameplay mechanics.

*cough*Planescape: Torment*cough*

"But clearly for some people I think it raised unrealistic expectations."

I'd say more like different expectations, at least for me. I had expected it to be focused on the story and the horrors of a zombie apocalypse, rather than a much less polished left 4 Dead with light rpg elements.

It looks like a lot of silly fun with some friends and booze, but if you want story and/or horror this isn't just your game.

it would definitely be nice to properly introduce co-op in an open world RPG without sacrificing story

I still wish I could get a friend to just grab a controller and jump into Fallout 3 with me. sure would be more useful than any of the number of followers the "Lone Wanderer" haha

Dead Island is a good game, but there are many reasons I can't recommend it to my friends.

The challenges dishing out XP is interesting and all, but with the tally accumulating for all characters, you can run across ridiculous scenarios of a brand new character suddenly going from level 1 to level 12 before leaving the prologue.

The UI has some serious issues, especially the way weapons are picked up and/or replaced.
Throw your weapon, go to retrieve it, and potentially end up with half a minute of inventory shuffling.
I would have been happier if there wasn't a "replace" option at all, and you simply can't pick something up if you have no room in your inventory. Would solve a lot of problems (especially for the yogscast, lol).
Finally, it's obviously a console game .. apart from mouselook (which is awesome, by the way. Here I'm referring to the sensitivity slider and general responsiveness), managing weapons was a chore.
Assign numbers to each of the positions on the wheel. People can still use the wheel. They wouldn't have to press numbers if they don't want to. That's how little it would take to turn a shitty UI into a decent one.

Multiplayer is a bit of a mess, the way quests and level scaled zombies are managed.
Sure, it's fun when a level 35 guy joins my level 6's game, and the characters are equally proficient at beating down zombies ...
Ok, the level 35 is a little better with melee and guns, but the level 6 can kill anything with a single molotov. It balances out, right? What it does is make no sense.
I'm not even going to get started on how the loot drops happen.
Obviously, this isn't an issue if a group of people only play the game with each other, but then how's that different from having no level scaling?

Then there's the voice acting, which can be vomit-inducing depending on how familiar you are with the supposed accents.
As a chinese-australian, it was bad enough for me to skip most conversations and cutscenes.
Just one example - a fresh off the boat chinese should not be voiced by a vietnamese. Just sayin'

The game is a lot of fun, but from the perspective of a 1337 gamer who picked up the game without any expectations, it's nothing special.

smh...

Did they really need to learn the hard way that you can't have a touching and moving story in a 4-player co-op game?

Lets pretend they never knew anything about games for a moment. Even then, they should've known better. I mean, when you go to a movie theater, whats the environment like? Dark and quite. Ten minutes into the film, its just you and the story. Now imagine watching any movie, no matter how touching, with your friends at home, on a couch, lights on, doing everything possible to break your immersion. Its just not possible to feel the same way.

There really is no excuse for being that dumb. Epic failure. An epic fail on the level of games like Mindjack. And not because the gameplay is bad, or poor exposition (Dead Island does do that through the environment, like Borderlands, but it neither did anything to incite emotion) its because you did something so utterly stupid in the sake of ripping off Left 4 Dead (we all know that was their intention). You had a concept that had never been executed well in a videogame, and barely so in cinema, and threw it away in hopes of stealing some players away from Left 4 Dead. You sold out your integrity as artists and you failed to even attempt to create fans of your own by put out a good product.

Wow. Lots of people hated the coop? Didn't even know that.

I loved it. If it wasn't for the coop I would have quit the moment I got to the city. I hated that map. All the originality of the game went to hell. "Another destroyed town? I've seen millions of these!" I shouted to my coop partner.

But we had fun anyways.

I like the fact that the guy sounds like he is not afraid to try new things in a sequel :D

I'd like DI2 to be longer, to have more randomized elements, some emergent stuff (opportunity missions, dudes to rescue, etc), less vendors, less survivors (in safe houses and all around), no main characters (create your own appearance, select one out of 3 or 4 voices for one liners only).
I think you can't tell a story as well as you can in SP, but you can set a mood. For the first 2 hours me an my coop buddy were quite immersed in the game. We went "OHHH daaaaamn! There's a million zombies there! We can't do shit with these pipes!" and "DIDJA SEE THAT PLANE? Wonder if we can reach it". We could not.

Oh, and the sequel? Don't make it in a city FFS.

gamegod25:
"But clearly for some people I think it raised unrealistic expectations."

I'd say more like different expectations, at least for me. I had expected it to be focused on the story and the horrors of a zombie apocalypse, rather than a much less polished left 4 Dead with light rpg elements.

It looks like a lot of silly fun with some friends and booze, but if you want story and/or horror this isn't just your game.

This. I think Yahtzee said it in his review of Dead Island, but the game has absoloutely no consistency in its tone. Seriously, you can't develop a narrative about surviving the horrors of a zombie aocalypse and then have your character hack off a zombies limbs for giggles. Either be serious and gritty or fun and light-hearted, you can't have both.

 

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