Tested and reviewed based on the Xbox 360 version.
Review by Ben Nacca
(Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/BenNacca )
XBL GT: Darkeyes2k7 PSN ID: Darkeyes2k11
GAME NAME: Dead Island
PUBLISHER(S): Deep Silver
PLATFORM(S): Xbox 360, Playstation 3 & Microsoft Windows
GENRE(S): First Person Shooter / Survival Horror
RELEASE DATE(S): 9th September 2011
If Borderlands, Far Cry and Left 4 Dead were to have a child, it would most likely be something similar to Dead Island. Although very much its own game with unique gameplay mechanics, Dead Island has a strong RPG element with plenty of zombies and a first person shooter viewpoint.
Hitting the ground running with a very impressive CGI video earlier this year, Dead Island started a lot of chatter and left many people eagerly curious on how this would shape up. The premise of an open world, role playing zombie game is simply too much for many people to turn down and here we are, months later with the game finally hitting the shelves.
Sadly, it has to be said that Dead Island is not as polished as the crisp CGI trailer but the I must say that this game is still something different from what I have played in a very long time. Granted, Dead Island is rough around the edges in quite a few ways but there are many positives from Techland’s open world zombie game.
You can play as one of four characters, each who happen to be immune to the virus which has hit the island paradise of Banoi. Naturally, the outbreak has spread and has turned many of the tourists, inhabitants and employees into zombies. There is a loose story based around surviving and doing missions for the survivors on the island is one small step to getting off of Banoi. With plenty of side missions and other quests to complete, ranging from collect and carry, save someone, fetch this, kill these and defend/escort said person, Dead Island will keep you occupied but the story is largely a background quest to these varied missions. Much like Borderlands, it is collection of quests that eventually lead you to the final mission but the story is largely overlooked. This isn’t a huge issue in the sense that it gives a realistic feeling of survival but the story gets bizarre at times and with some questionable cut scenes, finds itself on a tangent during some points.
By being dropped onto an island with no real linear path forcing you anyway, Dead Island opens up plenty of opportunities to the players, whether they want to explore, complete the main story or do that while completing side quests and seeing what the island has to offer. As a true RPG though, there are plenty of items to find and salvage to either use as weapons, repair or upgrade your weapons or to sell on to the salvagers and local traders.
On that note, the role playing elements within Dead Island are relatively straight forward. Earn experience points from killing zombies, finishing missions, performing tasks and completing challenges then when you level up, you receive a skill point to place into one of the three areas in your skill tree. You can either upgrade your “Fury” ability, which makes you kill zombies in a rage while increasing your strength, speed and stamina, your survival abilities, such as medikit effectiveness and lockpicking abilities, or your weapon specialisation which depends on the character you chose. The skill tree is very much like Borderland’s skill tree so it is pretty easy to get the hang of and straight forward enough.
Visually, Dead Island is only really above average and is not the best feature of the game. Although the environments and setting looks delightful, packed with detailed areas with suitcases, peoples possessions and destruction that paint a perfect picture of the aftermath on the paradise island, texture pop up and glitches left, right and centre mar the visual experience significantly. Add some dodgy character animations and some truly astounding cutscenes that are absurd at times and you have a distinctly average and quite disappointing presentation from Dead Island.
The music, like that in the CGI trailer, is superb and the zombies all make the right snarls and growls which can sometimes come out of nowhere to add the icing on the cake to the horror experience. Character voices are generally good but the animations generally distract you from this, which is a shame.
Dead Island features a decent matchmaking system that allows you to open a lobby and invite or join your friends while playing at any time, letting them bring their character and experience into your island or theirs and complete missions together and open up a plethora of extra opportunities. Although, like Left 4 Dead in the way that co-op is definitely recommended, Dead island is very capable as a singleplayer game and I actually found that playing both gave me varied experiences, being much more careful on my own but inventory tactics and who should carry what and so on was present when playing as a team.
I must say that I am disappointed that despite saying 2-4 players on the back of the case, locally, suggesting you can play splitscreen, this is a system link only feature or obviously over the internet. Even two player splitscreen would have been nice but this is sadly a feature that developers are cutting out of their games.
Predominantly a melee combat game, you can pick up bats, paddles, knives and pipes to hack and beat your way through endless crowds of zombies to complete your missions. Maintaining the condition of these weapons or investing in repairing/upgrading them is key to survival and the controls for the melee combat work very well. Just make sure you keep the analogue melee option switched off as it is a huge disadvantage as you can’t use the right stick to turn and beat zombies at the same time…no idea who had the clever plan to implement that feature. The only issue is with firearms, which are generally weak and very underpowered. Not only is their hardly any ammo and the weapons are rare anyway, but it takes around 4-8 shots to the head to down a zombie, where a knife can sometimes decapitate in one well aimed swipe. Clearly Techland have done this to force players to get in close and melee the creatures and at least there is a good excuse for a lack of weapons, being a holiday resort and not an armoury after all but it makes one of the characters, who specializes in firearms, slightly useless. Shotgun not being that character (I apologise for the pun).
The weakest area for Dead Island sadly, with the characters being questionable and plenty of pop up and glitches to mar the experience. However, it is the gameplay mechanics which help this game shine.
A great experience for your ears here, with some great voice work and a fantastic score. The zombies are also giving it their all and is a job well done.
Some occasionally dodgy control moments combined with firearms that are as efficient as a wet fish and you have the bad gameplay mechanics out of the way. Generally, everything else in Dead Island is great and well implemented. The role playing element is a great aspect and the melee combat is unique and entertaining.
Solo or with others, Dead Island is a fantastic experience from start to finish with your choices and freedom to go where you like handed to you on a platter. Plenty of zombies to kill and plenty of experience to gain for those RPG fans, this is zombie entertainment at its best. Plenty of replay value that will leave you coming back time and time again which is a good thing with this game.
Techland have certainly delivered their zombie island apocalypse in style and have generally done a very good job. It is a shame some aspects were still rough round the edges but this is a superb achievement from the developers and is actually a very fun game to play with your friends or by yourself. With melee combat and open world combat, this will give you plenty of practice incase you ever find yourself over run with a zombie outbreak on a paradise island!
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