I’ve been playing Dead Island this week. I see a lot of similarities to Borderlands, in terms of general structure. In the same way that shooting bad guys in Borderlands was satisfying enough for me to excuse the sort of “RPG Lite” story and mission structure, the melee in Dead Island goes a long way towards allowing me to excuse its flaws.
The melee gameplay at first is just okay; pull the trigger, and watch a melee attack. The sort of attack changes a little bit based on context and where you’re aiming. That’s the “digital” control for melee.
But in the options menu, change it to “analog” and then the game comes alive. In analog mode you aim your crosshairs at the part of the zombie you want to strike, then hold the left trigger. This switches the right stick from controlling your aim to controlling your weapon arm. Move the stick left, then right, and you wind up and deliver a backhand. Up, down delivers an overhead strike. Diagonal movements produce diagonal strikes. The character I’m playing with favors edged weapons, and after about 1/2 an hour of experimenting I was lopping off heads and limbs with precision (as long as the weapon was in proper shape). Facing a “thug” (a larger, slower zombie who swings haymakers that knock you onto your back), I find severing arms first to be prudent. “Infected” (fast-moving, wildly swinging zombies) can do much damage in a short time, so I usually deliver a kick to the chest to stop their forward momentum, and follow immediately with a swing at their neck to behead them.
No first-person game I’ve played has made melee fighting as enjoyable for me as this one, and though the game suffers from many “video gamey” flaws (illogical inventory, NPCs that ask you if you’ve completed their mission as soon as you’ve accepted it, etc), just the act of disassembling zombies is so enjoyable that so far I’m able to just laugh them off. I’ve found a couple of guns in the game so far, and have just sold them. I don’t want to shoot zombies; I just want a nice sharp machete.