Zombies have long been a staple of videogames – from the Survival horror series Resident Evil, to the mass zombie killing games like Left4Dead. Dead Island is the newest addition to the pantheon of zombie games and aims to bring all of their strengths together, turning them into a zombie Frankenstein game of sorts.
So does Techland pull off this feat? Read on to find out.
I’m sure you’ve heard plenty about Dead Island – it has definitely been on my radar for quite some time, ever since it made a big splash with its truly legendary announcement trailer back in February. The slow piano combined with the pulling of heartstrings of a dying family brought heartache and tears to many viewers. So when I finally got my hands on Dead Island, part of me was disappointed by the gruff player characters, and the opening rap montage. Where was the emotional sadness that the trailer promised? Gone. Where was the poignant music and zombie children? Gone.
So I’m warning you up front, don’t go into the game expecting these emotional moments. They’re nowhere to be found.
Instead, you get four characters to choose from, and while each character has unique strengths in terms of weapon use, your selection does not ultimately effect the storyline. Up front, this may be upsetting, but keep in mind that Dead Island is a game that supports up to four player co-op much like Left4Dead or Borderlands. In order to keep a reasonable storyline for four players, it had to be streamlined to keep things concise.
In any case, it took me a little while to get over my initial expectations and focus instead on what the game was actually providing.
Dead Island is – and this is going to sound silly – a zombie invasion simulator. How often do we think “Man – I think I can handle myself in a zombie invasion?” On the surface, Dead Island can be compared to games like Left 4 Dead, and Dead Rising, but it’s not an entirely accurate comparison. Both of those games inject certain bits of zombie absurdity, such as mounds and mounds of ammunition, constructing the most ludicrous killing weapons, or beating a zombie to death with a newspaper or damn near anything you find in a children’s toy store.
Dead Island, on the other hand, forces you to choose your battles with few decent melee weapons, and even less ammunition for the few guns you find in later parts of the game. Of the melee weapons that you do manage to come across, every hit slowly damages your weapon, degrading its quality, and swinging weapons uses up stamina which prevents you from running about arms flailing to beat off zombies.
Instead of being a hack and slash game like Dead Rising, Dead Island’s game mechanics turn it into something much more methodical, a game in which you can get by with simply breaking a zombie’s arm, or disabling their legs, instead of constantly and immediately bashing their heads in. Selective targeting of body parts plays a major role as you move along and bludgeoning weapons will have different effects vs cutting weapons.
The kick mechanic in the game also becomes absolutely critical, as kicking zombies allows you to knock them down and lay into them while they lay on the ground helpless. The only oddity with the kick mechanic is that it requires no stamina. So while punching for a few seconds will wear you out, high stepping everywhere you go isn’t a problem, allowing you to kick, kick, kick to your heart’s content.
Graphically, Dead Island comes off as a mixed bag. The developers at Techland had to build a brand new island resort from the ground up, and in the first few hours, you’ll battle zombies on resort roads, beaches, hotel rooms, offices, etc. While they all look decent, you would be hard pressed to pick out a moment that stands out as looking particularly impressive, though the sheer scope of the game and variation is welcome. It just sort of looks like a game that should have been released much earlier in this console generation, as it is full of effects like bloom lighting and shiny specular mapping that were more than slightly overused several years ago.
The zombies themselves leave a bit to be desired as well. What should be the centerpiece of the game suffers from muddy textures, and glitchy animations. The game enacts a matrix style slow down animation whenever you do you critical damage to a zombie, which tends to look awesome when the zombie is standing up. However, said slow-mo sometimes kicks in while you already have the zombie dead on the ground, and you get the animation when such flair isn’t called for.
What Dead Island does do well that most other zombie games no longer do, is scare the living daylights out of you at times. It’s clear that the designers took some thought into placement of zombie spawn points as I’ve been surprised by a hidden zombies more than a few times myself. Zombie hoards are also substantially more dangerous than the average zombie hoards you’ll find in other games, and running headfirst into a group with weapons swinging generally all but guarantees player death.
Dead Island’s main quest is a solid 20 hours, but with side quests and pure exploration, you can easily push 50+ hours. In the end, Dead Island is a very solid zombie game and any fan of zombies will likely enjoy it. Playing on your own, the game is good, but the lack luster storyline and generic characters makes the game repetitive at times and keeps it from being the truly stellar title that it could have been. But when you bring in friends and the four of you are taking on the zombie army, it turns it into a fantastic gaming experience.
I’ve Got Friends! – A Look at Dead Island’s Multiplayer
by Matt Wells
While the single player mode will lead you to the inevitable conclusion, Dead Island is most assuredly designed to be played with a group of two or more. Imagine playing Left 4 Dead or Borderlands by yourself and you’ll immediately get the picture. It can be fun to roam and explore on your own but in the end, it just doesn’t feel natural.
Certain enemies are incredibly difficult without help, so it’s always good to have a partner who’s willing to flank a creature. If you get knocked down, a teammate can always swoop in and resurrect you at the cost of a medkit. Considering that a $200 medkit costs much less than losing 10% of your cash (the penalty for death when you play alone), it’s a godsend.
One of the better aspects of Dead Island is that it’s incredibly easy to jump-in and jump out of missions, provided you can find people. We played this on the PC and the PS3. While we were always able to see a notification of who was in the area for the PC, we didn’t have much luck with the PS3.
However, multiplayer is when several of the game’s larger bugs begin to pop up. There have been several instances where you and your group enter an area, but at least one of you may be ported to a different part of the map. Techland released a large patch to address this and other glitches, but some of these issues still persist.
Knowing your roots is important for any franchise and Dead Island knows exactly what it is. There are little references to the franchises it borrows from all over the place. Such as when you are exploring parts of Act III, you may come across a hut with a deranged man named Jason wearing a hockey mask wielding a machete that will kill you with one hit regardless of health. If you try to run from him, he will chase you down until he eventually gets you. That’s the kind of attention to detail I like in this genre.
Dead Island was released on September 6th, 2011. Review based on PC and PS3 versions.