Dead Island Epidemic Beta Preview
I love the Dead Island franchise and taking a leisurely stroll through an island paradise caving in zombie skulls has been the highlight of my gaming career. Dead Island Epidemic looks to change the usual experience we have come to expect infusing a new and fresh infusion of ideas and styles while still trying to maintain its roots.
The first and most obvious change in Dead Island Epidemic is the swap from first person to a top down perspective. It is also considerably more “arcade” than its original counterpart. The open Beta of Dead Island Epidemic isn’t overly long but I do think it gives us enough of an idea of the how the game will work for there to be a degree of hope for the title.
The basic gameplay consists of traveling through mission areas with tasks to do, the bread and butter of the Beta acts as a tutorial and has to be played alone. These “Starter Missions” let you get to grips with the controls and mechanics while still provide enough of a challenge as to not become boring. In these missions you will be told to gather supplies, kill high level enemies and generally save people. It remains true to the franchise’s roots although it is not nearly as in depth as the First Person games that it has spawned from. It is worth remembering that this is a Beta so we don’t know the full extent of the mission variety or exactly how important or how involved the storyline will be.
Taking control of one of four characters is easy and the controls are simple. You attack with your mouse, move with W,S,A, and D and use the handful of abilities with other hotkeys, it’s all fairly standard fare. These abilities range from 360 degree attacks to heavy special moves. I get the impression that these abilities will become much more important as levels progress in the game and the amount of opposition that is thrown your way increases. It’s an easy top down smash/shoot’em up and that if fine in and of itself, but it does loose some of the atmosphere I have come to expect from the franchise.
Navigating each level is simple and while there is only so much that can be done in a top down game, graphically Dead Island Epidemic is neither amazing nor offensively bad. In its current state the Beta runs incredibly well and while there was an issue with my NVidia ShadowPlay (used to record gameplay) cutting out at each loading screen there were no actual gameplay problems to speak of.
Enemies are varied and are more than a little reminiscent of the Left 4 Dead series with enemies that are comparable to the Smoker and Spitter infected variants but there are still the regular cast of RAM’s and suicide zombies. Dead Island Epidemic will throw many more walkers at you than previous games have for one simple reason: you can take it. Depending on what character you choose you will have different abilities and will therefore be more or less effective in certain situations but none of the characters seem too fragile or overpowered. You can quite easily tackle a dozen or more walkers with little danger of taking any significant damage.
In between each mission you return to your “Crib”, this is basically your hub where you can check your inventory, upgrade your character and create weapons. The weapon modification in the Beta is pretty basic, don’t expect to slap any Mod onto any weapon, it all seems fairly orderly and in my time playing I only unlocked two weapons. You have two weapon slots to begin with, your trusty melee weapon (a rowboat paddle as standard) and a firearm, in my case a Shotgun. The ranged weapons seem underpowered but I understand the reasoning behind this, if they were able to take out walkers in one shot then there would be no need for the wanton, brutal and satisfying melee mechanics. I can’t help but feel that the combat does feel distant and when you are swarmed by walkers there is no real danger as you can respawn at the nearest spawn point without too much hassle. It does feel a bit like a cheat and reduces the impact of dying to the point where there’s not much to stop you from simply wading into battle whenever you get the chance.
By far the best mode, and the one I think will be most successful, is the Crossroads mission. This is a four player cooperative mode where you will be given a number of objectives which are basically harder versions of the single player ones. This was great fun at its worst and was actually pretty damn interesting at its best. Wading into a hoard of undead is always fun, (providing you bring your paddle) but working as a team will yield the best chance of success. I was surprised to find the escort missions were my favourite in this mode. Once located you have to escort a handful of survivors back to your camp, all the while defending them from enemies. It’s an overused mission type and usually I am more resigned to the fact that I have to complete them rather than the fact I want to, but in Dead Island Epidemic it was the only time I felt that I had something to loose.
There is also a PvPvPvE style mode called “Scavenger Mode” however I was never able to find a match through this option. This may have been an issue with the times at which I was trying it rather than the service itself so I won’t be too judgemental of this minor issue. From what I have managed to find out about this mode you can either team up with other players to gather supplies or you can go it alone, killing your would be comrades so you can keep all of the supplies for yourself. It is an interesting take on things and will certainly appeal to the more competitive or treacherous player.
Dead Island Epidemic is shaping up nicely, the open Beta is available on steam and I encountered no real glitches or problems other than not being able to find a scavenger match. The loading screen has enough humour to take the edge of the occasionally prolonged loading times. Ultimately I think that while Epidemic shares the Dead Island name it does the game a disservice, ranked against the original first person games Epidemic seems to be a passing fad, something that has been made simply to build hype for Dead Island 2’s release next year, but taken on its own merit it is an entirely enjoyable cooperative experience that is a tonne of fun. I look forward to seeing what Deep Silver make of the final game.