Dead Island: the second opinion

Dead Island doesn’t make any sense.

“Oh, really?”, I hear you cry. “Does the game about the zombie invasion insult your sensibilities, mister Logical?”

Well, fuck off with that. For one, because you know that’s not what I mean; and two, allow me to explain. The economy in Dead Island makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Yeah, that’s right: the economy. See, you’re literally the only chance the whiney fleshsacks stranded on the island have of survival, and the fuckers still insist on selling you weapons to enable you to go out and save their stupid shitting lives.

That’s either completely nonsensical or you just happen to be vacationing on an island full of complete and utter bellends whose dedication to capitalism actually stretches as far as (and well into) the potential apocalypse.

This is why I delight in selling the opportunistic little shithawks things they could have found themselves if they’d actually done something for themselves for once. Every time I sell Wayne a paddle that he could have picked up himself had he ventured out of the single tiny room he seems to love so much I can’t help chuckling to myself and thinking “Free market will regulate itself my flappy cock. Have the stupid fucking paddle, you prick.”

"Ooh, the zombies have come from space to kill us. A pipe? To you, eighty dollars."

This is Wayne. I hate him.

I’m getting a little distracted, here. [And possibly a little angry, Mr. Furious! -Ed]

My point is this: Dead Island doesn’t fit its setting particularly well from a storyline point of view. However, from a mechanical point of view, of course the game is going to have merchants. It’s an RPG. It’s Borderlands 4 Dead. Having merchants is the only way to stagger equipment discovery as the game goes on – I’m even prepared to ignore the fact that the merchants never leave the safehouses, and nobody else comes and goes, yet stock changes almost every time you visit them. In game-world it’s fucking magic, but in game-mechanic world I’m fine with it because the game’s balance partially hangs off there being an economy.

This is exactly the point I’ve been staggering towards. Some games are about the story. Other games are about the mechanics.

Take Broken Sword. Broken Sword isn’t anything phenomenal in terms of mechanics. It’s just clicking around until another piece of the story is told, sometimes entirely at random because you haven’t worked out that you need to throw the ball to the cat to make it knock over the vase and get the- blah, blah, blah. The story that Broken Sword tells, however, is phenomenal – I still tear through the first two Broken Swords from time to time, in fact. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines was another great example of story over mechanics. I managed to get myself stuck in what I’m fairly certain was an unwinnable situation – due to the game being so damned broken on release – but the story was compelling enough that I kept trying over and over to get to that fucking taxi with the tiny sliver of health I had remaining. Eventually my hard disk did the kindest thing it could have and failed on me, jettisoning the save into binary oblivion forever.

Other games are all about the mechanics. Bulletstorm, for example, slows enemies down as they fly towards you after being leashed. Why? Dunno, can’t remember. Don’t care. All I know is that enemies flying slowly through the air was the gateway to the most joyously gory slapstick comedy I have seen in a video game since Dave Mirra on the PS1 let you ragdoll off a bike as and when you deemed appropriate, and that gave birth to the brilliant and innovative gameplay that the entire game was built around. The story was paper-thin, the characters instantly forgettable (crude man, sassy girl, robocop) but smashing your way through what were essentially brightly coloured corridors was so childishly fun that the Echo time-attack missions are often my go-to entertainment when I’ve got an hour or so to kill, and have been for the seven or eight months since the game’s release.

Of course there are games that manage to get both right: Shadow of the Colossus, for example, never lets the game get in the way of the story or vice-versa, even if at times it feels like the camera is actively working against you. Instead you’re given a few rather innovative mechanics, sixteen fights and a horse, and the story drapes itself beautifully over them.

Ironically, another great example of a game that gets both right is the first Portal. I say ‘ironically’ because Portal was nothing more than a glorified tech demo, designed to do little else but show off its innovative mechanics, but due to Valve’s slavish attention to detail and great storytelling at no point were you enduring the mechanics for the story or vice versa; you were enjoying the entire experience. Such games are rare, however, and should be considered the exception rather than the rule. It’s not often a game gets it so right.

I’m waffling, but here’s my point: sometimes, a game needs to be a game. Dead Island is great fun, of that there is no denying. Certain aspects of it do not make sense, that much is true, but if being a little bit nonsensical means that a game about smashing zombies in the face with hammers works, then I’m prepared to make that sacrifice. I don’t care that I’m not able to use a hammer until I’ve chopped the arms off another few undead folk, or that without a set of plans the idea of putting nails in a baseball bat just wouldn’t have occurred to me.

"Now you've killed X number of Y, doing Z while Aing makes your B C% more D!"

In Dead Island, you learn by killing. Like my school.

I’m not really paying attention to the cutscenes or the shaky voiceacting or the fact that the game can’t decide if I’m a lone male or a group of people (I’m neither, I’m a lone female), or that for some reason people withhold useful things from me until I’ve completed tasks for them – I just want to immerse myself in the mechanics, upgrade my newest choppy thing to be the choppiest it can (that’s my inner Ork coming out) and then use it to go out, smush things and most of all, have fun. I believe my character has a backstory, but I don’t care what it is; all I know is she’s wearing a tattered skirt and blouse, she gets bonuses for sharp weapons, and her character unique skill is actually more use than I initially thought.

If you enjoyed Borderlands, you’ll enjoy Dead Island. I think it’s about that simple.