Smiling Through the Pain
Originally published on GameInformer.com September 20, 2011, at 9:00 PM.
Selected for Blog Herding -- The Best Blogs of the Community, 9/29/11.
2,496 views as of June 4, 2018.
Dead Island is at once one of the most fun gaming experiences I’ve had, and one of the most frustrating, which begs the question, “What is your threshold for video game pain?” In regard to Techland’s zombie apocalypse title, the problem lies in an autosave glitch, though for other games it might be imbalanced gameplay.
If not for this technical snafu, I could say with confidence that Dead Island is one of my all time favorite games, at least at the 60% completion mark. The strong melee and ranged combat, the clever and varied multipath map design, the effective loot grinding and weapon crafting system, and the scenario appropriate main and side quests combine for a memorable experience.
Also memorable, but in a decidedly negative context, is the technical problems that plague this game. The autosave glitch is by far the worst affliction not only in this title but in any game I’ve played. The result can be hours of gameplay vanished into thin air and it can happen anytime. Imagine playing your game in fear that any progress you make is for naught.
That is the dilemma facing many fans of Dead Island. Indeed my friends faced this problem long before I did. In effect the game has become a kind of tale of two cities. For about 20 hours I had fun ranking up to about level 19 exploring the Royal Palms Resort, but once I visited the slums of Moresby my progression hit a brick wall. In fact, I’ve been replaying the same quests for 13 hours now.
After losing 2 hours on quests including repairing hydrants around the city and escorting a survivor, the game saved the same 2 hours on my second attempt. Then I lost 4 hours on extended quests back and forth through sewers, city streets and the police station. The same fate befell the next 3 hour redo, as well as my 2 hour third attempt. Time will tell if my 2 hour fourth attempt works.
There are potential workarounds. Friends have discussed starting a new character and being able to select an unlocked chapter to begin, or some variation of thereof as I might have the details wrong. Likewise I’ve heard playing offline (instead of the drop-in/drop-out online co-op mode) avoids the autosave glitch. The latter was my strategy on my recent fourth attempt.
Other technical issues mar gameplay, including how on successive playthroughs there is noticeably less loot to be salvaged and foes are clearly more powerful; thugs for instance were the only regular zombies that could knock one down but replaying quests I discovered that weak walkers now could likewise topple my character and I died in encounters that previously I could manage.
I suspect that this is a function of the autosave glitch as likely some aspect of the game recognizes my successive leveling up (and therefore the appropriate scaling of enemies I face) even if technically the failed saves mean that each reload I begin at the same level. This is making it excessively difficult and I’m not alone in this observation.
However, I don’t want to neglect the fun I’ve had with this game to this point. Indeed the fact I’ve replayed the same quests for 13 or so hours is indicative of the enjoyment I get out of this title’s gameplay. As tired as the zombie subgenre is, this game has brought such an apocalypse to life in a way that no other game to date has even come close to.
Truly, the autosave defect in this title’s programming is a game-breaking glitch. I’m reminded of a similar problem with 24: The Game from SCE Studio Cambridge. During one multiple objective mission I ran through a doorway seemingly before the game recognized that I’d completed my outdoor objective. The next sequence therefore was never triggered.
I did have multiple saves but for some reason that I forget they likewise did not fix the issue. At that point I was halfway through the game, and had to restart from the beginning. Thankfully I enjoyed the game enough that I was compelled to do so despite my frustration. No, it was not a classic title but it was a fun game worth the added effort.
I can’t say the same for other titles like State of Emergency 2. DC Studios’ game was a varied, entertaining game at the beginning but fell apart for me during the Rescue Libra multiple objective mission. With hard saves at mission complete only, I had to rely on soft saves to progress past stiff opposition in several different segments of this level.
The problem is it was a long level. If I remember, you fight through streets, then fight while scaling a building, fight on rooftops, steal a gunship and engage in aerial combat, fight on another rooftop, fight down the side of the building, fight through streets, scale another building, then hold off an assault. I probably died during every segment LOL.
Nevertheless, I replayed that level several times. The problem was there weren’t enough hours that I could play each day so I could get to the end. After several days of repeated attempts, it’s the only game I’ve ever returned out of frustration. Whether poor programming due to lack of hard saves, or imbalanced gameplay, I wasn’t the only one annoyed with that level.
Interestingly, there are some games whose myriad glitches can be overlooked or even celebrated. Though I likely haven’t played enough of Bethesda titles like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion or Fallout 3 to be as acquainted with their glitches as others, I enjoy the odd snafu like an attacking super mutant rocketing about 40 feet into the air only to plummet to his death at my feet.
Likewise, I really enjoy Reality Pump’s Two Worlds 2 for its excellent gameplay and game elements but its humor especially helps one ignore the myriad glitches and other technical imperfections that no doubt would undo lesser titles. Whether poor collision detection, floating objects, bizarre Southern accents or clumsy cut scenes, such failures are welcome missteps.
The bottom line is that in relation to gaming frustrations, every gamer has their breaking point and many games have a limit to their appeal. Where either line is drawn to a large extent is subjective. However, if the experience of my friends and I to Dead Island is any indication, perhaps we can quantify our experience in a way that respects difference of opinion but can nonetheless capture a shared reaction.
Consider the following proposition: A game’s entertainment quotient is equal to its enjoyment value divided by its frustration level. Let’s call this the Dead Island Factor. The higher the sum is above one, i.e. the more the enjoyment derived exceeds the exasperation caused, then the greater the possibility that the game is a worthwhile endeavor.
Entertainment Quotient = Enjoyment Value/Frustration Level
In the case of Dead Island, on a scale of one to 10, I’d rate my enjoyment of the gameplay at 9 but my frustration with its glitches at 8. That still rates a 1.125 entertainment quotient and in fact continues to be fun. However, if, say, my glitches grief rose to 10, then that 0.9 quotient would mirror my declining lack of enjoyment and the increasing possibility for the equivalent of a rage quit.
Of course, this is a technical means of addressing what is more a qualitative issue regarding a game’s enjoyment then a quantitative one, but might make for a more objective assessment of a game’s value based on these divergent criteria. If all this sounds like mathematical mumbo jumbo, well, of course it is. LOL.
But it also represents, albeit in numeric form, a basic formula for gamer satisfaction.
The more we enjoy playing a game the less its flaws annoy. Frankly, I’m surprised how much patience I’ve had for Dead Island’s egregious errors. Techland should be ashamed of themselves. And yet, they’re also to be lauded for having created such an addictive experience.
If you’re like me and have been gaming for years, no doubt you’ve had your share of exceptional games that excelled at gameplay or failed miserably. But having both extremes in the same package is a unique experience. Just ask my friends, or yourself. What games do you worship, warts and all, or which ones have sorely tested your enjoyment?
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