Dead Island Review
Not Quite Paradise
©2011 Nicholas Laborde
Zombies are far too synonymous with modern gaming and current culture.
Whether it be DLC expansions, full-featured zombie modes, or dedicated titles, we’re experiencing an over saturation of the undead.
Bringing a different style of gameplay to the table, Dead Island offers the potential to be one of the better undead slaughter simulators… unfortunately, it’s not quite paradise.
Picking one of four characters with various abilities, players are caught on an island in the middle of an infection that’s spreading like wildfire, and nobody knows how it started, what to do, or if they’ll survive the night.
By some divine act, your character is immune to the infection, and that makes you the only person ‘truly’ capable of killing the undead; prepare to be everyone’s messenger boy/girl, assistant, mercenary and every other term that you could possibly apply, because no one else is remotely capable of doing anything for themselves.
A mysterious Englishman speaks to you and several other survivors over the radio, promising escape from the treacherous island and its unrelenting plague… and if video games have taught me one thing, it’s not to trust the Englishman.
You’re going to see nearly every twist and turn coming, and the game doesn’t even try to make the player question the events at hand. For a game in as long a development cycle as this, you’d expect more.
Overall, the story is extremely light, very disappointing and full to the brim of lost opportunities.
Not being left for dead
Dead Island is the perpetrator of apocryphal, horrible advertising and is luring players in under falsehood, promising some sort of Left 4 Dead-esque, open world, action-packed zombie survival experience like none other.
I hate to break it to you, but none of the above things are true to any degree… except the part about the zombies.
Particularly infuriating to me is the launch trailer, which features not a single melee weapon, but oodles of firearms and action; none of which are main facets of gameplay.
Dead Island is an RPG-esque, open world zombie survival (survival being the border-line definition of the world) game with a focus on melee weapons. Rarely will you locate a firearm, and even more rarely will you obtain ammunition for one.
Players are going in with high expectations for a game that doesn’t exist; what they’ll get will disappoint many, and lead to many low scores as a result.
Dead Island Gameplay Video
I hope you have a sick obsession with beating the living daylights out of people, because that’s what you’re going to be doing in Dead Island.. a LOT. As stated earlier, the title focuses on melee weapons, making sense if a true zombie outbreak occurred.
Three types of objects can be used, with a specific character specializing in each: sharp, blunt and thrown weapons. Ranging from throwing knives to lead pipes, crowbars to boat paddles, sticks to molotov cocktails, variety is prevalent within this weapon range, and is one of the title’s strengths.
Each item can be repaired, upgraded, and for more specific things that can be located, such as blueprints and modifications, built from specific items. If you want to completely scavenge and not upgrade, more power to you; you won’t last long, because as you progress, so do your enemies.
Your quick-select inventory is managed on a weapon wheel, which is tied to the strangest button (at least on the PC version) – the mouse wheel. Managing your actual inventory is far more time consuming, having to click specific spots on the aforementioned wheel to assign specific weapons; couple this with illogical discrepancies within its design, and you have something every gamer fears seeing: an infuriating interface.
Along with your inventory comes quest management, and Dead Island reaches a new level of “What the [expletive] were they thinking?” For reasons unknown, you CANNOT choose to track a side quest when pursuing a main quest… which you almost always are. This is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever encountered in a video game, and it makes me angry each time I get the error stating that I can’t track this quest because I’m currently on a primary story quest.
While this may sound all great and fun, the entire experience is ultimately unrewarding. Even though the title sounds as if the heavens opened up and gave us the first true-blue zombie game, it falls vastly short of being anything fresh or unique.
The experience in general feels like a stale combination of the industry’s most recent cooperative titles, chiefly Borderlands. Slowly opening up area by area, players advance via quests, accepting these journeys from NPCs they will encounter along the way.
Each quest at the core devolves into go here, kill x amount of zombies, grab y amount of items, or move z amount of items into a certain place. Diversity isn’t experiencing a new high or low in Dead Island, and as if complimenting the main storyline, the quests are nothing to write home about.
The zombies themselves provide the biggest character type in this title. As the players level up, enemies will scale to the level of the players, attack more viciously, or come in greater numbers. New areas lead to new, stronger foes that don’t mess around.
There’s a difference between scaling and progression, and Dead Island doesn’t quite realize this, opting for the former; whereas most games would introduce players to new environments, entailing completely new enemies, characters, weapons and quests, Dead Island loads each area with much of the same, only differentiating themselves in terms of statistics.
In order to combat the vicious plague, players – as in Borderlands – receive a skill point after each new level has been achieved, and can spend them in one of three skill trees: Fury, Combat or Survival.
Each character’s skill tree differs slightly, but ultimately the abilities aren’t that useful. I can sense an attempt to cause players to feel overwhelmed by the undead horde with these abilities being strongly subtle, but at the end of the day, it’s just a failed attempt and poor design.
Any more than two players in one session ruins any type of atmosphere the game attempts to create, and the entire affair feels extremely unorganized. You’ll find that your group easily takes down enemies, messes about constantly, and feels unconnected to the main game.
In summary, they don’t feel like partners; they feel like extra players are joining your game. Little to no interaction occurs with said partners, apart from item trading, and it all adds up to a very passive experience that you’ll more than likely play through one time and never touch again.
Sound was absolutely repulsive to me; various audio glitches, little to no soundtrack, poor voice acting and terrible writing kill any atmosphere semblance of the world.
From a visual standpoint, the title has a large contrast between characters and environment; the world itself is very beautiful, showcasing lush, attractive life in the aftermath of an undead attack on an island resort.
Characters, on the other hand, look like high-res models from a last gen title at the generation’s peak. They’re ugly, pixellated and very untextured; the same goes for the undead you’ll be fighting.
Very alive verdict
What was a game with limitless potential ended up being a title bogged down under poor design while having a plethora of technical issues, weightless writing and ungratifying gameplay.
Dead Island is a game that you buy for half price during the Steam sales and thoroughly enjoy; paying full price for this game is only recommended for those who enjoy wasting money.
©2011 Nicholas Laborde
Review PC Specs
- AMD Phenom II X6 1090 T @ 3.2 Ghz
- Sapphire Radeon HD 6970
- 8 GB RAM DDR3