Dead Island: before the fall

, | Game diaries

During the Civil War — bear with me — battles often happened by accident. That’s just how it worked back then. Two armies would maneuver around, chasing each other, or feeling their way around the land, trying to find advantageous ground. Eventually, they’d tangle up a flank, or stumble onto arriving enemy reinforcements, or get caught flat footed crossing a river. Skirmishes blossomed into full-blown encounters that gave birth to unplanned Civil War battlegrounds. We don’t often think of battles as surprises, but that’s often what they were.

After the jump, why I thought of this as I plunged to my death in Dead Island

I’m leisurely advancing on a couple of zombies, so I can dispatch them on the way to something farther down the road. I’ll knock one over and then dismember his friend. Then I’ll bash in the fallen zombie’s head while it’s struggling to its feet. Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to happen. I might mistime the swing of my axe, or the second zombie will lunge forward so I’ll whoosh my attack right over its head, or maybe I won’t notice that one of the bodies lying on the ground isn’t a body, so now I’ve got two zombies struggling to their feet, or an infected will hurtle out of the alley from across the street while I’m busy.

So what was supposed to be me quickly dispatching two zombies turns into me flailing around wildly while zombies claw at me, chipping away my health and stamina. Because when a zombie hits you, you don’t just take damage. You also lose stamina, and therefore some of your capacity to fight back. Things get out of hand quickly.

After you die a few times to these impromptu donnybrooks, you learn that there’s no shame in running away. You especially learn this once you learn the importance of money. After yet another agonizing decision about which weapon you’re going to repair, you realize that dying isn’t quite so inconsequential after all. Those several hundred dollars of death tax are the difference between my bad-ass sickle working now and me being entirely sickle-less until I get back to a workbench.

But running away comes with its own pitfalls. Zombies are surprisingly persistent. They follow you longer than the average mob in an MMO. And it’s not really safe to just run around. Because, you know, there are often zombies ahead of you as well as behind you. Turn the corner to get away and, oops, you’ve done the exactly opposite of getting away as you bump into a whole new set of zombies.

That’s what just happened to me. I decided to cancel what was supposed to be a quick skirmish, but now I’ve got at least four zombies hot on my heels, with a small crowed shuffling around the open street ahead of me, and a tight alley to the left. I take the alley and then see three more zombies just ahead in even closer quarters. Bad choices all around.

But wait! A ladder just short of the zombies ahead of me!

I run at the ladder while the alley zombies advance to meet me, and the pursuing zombies come in behind me. I have enough health to maybe sustain one solid hit. Have I timed it right? Will the zombies reach me before I reach the ladder? It’s that ladder or a death penalty, and I’m trying to save money to upgrade the pistol I just found and then apply a shock mod. These are the moments that Dead Island is made of.

I actually hit the jump button and slap the F key, which is the use command that will grab hold of the ladder. I connect! Now I’m pulling myself up the side of this single story building, waiting on that solid hit as the zombies close around the base of the ladder. I can hear them right behind me, snarling. I can imagine how close their hands must be. I know I can hit a zombie’s legs, so they can probably hit mine.

It’s not until I can see my hands at the lip of the roof that I think I’m actually going to make it. Yep, I’ve made it. Saved by the ladder. I’ve got med kits, so I can tend to my low health once I get up here. I pull myself onto the roof and turn around the enjoy the spectacle of a half dozen zombies clustered around the ladder, their hands stretched uselessly up to me. Ha ha, suckers! Hey, I should take a screenshot. Look how stupid they look down there, thinking they’re going to–


Wait, what? Why am I suddenly falling down onto the zombies and now I’m dead?

I was in such a hurry to turn around and look at the zombies below that I didn’t realize there was a zombie on the roof. One smack and he knocked me over the edge. These are the moments that Dead Island is made of.

And it was entirely unforeseen. Just moments ago, I was simply going to kill a pair of zombies. Dead Island is built so that a sure thing isn’t always a sure thing. Small skirmishes turn into full-blown pile-ons, and if you’re lucky, you might get a chance to run for your life and find a door or ladder to save you. If you’re even luckier, you might end up with that shock mod on your pistol sooner rather than later.