Review: Dead Island (PC)
Title: Dead Island
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3 (reviewed on PC)
Publisher: Deep Silver
Tagline: Hordes of zombies make a paradise retreat hell on Earth
Family Friendly: Considering the massive amounts of dismemberments, head bashing, foul language and bone breaking, it is best that Dead Island stays in the hands of those 17 and up per the M Rating.
Dead Island should be a game that I do not like. It had major release issues on the PC, it continues to have issues with stability and it punishes you from the very start with its difficulty. And yet, with all of its faults, I have found myself enjoying my romp through Banoi Island in spite of the problems. Dead Island makes zombies fresh and new, and the improvised weapons system is the best I have found in a game of this type. Yes, you have to take the good with the bad when playing Dead Island, but when it is firing on all cylinders, this game flat out rocks.
All of us can get a mental picture of a place like Banoi Island. It is a hotspot for those that want to party in a beautiful paradise. The clear water, the beach scene, the glamorous hotels and more remind you of those “Come to Jamaica” commercials that pepper the airwaves on a regular basis. Of course, creating a relaxing game like that would sell little to no copies, so an infection of some kind sparks a zombie outbreak, devastating the island. You choose one of four playable characters, each with their own specialty to try and find source of the infection and a possible way off the island.
I honestly thought that the story would be the least impressive point of Dead Island, being thought of as a throwaway for beating up zombies but it actually becomes something very intriguing. No, this is not your standard infection gone wild, but something far more compelling as you start to unfold the 18 chapters in Dead Island. It mixes in technology with old school tribal beliefs and comes off rather intelligent at the end of the day. Kudos to Techland for eschewing a banal plot for something that is far deeper for a game of this type.
Of course, at the end of the day, you want to kill a ton of zombies, and Dead Island is accommodating in that nature. You start with simple weapons that degrade quickly and do not range far from knives and boat oars, but as you progress, you will find far better weapons and even some guns, but the focus seems to be molded around melee combat. Weapons will degrade and break down, but in a stroke of genius, they do not disappear when completely broken down, but instead cannot be used until they are repaired. (Thank you, Techland – I hate games where the item is completely gone when used to its full lifespan.) You also start to gain blueprints from people and scattered around the island that allow you to create unique weapons like an electrified machete or a flaming baseball bat. You shortly realize that these unique weapons will become a critical component to your survival.
Techland also has done a superb job with creating a host of different zombie enemies for you to face. While the game starts with you fighting the standard, slow moving zombie type, you soon start to face hulking zombies that will do massive amounts of damage if you stay too close to them in combat. Other types will move very quickly and surround you if you are not quick and resourceful in combat. Dead Island never gets old when it comes to the enemies that you face, as they is always a new type coming into play every few chapters. Tank –like zombies, acid spewing zombies and even zombies infused with toxic waste will all find ways to make your stay on Banoi Island less than pleasant.
An interesting twist on combat that I only found later in the game is the ability to switch to analog controls if you are using a gamepad. With analog controls, you lock down the left trigger to ready your weapon and then move the stick from one direction to the opposite direction to swing your weapon in that manner. While difficult to pick up at first, you slowly start to get the hang of it, and over time, you will find that it gives you a huge amount of control over how you fight your enemies and place damage. With standard controls, you only get a general sense of an area, but analog controls allow for finite changes in where you hit enemies. I would suggest setting this from the start, as I only found out about it after I was deep into the game and had difficulty wrapping my head around the controls at that point, but I did enjoy how it handled precise damage modeling.
While there is a main story that you can work your way through in about 15-20 hours, you will also get peppered with a number of side quests from other characters that range from simple fetch quests to some that are very complex and reap huge rewards. While they are completely optional, some of these side quests will end up paying off with some very unique weapons that could better your chances of survival. Just try not to kill yourself when it comes to the lady that needs her teddy bear. It is rather annoying and seems so out of place in the middle of this desperate trek for survival.
Your journey through Dead Island can be played on your own in quiet solitude, getting into a game with three other players is where Dead Island shines most of the time. You can always be invited or invite your friends into your game, but random pick-ups are handled in an interesting way. When you are running through the game in single player, you will occasionally get a notification that so and so player is near you with the option to join. This allows you to play in games that are near progress where you are in the game, leaving the main story unspoiled when you are joining randoms. The difficulty is controlled by the host, so be careful as you can get paired up with some that have leveled higher than you, making the game very difficult. Online on the PC is suffering from some balance and stability issues, although it seemed to get a lot better with the two post-release patches that came out.
Dead Island is not a picture perfect paradise, as some huge and glaring issues have cropped up all over the place. The PC is the primary platform affected by a lot of these issues, but there are problems seeping in on the console side of the equation as well. These problems go beyond the initial mistake of releasing an unfinished version of the game to Steam at launch. There are numerous graphical glitches, times with levels do not load appropriately and more than one crash to desktop that have happened in my game. Most were minor, but you never want to see a game that has been in development for a good four years crash to desktop. These are bugs that should have been fixed. Cut scenes that do not have backgrounds rendered properly or even something as simple as me playing as a female character but people referring to me as a “him” or a “mate”. These are signs of laziness from the development team that wanted to get a game out to release before fixing all the polish on the title. If you are going to have dual genders as playable characters make the dialog reflect that. Again, two major patches have fixed a lot of issues over time, but there is a lot of flat out jankiness happening in Dead Island.
And yet, in spite of its bugs and jank, I find myself continuing to love Dead Island. From its creative main story to the exquisite nature of pummeling someone with a bat to the point of exploding their dome, there is so much good in Dead Island. Techland continues to capture the spirit of a situation and make you feel it. You always feel like you are just on the brink of survival in this nightmare apocalypse. Yes it is a bumpy ride from start to finish, but at the end of the day, Dead Island offers up some compelling gameplay through the thorny brush.
- Unique story that does not do the same thing over again with a Zombie outbreak
- Combat is visceral and satisfying
- The world and characters look fantastic with this engine
- Bugs, bugs and more bugs
- Difficulty ramps up tremendously towards the end
- Lack of polish on the simple details