Review by godpyre
"A great game marred by poor implementation"
Emerald-green oceans, luscious palm trees, and beautiful boobs...lots of gorgeous, rotting zombie boobs. On the fictional resort island of Banoi, located above the very real Australia in the South Pacific, rests a breeding ground for chaos as the zombie apocalypse lays siege to the island. Developer Techland strives to bring something new to the increasingly saturated zombie genre by giving players a large, open world to play in, first-person melee combat, and enough loot to pick up you'll wonder why the game isn't titled 'Loot Island' instead. Hacking, slashing, bludgeoning, or shooting your way through the undead in 'Dead Island' is fun, but is it 30-hours worth of fun?
The intro to Dead Island opens innocently enough: an alcoholic stumbles his way through Paradise Hotel pissing off all the poorly rendered NPC's as the player is given a first-person introduction to all the playable characters. You'll first encounter Logan, an ex-quarterback trying to cope with life out of the lime-light, Sam B, a fledgling one-hit rapper dealing with a failing career, Purna, an ex-cop turned bodyguard for hotel security, and Xian Mei, a Hong Kong police officer sent to the hotel to act as an informer. Suddenly and violently, a bikini clad zombie attacks one of the crowd at the Sam B farewell tour (a positive considering his horrible music), which instead of receiving a moment of clarity, the alcoholic instead proceeds to stumble his way to his hotel room to pass out as the zombie infection plagues the rest of the island spelling certain doom for everyone ( a positive considering the island is inhabited by the worst people on Earth).
As one of the four main characters you are able to play the campaign by yourself or with 3 others in 4 player co-op. The story progresses the same regardless of who you choose. For some reason, all four of the main characters are immune to the zombie infection and instead of leaving the island by themselves, they instead choose to help out people that need supplies such as medical equipment, gasoline, champagne, and a teddy bear (not kidding, it's in there, and there are no children in the game). The 30+ hour zombie kill-fest is mired with countless fetch quests and the story itself loses it's way as if to say the writers lost track of what they created and decided to incorporate any idea they could no matter how hackneyed. Then again, this is a zombie game, it's not the story that counts, it's the game play...right?
Dead Island sounds amazing on paper: an open world survival horror RPG where you can play one of four characters with different specializations and skill trees, pick up countless loot and create/modify weapons to slay countless zombies in a myriad of ways. Logan is a throwing expert so he can chuck blades with deadly precision, Xian is a sharp weapons expert allowing her to cut off limbs easily, Purna is a firearms expert giving her the chance to fire from a safe distance, and Sam B is a heavy weapons expert so he can break limbs and club zombies to death. Each one play similarly, what sets them apart is their skill progression when leveling up which is determined by the specialization in weapon type.
The loot and modification system are particularly addictive. Dead Island is a huge game with large locations filled to the brim with loot to use in modifying your weapons. Take a regular machete and add items at a crafting station to create a more powerful machete with an electrocution ability or take a knife and add a sticky grenade to it to create a quick throw explosive. The different types of modifications are gained by accomplishing missions or found interspersed around the world. Creating all types of weapons to slay zombies in various ways is one of the things Dead Island accomplishes well, unfortunately not everything in the game works.
The combat focuses primarily on melee with weapons you pick up in game. Weapons vary from less effective like frying pans and paddles to the more effective machetes and katanas. Fighting with these weapons is accomplished by aiming at your opponent and spamming the right trigger in digital mode, or pressing the left trigger and swiping with the right analog stick to represent the same movement on screen in analog mode. There is also a kick move that is both powerful and uses no stamina making it the most used move in the game. A swift kick followed by a swipe of your weapon became second nature and is pleasant to use, until you hit the one hour mark and realize you're doing the same thing over and over. Unfortunately the combat is loose, with the hit detection being a major gripe in missed swings at incoming zombies. Sometimes I would swipe my katana at a zombie and it would somehow miraculously appear behind me more than willing to rip my face off. This lack in consistent hit detection created many frustrating moments where I would curse the game for it's buggy combat. Firearms are generally useless on account that enemies level up in accordance to your character. At higher levels zombies become sponges, wasting precious ammo even when accomplishing successful head shots. The dodgy combat in conjunction with the numerous bugs make Dead Island more of a chore than it needs to be.
In fact, the bugs surprised the game itself at times as zombies disappeared through the floor or would magically appear in front of me without a moments notice. In one instance I was in a two story building and I heard enemies above me. Apparently one wanted to kill me so bad, it apparated through the floor and attacked me only to be sucked right back up to the second floor. I've witnessed zombies floating in the air, attacking me through walls, and vanishing before my eyes. Techland obviously wanted a challenging zombie RPG but these issues, numerous in number, persisted through my game play leading to frustration, disappointment, and a yearning to destroy my Xbox360 out of blind rage.
In terms of 4 player online co-op, the bugs are even more apparent as you see teammates stutter before you trying to kill the undead. There were many times where I was booted out of a play session, or my teammates, due to freezing or latency issues. The online multi-player in Dead Island can take the stress out of the assault of countless zombies when it works well, but ultimately I had a hard time finding a consistent play session without the game crashing.
Dead Island can be a gorgeous game full of scenic views of the beach front, claustrophobic spaces in the cityscape, and daunting, wide open spaces in the jungle. The playground you are given in can be well rendered but when looking at a locales from a distance the game tends to look like it's made of colored blocks. There is a lot of clipping, especially in the cut scenes, and sometimes when traversing through a locale, items tend to pop up giving the game an unpolished look.
The sound design on the other hand is exceptional. The thud of hitting a zombie is full and the impact feels appropriate. Zombies themselves are heard throughout the ambient score even when there are none nearby, immersing the player in a sense of dread of any attack that may take place. If you have a good set of headphones I would suggest playing with them on for full immersion in the downright eerie sounds that permeate through the game. Aside from the horrible rap intro, there isn't much in the way of music that stands out since the main noises you will hear are that of the groaning undead and whatever weapon you choose to attack them with.
Dead Island has all the necessary tools to be an awesome game but with lack luster quest design, dodgy combat, and persistent bugs it just barely grades above average. The inclusion of 4 player co-op is welcome and can be fun, when it works, but for this reviewer it just made all the glaring issues all the more noticeable. Overall, Dead Island has some great ideas, but the issues that lie within its implementation make the game less fun and more of a chore.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 09/26/11
Game Release: Dead Island (US, 09/06/11)
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