Gamescom 2014: Dead Island 2 Hands-On
Dead Island 2 was my first appointment at Gamescom, which makes it somewhat strange that I wrote about Dying Light first. I have done so for one reason. The private presentation I was given by Deep Silver was just that, a presentation of the game, I didn’t get my hands on a controller until last Friday, a few days after I had seen AND played Dying Light, what many have billed as a spiritual successor to the first Dead Island. Despite the experience of playing Dying Light I tried to keep an objective and open mind when I walked onto the Gamescom show floor about ten minutes before it opened to the general public and picked up a Dualshock 4.
When the time limited pre-alpha demo began, me and the three other players, all of whom represented the different player classes in the game, found ourselves behind a closed gate that opened up into a zombie infested suburban strip mall on the outskirts of LA. When those gates opened and my eyes adjusted to the sun blasted but very vibrant Unreal Engine 4 powered environment two objectives popped into view. We needed to accrue a certain amount of both electronic parts and gasoline. Why? Those objectives were designed as an introduction to the simplified, but worrisome, crafting system.
During my appointment our presenter talked a bit about the the more user friendly approach towards crafting that they were taking with Dead Island 2. You no longer need a work bench in order to craft new and exciting weapons. In concept that sounds great, but what I didn’t know was that when you have finally accumulated enough of any given resource whatever weapon you have equipped at the time is the chosen one for the upgrade you have earned. Again, this game is still in Pre-Alpha form, but this could be source of frustration for players that lose track of how many hundreds of gas units they have and then are rudely surprised when their most used weapon receives another upgrade that another weapon they may have just picked up may have been better suited to receive.
My flame emitting bowling ball attached to a baseball bat was a pretty fun weapon to swing into the decomposing faces of the zombie horde, for a time, until I realized, that even when I encountered the minibosses (known as thugs) in the game I never felt a sense of peril. Zombies are not supposed to be scary as individuals, but when they are in sufficient numbers your heartrate should increase a little. Mine didn’t. Again, this was a pre-alpha build tuned for a wide variety of people that would be playing the game for the first time. I wouldn’t put it past, or blame, Deep Silver especially if they decreased the damage that can be dealt to your character by your enemies, or even dumbed them down.
Another major point discussed during our presentation was the overall the combat system had received, and that you would feel like your hits were more impactful, and that impactfulness would be reinforced by the extensive damage system that allows you to bruise, dismember, and crush the zombies will all of your wonderful toys. What was very telling of where this game was developed was the statement that dismemberment ends when a zombie has been vanquished, violence will only occur when it makes sense. Germany has a reputation for censoring overly violent games, but it is therefore impressive in some small way that such a violent game is being made there in the first place. I may knocking heads off left and right, but I didn’t feel that sense of impact that had been described to me earlier. The weapons, even the firearms, which were abysmal to use in the original Dead Island, have a real sense of weight to them. But when they are fired or swung that all slips away, and the sense of impact is almost entirely lost.
Deep Silver even described one of their main objectives for designing the game was to empower the player and let them loose in the paradise that meets hell that is LA. That feeling was definitely there, but I also feel like they could have communicated the structure that is also present a little better in the demo. After we had paid a visit to the gas station and electronics store, both of which represent specialized locations that will probably extend to other resource sources in the full game, we came across another objective, kind of organically actually, as I hadn’t met a quest giving NPC, or even heard a chirp across my radio/cellphone/long distance story communication device. This was an example of a world event, a dynamic mission that pops up spontaneously without the need for a quest giver to give you a narrative consistent reason for its existence.
Defend the movie bar! Ok, off me and my zombie killing partner went, we came across some zombies attacking a gate blocking the entrance to a hillside path that lead to our movie bar and began summarily destroying them with all the tools at our disposal.
I did think that adding a zombie kill count to the top right of your screen was a nice touch and does give the game a competitive edge, even when playing cooperatively, but I do hope the developers add more impetus for me to want to play coop, as besides seeing who can kill more zombies there wasn’t much of one.
All in all I enjoyed my time with Dead Island 2, and I know, based on how much I enjoyed Spec Ops: The Line that Yager can put a great story together out of parts that may appear to be generic at first glance. I just hope the fundamental game play systems can do justice to whatever story they have in mind.
Dead Island 2 will be released on the Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC in 2015