The Dead Island games have always been something of a mixed bag (albeit, a bag of disembodied limbs) – messy, slightly dumb, and sometimes taking themselves far more seriously than games about beating zombies up with beach resort supplies should be – but the sheer stupid fun offered by the multiplayer has always been its saving grace. This is clearly what’s being capitalised upon here, in what the developers are calling a ZOMBA (Zombie Online Multiplayer Battle Arena). Whether they’re heavy-handedly using this hackneyed acronym to distance themselves from the flood of MOBA games the PC market is being flooded with or someone in PR genuinely thinks it was really clever, we’ll never know, but here’s the shocker.
It’s good. Genuinely good. Not in a “Well, compared to the other Dead Island games, this is amazing” way. It takes a completely new look at both MOBAs and the Dead Island franchise and adds some much needed flavour to a series that, so far, has been just about as bland and soulless as every British popstar since… well, ever. It’s sort of funny that the best game in the series is the one that will doubtlessly be overlooked by the majority of gamers, but who can blame them – seeing the release of a new Dead Island game is every bit as exciting as seeing a new Taylor Swift album has hit the shelves.
Epidemic’s Scavenger Mode pits three teams of four against each other in a race to gather supplies by capturing points and beating zombies. Whichever team fills their supply bar first escapes and wins the game, but the added element of roaming zombies really kicks things up a bit – it’s not just the other two teams out for blood, it’s a horde of shambling undead with powerful boss creatures to worry about too. As such, you’re always kept on your toes – every game throws up new challenges.
It’s obviously fine to leap in with random matchmade teammates but as is standard with most multiplayer, it’s much more fun if you can run a team with a bunch of friends. It definitely helps deal with the human enemy element of DIE (Yep, that’s right, the acronym is DIE. Epidemic just won the game of acronyms) when you can efficiently communicate with each other rather than just leaping blindly into the abyss.
Combat is a little bit different from the norm too. Your left click is a basic attack which generates rage you can use to dish out stronger attacks, abilities work on cooldown instead of mana points, and it just makes for a much more fluid experience. You have a dodge roll that also works on cooldown, making evasion a tactical, considered maneuver. It feels like a much more direct, visceral way of controlling your character, rather than simply directing them with mouse clicks. As such, the game itself becomes much more accessible – tactics obviously still apply, but not to such a brutal extent. You’re relatively free to have fun, experiment with your abilities, and, naturally, whack zombies in the face with oars and all manner of crafted weaponry. Fast, fluid, and incredibly responsive – there’s a lot of satisfaction to be had.
The game also offers a horde mode, which is fairly self explanatory, designed with players who prefer PvE to PvP in mind. You and your team clear out waves of zombies controlled by AI and take down boss creatures for experience and loot. I had the most fun with horde mode, and it’s good to see a game like this catering for the co-op crowd as much as the versus crowd. It’s much more pick up and play than LoL or DOTA – not necessarily better or worse for that fact, and certainly not as in depth – but it’s different enough to be interesting for long term fans of the genre and colourful and accessible enough to appeal to newbies. It could well end up being an excellent access point to the MOBA genre as a whole, which is no small feat considering the vastness of the free to play titles on offer.
All in all, Epidemic is a surprising breath of fresh air, both for the MOBA genre, and the Dead Island brand in general. Check out the beta if you can – it’s worth getting involved early if you have a few friends to drag along with you.