Review: Dead Island

To address the timeliness (or lack thereof) of our review; we didn’t think it fair to base our review around a game that – even at launch – was still a work in progress.  Unfortunately, Dead Island’s release was plagued with numerous bugs, glitches and just plain screw-ups.  There’s still a bit of bugginess about and we do wish that the release would have had a little bit more polish, we’re willing to forgive such an ambitious title.  So long as Techland is timely about fixing it.

Ahh, Banoi – such beauty.  Full of beautiful people in their tight-fitting beautiful clothes enjoying some beautifully hot beats in the beautiful-peoples’ club, after having spent the day basking in the sand or chilling out by the pool.  Dead Island does a great job and painting the Island of Banoi to be the perfect getaway, and it works well.  Regardless of how awesome this vacation is typical us got hammered and were confined to our rooms by security.  Waking up, we kind of wished we were just sporting the worst hangover ever instead of what was actually awaiting us.

One of the first things we noted about Dead Island are the fantastic, immersive environments.  While the graphics aren’t the most amazing thing we’ve ever seen, they do look very nice.  The sprawling beach resort just begs to be explored – which is exactly what we did.  Blood and bodies sprawled in the sand and on wooden patios contrast sharply to the bright, tropical tones of Banoi.  It was fun to explore, and we really wanted to know what happened to the island while we were in our drunken stupor.  In our exploration, we happened to get totally lost, and met up with some enemies that we weren’t just ready to face yet.  We imagine this is what early explorers faced when they came to North America.  Lost in the beauty of the place, they ended up being felled by…a mountain lion, or something.

Some reviewers have had complaints of there being too much fog and blur, but we really think that it gives a great effect to the cutscenes.  Almost giving the impression like it’s extremely humid.  Buildings are dark, lights and power are intermittent, and the air is full of the sounds of both the dead and the undead – only time will tell who are the lucky ones.

 The game starts out the same way, whichever character you happen to choose.  We chose Purna, because – in a zombie apocalypse, firearms expert sounds like a winning team.  Characters level up just like in any other RPG, and you can choose to specialize your character further using acquired EXP to allocate to specific skills.  Leveling up also lets you use and create more powerful weapons, which you’ll wish you had at the beginning of the game.

One of the more annoying things that we found during our playthrough was that NPCs would normally refer to our character as ‘he’ even though she’s clearly not.  Same goes for referring to us as a group when we’re travelling alone.  It really breaks the immersion that the game tries so hard to establish.  Unlike in the Left 4 Dead series, if you choose to go solo, the other playable characters don’t become AI controlled, so why they decided to go this route, we’re really not sure.  Perhaps just another bug?

The game gives off some very  Fallout-ish vibes in item collection.  Every nook and cranny is packed with items that you can pick up.  Right out of the gate the game encourages you to look for anything and everything, and we did – which after a while does become tedious, but it’s the only way you’re ever going to find the stuff you need.  Most of picked-up items can be used, combined into super weapons, but a lot of times you’ll just find yourself trading with co-op partners or selling them at some of the makeshift shops bands of survivors have set up.  Weapons creation takes a page straight out of Dead Rising, with blue-prints and work benches.  A little on the unoriginal side, but there’s nothing wrong with taking a cue from the masters.

At the end of this ‘tutorial’ level at the hotel, we got to meet the first real enemies – the Infected.  These guys aren’t the push-overs that can be taken out with a couple of whacks, either – in Dead Island, they’re something to fear –  something to dread.  We felt the gut-wrenching panic when we heard their tell-tale sound, wishing we had a little bit more than piddly weapons to fight off whatever the maker of that strange, god-awful sound was.  This is one area where Dead Island really excels over other zombie-shooters.  You can’t mow through hundreds of undead vacationers at a time – their threat is very real to you and greater than one might think. One or two Walkers can be taken out at once, but combine a few more and you need some strategy to get you through.

This is where Dead Island excels.  You can’t mow through dozens of undead vacationers at a time without taking a few hits.  Walkers seemingly will sneak up behind you and grab hold of you, popping out from dark corners (oh by the way, your flashlight ‘does’ die on you).  Thugs will knock you flat on your ass, taking away a good chunk of your health, and Butchers will cut ya up.  They’ve got some real bite to them!

Oh, and they’re bloody disgusting! AWESOME!

The easy drop-in/drop-out multiplayer is another shining point for Dead Island.  The entire campaign (with the exception of the prologue) can be played with up to four people.  If your friends get tired, or simply don’t want to play with you anymore, they can drop out.  If you’re playing by yourself, the game notifies you of other players in your area that are available.  We can’t really attest to how enjoyable of an experience you’ll have with multiplayer, because it really depends on who you team up with.

With all of the positive that we have to say about Dead Island, we do have some major gripes that just can’t be ignored.  The basic gameplay involves performing missions for people whose appear to be glued to one space, not unlike many other RPGs, and there’s a major flaw to this.  It’s TEDIOUS!  At the start, these aren’t too bad, but once you find that a lot of the missions are just from going from Point A to Point B and fighting zombies in between, it loses a lot of its lustre.  We found ourselves dreading the trek between points A and B on the map just to see if someone was alive, and then back to A to confirm that they were alive.  It’s times like this we were glad that the game was open-world, and we could just go off and put a lot of hurt on some undead vacationers.  But even more disappointing than the missions were the one-dimensional characters that gave them out.  For a game that touts so much personal character history and tries so hard to be a full-fledged RPG, some of these characters are pretty bland.  The voice acting was pretty…awful, particularly in the PC version where everything sounds hollow and tinny, but this is nothing new to survival horror fans.

It’s easy to want to classify and label Dead Island and compare it to other games.  On first glance, it appears like a bit of a Left 4 Dead re-hash.  Looking at the game play, it looks like a cross between Dead Rising and Fallout.  Truth be told, it’s a little bit of all of these things – and that’s what puts Dead Island in a class all its own.  However Dead Island’s ultimate downfall is its lack of polish.  It’s still a fun game if you can get past the glitches and here’s hoping that Techland can rectify more of these issues soon.  If left to stand as it is, we could see this review score changing a bit.


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