Review by Ultimate_JTrain

"Not the Left 4 Dead/Dead Rising hybrid you were hoping for."

As a fan of the zombie-genre, I was super excited when I saw the trailer for Dead Island. As I followed the game's development, I got even more excited since everything they released made the game look like half Dead Rising/half Left 4 Dead. Finally, a zombie game with a sandbox map and no linear pathways or time limits. At least that's what it looked like from all the footage that was released. In actuality, it turned out to be a bug/glitch ridden, poorly made Fallout clone.

The first thing you should know is that the zombies are not like the ones in Dead Rising or Left 4 Dead. They are not swarming blowhards that while annoying (especially in groups) are relatively easy to disable or knock-down. These zombies (like your player character), have levels and full HP bars. They SOAK up damage like no zombie should. In fact you can only survive about 3-4 hits from their necrotized flesh, but you can wail on them all day long with kicks, knives or baseball bats before even the most common zombie will stay down.

And therein lies my biggest beef with Dead Island, you never have the advantages you should over the zombies. In virtually every piece of source material, your garden-variety zombie is weak and other than the risk of being bitten, are not too much of a threat on their own. Their strengths are in swarms and surprise, which Dead Island definitely incorporates and I think is really great. Unfortunately, all of the zombies are stronger and have more HP than you. My typical strategy in dealing with them is to run to an elevated platform, like the roof of a car or a dumpster, where they can't hit me and just swipe at them with my weapon until I've killed them all. Is that really how the developers intended for you to fight the zombies in the game? Run to a car and then cheese ball them?

As a positive to the combat though, I will say that it definitely did a good job making me feel panicked and rarely safe. I had to choose my battles carefully, and keep an eye out for corpses on the ground, as they would frequently reveal themselves to me waiting zombies. There were many instances where I just ran through areas for my life, conjuring up images from 28 Days Later where that was pretty much all that the characters could do. Frequent shadow play, ominous noises and an ever present moaning when the undead were nearby really did a lot for the atmosphere. I just wish that engaging in combat with them matched the anticipation of knowing that they were around.

The combat is all compounded by the terrible leveling and weapon system. Let's start with the character leveling. Every time you earn enough exp points from killing zombies or (more likely) finishing one of the fetch quests they call missions, you gain a little more HP and get a skill point to put into different abilities. That would be alright if it weren't for all the zombies also leveling up with you, making almost all of your stat growth completely meaningless. You never feel like you are a step ahead of the common zombie, who is always just as deadly and tedious to confront. To give you an idea of how bad this is, in the beginning of the game I could run over zombies with a truck. A few levels up and now it usually just knocks them off their feet, making it necessary to repeatedly reverse and accelerate over them for the kill. In fact, leveling up your character is not only pointless but pretty much a negative thanks to the terrible weapons system.

The weapons system is nearly identical to the one in Dead Rising 2, except more complicated and terrible. As with DR2, you can combine weapons to make new ones and they will degrade over time (which I find annoying, yet tolerable). EXCEPT in Dead Island, each weapon you find is at a set level with set stats that you can only modify slightly (so you can't keep modifying/upgrading the same weapon over and over). The weapons you find will start rising in levels as you and the zombies do, necessitating you to discard the weapons you have built and constantly create new ones just so you don't fall too far behind as you level up. Also, higher leveled weapons take even more cash to upgrade, modify and repair. On top of that, the weapons you find usually have some negative adjective in front of its name, ie “Fragile Knife”, “Flimsy Machete”, “Tiring Baseball Bat”, “Defective Pistol”, etc… Who wants to use a weapon called “Defective Pistol”? Very few of the weapons I've found don't have some kind of negative name. I kept holding out for a better weapon until I realized that they were all like that until a bit later in the game, and that even a “Defective” pistol worked fine.

One of the positives of the weapons was that when you modified one, you pretty much added an element to it like fire, electricity or poison that could affect a zombie in different ways and give a chance to set one on fire, electrocute one or make one incapacitated by constant vomiting. I actual wish that was how more modified weapons worked in Dead Rising 2, instead of a lot of the gimmicky weapons that game lets you build. I do like wielding a bat set on fire or a machete with a battery duct taped to it in first person view.

But while we're on the subject of weapons, let me give you another tenet of zombie lore that the game throws out the window: headshots are not an instant kill. Heck, with some of the common zombies I can unload an entire clip into their head before it finally puts them down. And the real kicker is I chose to play as the character that is the most proficient with firearms. Guns are terrible and aren't really worth the extra effort to scavenge for ammo that for some reason is less common than guns themselves. Forget this being a Left 4 Dead gun for all, the most you get out of firearms is by using them against other human enemies who also use firearms and are put down easier than the zombies for some reason.

Next, let me get to the “special” zombies. I get the impression that the developers ripped this off of Left 4 Dead, with one of the special zombies being almost a dead ringer for L4D's Boomer. For most of the “special” zombies, they have a ridiculous ability, are super strong and take a lot more damage. The strategy to beat them seems to be keep hitting them and don't get hit back. That's it. In most cases, I just avoid them if I can or throw any bombs I have if I can't. This is a terrible way to incorporate new enemies if they don't introduce or encourage different strategies. Take a good game, like The Legend of Zelda for instance where you have multiple weapons at your disposal and many enemies require you to use a particular weapon against it, like the bow or hookshot. Now take Dead Island, which you have multiple weapons at your disposal, but the enemies you encounter make which weapons you use or carry pretty much irrelevant. I've used machetes almost exclusively, with some guns as back-up and any bombs I can find. That's it. The game doesn't offer me any reason to use or carry knives, axes, baseball bats or any other weapon I find except to sell them for cash.

Finally, let me tell you the most broken thing about the game (besides the frequent texturing errors, screen clips and other developmental shortcomings): getting killed. Believe me this happens and sometimes it happens often. When it does, you have to wait five seconds to respawn and you lose some cash. That would be all fine and good if the respawn wasn't broken. Let's say you died in the midst of a herd of zombies, the game will respawn you in one of three terrible places: 1) In an area you can't get to or leave. Yes this has happened to me and the only way you can get out is by resetting the damn game. 2) Clear on the other side of the map. This is super annoying, but probably the best outcome you can hope for. Or 3) RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ZOMBIE PACK THAT KILLED YOU WHERE YOU ARE ALMOST INSTANTLY SLAUGHTERED AGAIN. There are times that I died and respawned over and over again in pretty much the same spot with zombies on all sides of me and not much I could do about it. It was definitely not a positive play experience that I am eager to relive again… Hopefully a patch is in the future for this issue (among others).

All in all, this was not the zombie game I was hoping for nor is it one that I want. The zombies in it are arbitrary and really could've been reskinned as any kind of monster. The story is not executed or told very well, with absolutely no variation based on the player character. Heck, I chose one of the two female characters to play as, yet many of the cutscenes and characters refer to me as a man. I didn't even realize I was apparently travelling with all the other selectable characters until they appeared in a cutscene with me after I completed a mission, with no explanation as to why we were all travelling together. Worst of all, I was somewhat interested in the character backstories they had during the character select, but they are all so stiff and unlikable in the story that I really don't care about any of them now. All in all, it's only deserving of a rental if you feel that curious about it, and only worth a purchase if you can get it for less than $20 and you have some friends who are insisting you play co-op with them.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.0 - Poor

Originally Posted: 09/13/11

Game Release: Dead Island (US, 09/06/11)

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