Publisher/s: Deep Silver
Platform/s: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Free-roaming, survival horror, first-person shooter, role-playing
Release Date: 2011-09-06
Ever since the official announcement trailer, Dead Island has sparked immense interest in the gaming community, with impressive (albeit pre-rendered) visuals and morbidly heartfelt subject matter, the trailer held great promise and when it was announced that Dead Island would be a survival horror, first person-shooter, role-playing game, the concept alone made the entire package all the more enticing. I can’t really vouch for the console versions but what I’ve heard from several review sites and forums has been positive feedback for the most part, unfortunately the same can’t be said for the PC version as the myriad of bugs and technical glitches present are so imposing that it detracts from the overall experience to the point where the game becomes quite unplayable. Granted, Dead Island’s ‘day-one‘ patch addressed around forty issues, unfortunately none of the problems I experienced were fixed by it. I’d like to say that bugs and glitches were my only gripe with Dead Island though unfortunately that isn’t the case as I found the game to be rather boring and uninspired.
So firstly I will address the non-glitch related problems I had with Dead Island. The premise is that you are on vacation at a lovely tropical resort island called Banoi – a fictional island located in the Papua New Guinean islands, south of the equator, north of Australia. You have one too many drinks one night and through the alcohol-induced blurriness, people are seemingly attacking one another before you black out. From this point, you are given the option of choosing from four playable characters:
- Logan Carter – a former NFL star and ‘throwing weapons’ expert.
- Purna – a former police officer and ‘firearms’ expert.
- Sam B – a one-hit rap wonder and ‘blunt weapons’ expert.
- Xian Mei – a Royal Palms Resort employee and ‘sharp weapons’ expert.
After you’ve selected your character, the game begins with you waking up in your hotel room, as you venture forth you discover that not only is the place devoid of human life, but blood-thirsty zombies are snapping at your heels. It’s up to you to escape the hotel and find out what’s going on.
Given that the idea behind Dead Island is to emulate a ‘real-world’ zombie apocalypse scenario, the most logical character choice for me was Sam B, considering that most of the items that one would defend themselves with would be anything one could get their hands on, it’s more likely that a person would arm themselves with a boat paddle, frying pan or baseball bat as opposed to razor-sharp throwing knives and firearms (though those are present). Ammunition for the aforementioned projectile weapons is also extremely scarce, so having a character that is adept at using the things around them for protection was definitely an easy choice and considering that after completing the game I have absolutely no compulsion to play through the campaign with each of the other three characters, Sam B was a good choice for me. I should also mention that melee weapons degrade in this game, so if you use one weapon too much it will become damaged requiring that you repair it. Weapon repairs can be done at any of the many work-benches strewn throughout the maps. Work-benches also allow you to upgrade a weapon as well as modify it, so while a baseball bat is definitely useful, wrapping barbed-wire around it makes it all the more lethal.
So this is where the problems begin…your character happens to be immune to the zombie epidemic, so while you’re certainly able to be killed by the creatures, you are immune to the virus they spread when bitten – fair enough. Unfortunately that equates to you being the prime candidate for being given the run around by several other hapless survivors who have barricaded themselves in some hut, building, bunker or what have you. Needless to say, because they’re ‘survivors’ they will be needing various supplies like food, water, power, weapons and so forth and each encampment is populated with a ‘leader type’ who will request that you do certain tasks (earning you experience points to unlock new abilities) but even though you are given the option to decline, if you wish to progress through the main plot you will have to accept all the quests from the leader characters. Apart from the main plot quests, the other survivors offer side-quest opportunities (also earning XP) and it’s these side-quests which will occupy most of your time, it’s also the reason for having to constantly go back and forth the maps which becomes very tedious very quickly, especially considering that apart from the XP, the reward for helping the survivors isn’t really worth the effort. Even though earning XP is crucial to your success, eventually I became so saturated by the game that I ignored the side-quests all together in an effort to complete the game as quickly as possible, which worked out fine as I was able to finish the game without unlocking the bulk of the special abilities or doing the majority of the laborious side-quests. The Dead Island world is open-ended (for the most part) and expansive, so be prepared to do a lot of walking (or running given most situations) and eventually driving even though a ‘fast travel’ option exists within the game, extensive walking is an activity you should brace yourself for. Killing zombies earns you XP which is required in order to level up. Every time you reach a new level, you have the option to select an ability from the skill tree, the skill tree is broken up into three sections – Fury, Combat and Survival. I spent most of my experience points unlocking the Survival section as it proved to be the most beneficial.
If you strip away all the side quests, you are left with a generic and uninspired main plot which makes no effort what-so-ever to bring anything new to the table. Plot wise, the zombie outbreak is similar to Resident Evil in that the zombies are of human design, except that the latter was actually entertaining and engaging where as Dead Island stagnates quite quickly. Dead Island is broken up into four chapters, of which the first chapter confines you to the island resort and the surrounding area. I found the first section of the game to be painfully boring but thankfully it gets a little bit better from the second chapter onwards. Each chapter introduces a different kind of zombie, so while initially you are confronted with ‘walkers’ (the slow-movers), as the game progresses you are met with the ‘infected’ (fast-moving zombies that will sprint towards you), ‘thugs’ (large slow-movers that inflict major damage), ‘floaters’ (gelatinous blobs that spew poisonous vomit) and more. Thankfully, the play-mechanics of the game are quite enjoyable, so smashing one of the undead with an oar or piece of pipe feels very satisfying, and if all else fails you have the ability to kick your opponents earning you some much-needed room especially if you knock your enemies to the ground. I came across firearms eventually just over halfway through the game and compared to their non-projectile counterparts they are quite ineffective. However, guns are extremely effective against the various non-infected human enemies you will encounter, so save your ammunition for them as they are all ‘packing heat’.
Unfortunately, dumb enemy AI detracts from the overall experience further so while I understand that the bulk of the enemies are supposed to be mindless zombies (pun intended), the human antagonists don’t make much of an effort to avoid gunfire. Not only that, the easiest way to fight off the zombie hordes is to jump onto some form of elevated platform, in my case I found myself jumping on top of abandoned vehicles where I was safe from being attacked but was easily able to dispatch the enemies by taking swings at them with one of the longer weapons (like the mace). I also found that, the ‘infected’ would be able to spot you a hundred metres away, sprint towards you to close in for the kill but the moment I jumped onto something high (like the aforementioned vehicles) they would stop immediately and act as if they never saw me. I should also point out that everything you do pretty much requires stamina, so running, kicking or swinging a weapon will deplete your stamina bar, even though it replenishes very quickly, when surrounded by four or five zombies, fighting them off can prove to be difficult.
Addressing the technical flaws, despite being patched Dead Island is loaded with problems, you cannot manually save, which is stupid especially for a PC game, instead the game auto-saves whenever the player reaches a checkpoint, which is fine except that this auto-save feature doesn’t guarantee that you will be in the same place when loading from the last checkpoint. In fact at one point, I needed to cross a passage loaded with enemies and after being killed, instead of restarting where I was supposed to, I was ‘transported’ to the other side of corridor to where I was trying to get. Another example, during the second chapter, I was running around the streets and when I was killed off, again instead of starting where the game last auto-saved, I was inside one of the survivor hideouts, one which I hadn’t encountered yet, and because I didn’t get there on my own, I couldn’t interact with any of the people inside as the game uses event-scripting, because I didn’t kill the zombies outside the entrance, the entrance-way was still closed thus the scripted event wasn’t triggered and the only way I could get out was to use a ‘fast travel’ map pinned on the wall. The inventory system is a mess as not only is it confusing but for some odd reason it allows duplicate weapon entries, so lets say you pick up a revolver, that gun now uses one inventory slot, when you come across another gun of the same make and model, instead of collecting the ammunition, the gun is taken thus wasting another precious inventory slot…urgh…frustrating. Another glitch worth mentioning is that enemies cannot open doors, so if a zombie is rushing towards you, players can close the door but a lot of the time, the zombie’s body would magically ghost through the door allowing you to attack him even though he is still on the other side, and at one point one of the ‘infected’ managed to run straight through a closed-door.
Lastly, one of the few positive aspects about Dead Island is definitely the visuals, while the indoor scenes are somewhat bland, the outside locales are beautiful, be it jungle, mountains or beaches, everything looks authentic with a lot of attention to detail. The zombies themselves look great too, and the artists did a wonderful job bringing the walking dead to ‘life’ as the zombies are decorated with gaping wounds, exposed bones and oozing entrails. At the very least, the developers did a fine job of creating a realistic atmosphere.
While the announcement trailer promised something emotional and engrossing, in reality, Dead Island is bug-ridden and generic at best. The countless sub-quests serve only to pad an otherwise short and generic main quest, which relies heavily on over-used plot devices in order to progress the story. The protagonists are as two-dimensional as the plot and while the combat is fun, it soon becomes tedious. Dead Island fails to bring anything new to the table, with gameplay being broken up in to – find this, bring that or escort so-and-so and not forgetting the endless need to backtrack. I don’t really understand why this game has been rated so highly by critics but while it certainly isn’t the worst game out there it’s definitely not the best perhaps only serving as a distraction until something better comes along.