Game Rant’s Alex Sebenski reviews Dead Island
Dead Island sparked the interest of gamers worldwide with a beautifully artistic trailer set to an emotional piano track. The game play videos promised a new and more realistic way to fight that would require the player to think more strategically about their attacks or die in a zombie swarm.
As an open world, zombie apocalypse first person perspective, melee fighter with multiplayer Dead Island provides a very unique combination of many game play elements, used in other games, but it looks like Techland may have bit off more than they could chew with this huge undertaking – as an abundance of bugs ruin a very fun, and visually stunning zombie killing game.
After choosing from one of the four stereotypical characters, who each specialize in a certain type of weapon, the player will find themselves waking up in the middle of the zombie apocalypse at an island resort. Each of the characters has their own customizable skill trees and ”Fury” abilities – which are improved as experience is gained by completing missions and killing enemies. The easily avoidable and boring plot involves the group of four survivors attempting to find a cure, escape the island, and help as many survivors as they can on their way.
The mission structure is pretty basic. Groups of survivors that have holed-up for safety on the island assign the player (or players) tasks such as gathering items, travelling to certain locations, or escorting a NPC to safety. The mediocre voice acting isn’t helped by the lack of depth in the story. Despite competent character designs, animations are jarringly robotic and flat out ugly at times. That said, the very large, open world of the island is gorgeous with beautiful landscapes and realistic road and building layouts.
Right from the start players are introduced to the post-apocalyptic necessity of scrounging for items and money in luggage and closets. Every day tools like hammers, paddles and bats are utilized as weapons while other found items can be appended to weaponry to change their properties and add damage, for example: a bat with nails or electrified machete. Weapon modifications require a work bench, money, a recipe (which can be found or earned by completing missions) and the necessary ingredients (i.e. items) – which can be found scattered around the island inside trash bins, computers and other nooks and crannies.
It’s similar to the weapon system in Dead Rising but lends to the feeling of realism as the player is desperate for anything to fight with – rather than grounded in a mall with a humorous selection of weaponry. Throughout the game the weapons and the modifications become more interesting which makes the effort put in to find money and items rewarding. That said, the speed at which weapons degrade is believably fast and, of course, requires money to repair. The game fails to introduce the player to the weapon degradation system and an uninformed player may fight with dulled blade or a broken bat for a long time before realizing that they need to change weapons. It’s a good thing that the inventory size allowed is large and switching weapons is fairly simple.
Dismembering zombies with home made weapons is extremely satisfying in Dead Island. The first person perspective, which requires targeting specific body parts, can feel awkward at first – but swinging a customized axe and removing a limb from an oncoming zombie is beautifully gory and so enjoyable that it may not get boring after killing piles of zombies the same way a few hundred times. Despite a lot of standard walking, or running, zombie-fare, there are few variations that appear on occasion – each possessing mutations very similar to those from the Left 4 Dead series.
Kicking (which doesn’t require stamina like running, jumping, and weapon attacks) will push back enemies and drain their stamina. Knocking zombies down with a kick is useful for crowd control, letting the player take on an enemy at a time, which is preferable. The damage a single zombie can do is significant and more than two or three at a time usually spells death for any player. There’s isn’t much strategy to killing any type of zombie other than keeping them on the ground with kicks and cutting in for hit and run attacks. It’s as enjoyable as killing the same zombies over and over again can be.
The ability to easily jump in a game with up to three friends, or random online players, is as entertaining as it is helpful. At the push of a button players can join forces with others at a similar point in the game. Zombies scale in difficulty as players join, team killing is impossible other than with explosives, and missions can be completed as a team or individually – so issues caused by uncooperative individuals is kept to a minimum. Playing online or over a network works flawlessly; though, an unexpected join can be jarring – as objects disappear and reappear without warning.
Unfortunately, anger inducing bugs and programming ruin Dead Island. Players, us included, have faced issue after issue with the game, such as the accidental release of a developer version on Steam and saved data vanishing into thin air. Other bugs range from unresponsive controls to game-breaking glitches that lock a player into a room with invisible doors or freeze-out mission objectives, making it impossible to complete a task. Spawn points after death are chosen poorly – dropping the player into a crowd of zombies or happily (but without any challenge) right next to their objective. The AI pathing on escort missions is laughable as they will often pace back and forth trying to find a door, jump off cliffs to their death, or refuse to continue until a zombie who is clearly out of range has been killed. The list of bugs, big and small, continues to grow – and, despite a promise from Techland to release a stream of patches, it’s hard to believe that some of these issues can be easily resolved.
In the end, Dead Island is an ambitious titles, combining a Fallout 3 looting and leveling system with Dead Rising‘s weapon crafting and Far Cry 2 first person melee fighting as well as a Left 4 Dead co-op structure but with so many gameplay elements squeezed into one title, the finished product is somewhat of a Frankenstein monster (not a competent sum of its parts). The concept was solid and the lack of plot is forgivable (who really needs a plot to kill zombies?) but the sheer amount of bugs and poor gameplay designs in the title is unforgivable. If everything worked as expected then Dead Island could have been a must buy, but instead it’s mostly a half-baked product, rotting and aimlessly shambling around.
Dead Island is available now for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.