Let’s get this out of the way from the start. Dead Island has failed to live up to the hype it gained when the game’s debut trailer was released several months ago. Those hoping to experience the emotional resonance which the trailer provided may be disappointed by Dead Island’s sub-serious tone and melee focused combat. For better or for worse, Dead Island is less about protecting your loved ones from an onslaught of vicious zombies and more about splitting heads with a worn-out pipe as you plod around the island doing everything that everyone tells you to do.
It’s hard to describe Dead Island without making it sound like both the best thing ever and a complete mess at the same time. The game is essentially a first person, weapon-based brawler mixed with a co-operative, sandbox RPG. If Left 4 Dead and Fallout 3 spent an unholy night together in Dead Rising’s bed, Dead Island would be their unholy offspring. Set on a fictional Island resort located in the Pacific Ocean, you control one of four playable characters who must assist others and restore order amidst a contagious zombie outbreak. Each of the four characters are immune to contracting the zombie virus and also happen to specialize in certain weapon types, whether its firearms, knifes or blunt objects. The character selection screen gives you a narrated run down of each character’s back story although none of that factors in to the game itself.
One of the most surprising things about Dead Island is just how long the game is. I was expecting to be done with the island after 8 hours or so, however in that time I had yet to even obtain a gun. Your initial playthrough will take you approximately 25/30 hours to complete and that’s without taking on all of the side quests. Most of the side quests are interesting and although they’re completely optional, the experience you earn upon completing them can prove to be vital. Each character has their own individual skill trees which are divided up in to three separate categories; Fury, Combat and Survival. Since the game doesn’t penalize you too harshly for dying I chose to mainly focus on improving my combat skills and I’d advise others to do the same. Regardless of how you decide to upgrade your chosen character, watching as they become stronger and more capable of defending themselves is gratifying.
[quote-left]I found myself with emotional attachments to both the desperate survivors and the island itself![/quote-left]
The setting is definitely one of the best things about Dead Island. It’s not often I found myself completely immersed in a game world but after a few hours of playtime I found myself with emotional attachments to both the desperate survivors who needed my help and the island itself. It reached a point where I was accepting every side mission I came across, not because I needed the money, XP or the reward which came with it, but because I genuinely cared about protecting the island. Exploring new areas of the map and discovering just how vast the game world is will keep you playing for hours on end.
Almost every section of the island is littered with the walking dead, who level up as you do. This may annoy some players since you’re never given the opportunity to feel like a complete bad-ass but the constant sense of panic and vulnerability makes for a more cohesive experience. Locating new groups of survivors and gaining access to new safe zone keeps the game feeling fresh even when you’re several hours in. The ability to fast travel from one safe zone to another is a godsend since the island is truly massive and drivable vehicles are few and far between. Each safe zone contains a workbench which you can use to repair, upgrade or modify the weapons in you inventory, providing you have enough money to pay do so.
The huge array of weapons available in the game is staggering. Paddles, pipes, baseball bats, hammers, handguns, daggers, butcher knives, the list seems virtually endless! Factor in the aforementioned ability to modify weapons (ie, turn a baseball bat in to a flaming baseball bat) and the weapon variety increases exponentially. Each of the melee weapons take on damage with every blow, damage which only cash and a workbench can repair. Scouring every inch of every room for cash and loot to sell quickly becomes second nature as you’ll often find yourself in need of money.
[quote-right]Those who prefer to share their experience with others will love Dead Island’s multiplayer offering[/quote-right]
I’ve neglected to mention the game’s story until now because quite frankly, it’s not important. It’s the same “OMG Zombies!” tale which we’ve heard a countless number of times before, only now the outbreak is on a beautiful island instead of some random part of America. I found myself caring much more about restoring order than I did about learning the truth or finding out exactly why my character was different from the other island inhabitants. The games terrible cutscenes (which shows all four playable characters even if you’re playing alone) also failed to intrigue, making it hard for me to resist the urge to skip them.
Those who prefer to share their experience with others will love Dead Island’s (online-only) multiplayer offering. The jump in/jump out co-op works surprisingly well, allowing you to join a friend’s game at any point providing their rank is equal to or lower than yours. Given the length of the game, you probably won’t be completing the entire campaign with the same group of friends but taking on quests with random players can also lead to much excitement. As great as the multiplayer can be, I personally preferred playing on my own. Rolling solo gives a sense of fear and abandonment which isn’t present when you have other zombie slayers beside you. I also found the game to be a tad too easy when playing co-operatively, even though the difficult scales to accommodate for any extra players.
As impressive as Dead Island is in terms of gameplay, the game is less remarkable on a technical level. Although the environments look great, the characters that populate the universe generally look low-res and unconvincing during times of desperation. The game also suffers from slow down, screen tearing and frequent texture pop-in, which is understandable given the scope of the game but it’s still unfortunate. I was also disappointed by the way enemies react after being hit. Crushing a zombies skull under the weight of mallet just doesn’t feel as satisfying as it should, although dismembering limbs which a rusty hook never gets old!
The trailer left a lot of gamers excited for Dead Island, even without them truly understanding what the game was all about. Misconception issues aside, Dead Island is an extremely fun game which will keep players busy for a long time. The captivating setting, huge assortment of weapons and great co-op implementation more than make up for any technical shortcomings. While its far from perfect, the developers over at Techland deserve a lot of props for creating one of the best games that Deep Silver has ever published.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to island…
This review was based on a purchased copy of the game for the PS3.