Dead Island

Welcome…

Welcome to Banoi, an island full of sun, sea, sand and sex. And slaughter.

Dead Island is a good game; it is massively flawed but also immensely fun, surprisingly difficult and utterly addictive. Impossible to put down, this is enjoyable zombie mayhem. I look forward to the sequel, when they’ve destroyed the plethora of annoying bugs and frustrations, but until then Dead Island 1 is certainly worth buying – it is a superb zombie game.

This review is less a review and more a giant speech about the pros and cons of this highly-anticipated game, so I’ve chopped it into sections for easier reading. Aren’t I kind?

The Style

Who watched the teaser trailer for Dead Island? It features the incredible slo-mo zombie attack on a family in a hotel room, which is both disturbing and deeply moving. This gave everyone high hopes that Dead Island would be a very special piece of work indeed – maybe Fallout meets Dead Rising. Did this deliver? Hell no.

Dead Island desperately tries to be cool, which utterly contradicts that amazing, emotional teaser trailer released in February. It is funky, hip-hop culture riffing, “sexy” and ridiculous. Perhaps I’m being harsh on Dead Island, but it sold itself on being sharp and deep and clever and fails miserably to deliver on that promise. It’s big, brash, fun and bloody but as emotionally deep as a Paul W.S. Anderson film.

Your character – one of four emotionally generic, physically different people – is a quipping, monotone bugger who randomly says things like “That bitch was huge”. They each have elongated back-stories, available to read / hear when you initially pick them, but these have literally ZERO impact on the game as a whole. You learn nothing new about the character and they don’t change at all, despite helping hundreds of people and fighting through the zombie apocalypse.

Is it scary? No. Not at all. It’s more like an action film than a horror, being more about violence than the building of fear. Occasionally you’ll crap yourself when you run into five zombies in an alleyway and all you have is a bent wooden paddle to defend yourself with… but I’ve been equally as shit-scared in Call of Duty! This is not in the terrifying realms of Resident Evil / Silent Hill.

Once you recognise this, however, you’ll begin enjoying yourself. A LOT.

The Obvious Comparisons

Undoubtedly everyone will compare this to Left 4 Dead, Dead Rising and Resident Evil. Although channelling elements from all of these classics, Dead Island vigorously shakes the Dead Rising tree and lets everything fall into place: customizable weapons, escort missions, crazed human foes, find-the-whatever – it’s all in there. The only things that are different are the “open” environment and the zombies, which aren’t just docile stumblers but sprint, shamble, charge, leap and punch really fucking hard.

Despite the liberal theft from other similar titles, Dead Island is it’s own game. Just.

The Positives

The first time I threw an electrified machete at a Thug Zombie and he died instantly, I actually let out a little yelp of joy. Dead Island is a lot of fun.

I’m getting way ahead of myself. Dead Island is hugely playable, dangerously addictive, violent, bloody and simply a lot of fun. It is a must for fans of zombies – well, killing them – as it has an endless sea of zombies to destroy.

Dead Island is genuinely difficult in places. If you find yourself facing 5 zombies running down at a street at you, you know you’re screwed. Run! I realized quickly that running away from trouble is sometimes the best method, although notoriously you’ll run away from a pack of zombies round a corner and run straight into a massive zombie, who subsequently punches you in the face.

The great – and unique – thing about Dead Island is the stamina bar. You only have a certain amount of stamina, indicated by a little bar which appears when you’re straining yourself. These strains include sprinting away from the undead (hands flapping wildly) and bashing the crap out of the ghoulish scumbags. At first it’s a huge frustration when you’re battering a zombie in the face and suddenly find yourself too tired to attack any more, but luckily you’ve always got a handy “kick” button that can knock flesh-eaters onto their rotten arses, which takes no stamina to do.

After a while you begin to understand the stamina bar and have careful choices to make when venturing into zombieland – some weapons pack a powerful punch but take a LOT of stamina to exert (two-handed axes, for example) whilst others are less powerful but you can use repeatedly before running out of steam (cleavers, knives etc…). It’s cunningly done, and although infuriating at times, it certainly makes the game’s difficulty level rocket. It’s a great addition.

One thing about Dead Island is how beautiful it is. The Chrome engine used makes for absolutely sublime visuals, from the amazing beaches to the grim n’ gritty streets of Moresby – it’s a visually stunning game.

Dead Island has a levelling system familiar to anyone who’s ever played a computer game, and it lets you increase skills in three areas – COMBAT, SURVIVAL and a third character-specific skill. Combat helps improve your specialist ability (sharp weapons, blunt weapons etc..) and survival ensures you have more stamina, can pick locks etc… The levelling system is rudimentary stuff and it often feels it has little impact (other than the lockpick skill, which is directly useful). It’s a nice touch, but needs to be more exciting than just 2% improvement on the effectiveness of blunt weapons or whatever. Talking of weapons…

Weapons!

The electrified machete I mentioned earlier is one of hundreds of different weapons available to you; sticks, pistols, knives, paddles, Molotov cocktails, baseball bats, hammers, bombs… the lists goes on and on. Initially you’ll find a smattering of objects lying about the beach and in huts – diving knives, battered oars, hat-stands (!) – but the more people you meet, the more “mods” and special weapons you discover, and you can begin creating your own weapons. Hence the electrified machete.

You can use these weapons in two ways; attack with them head on or throw them from afar. I really enjoy seeing a zombie sprinting at me, choosing my flaming baseball bat, then lobbing it at the bastard and watching him get knocked down and catch fire! Genius!

Guns are scarce until you drive into the town of Morseby, but even these are piddly pistols with limited ammo – good for shooting other humans, but crap at taking down a big zombie. And up close? You may as well put the barrel in your mouth and pull the damn trigger. Guns are decent but unreliable.

All the weapons also degrade with use, so if you keep bashing away at zombies with your heavy-modded lumphammer, it will eventually break. Unlike Dead Rising, however, you can pay to repair the items before they die forever. It’s an inventive idea and it means you’re careful with your weapon choice. Some people will hate the return-to-the-workbench, but I relished it.

Annoyingly you only have a limited space in your inventory for weapons, and this forces you to make some tough and bloody frustrating choices: keep the magnum pistol or throw it away in favour of a massive axe? It’s necessary that you can’t have a hundred weapons, but it’s annoying having to get rid of a great weapon because you want a bottle of whisky…

Zombies!

The undead come in various guises, visually and otherwise. At the resort the undead are bikini-clad, Hawaiian shirted, bronzed monsters, whilst in town they’re people dressed in “normal” clothes. Although there is a lot of repetition in the “zombie look” – at one point I had three identical men in bright yellow shirts and red shorts sprinting down a hill at me! – they also have varying levels of decay. The detail is sharp and smart, where some will be showing their ribs through a ripped up chest and others will be fresh and blood free. It’s a nice touch, and you can easily add to their injuries by hacking off limbs or beating holes into their stomachs… which is also visually awesome.

The zombies also have levels (yep!) and you’ll find that out the hard way. Not only that, but there are varying types of undead bastard to kill. At first it’s just stumbling gimps, then some faster ones and then – my personal most-hated-zombie – the Thug. Thugs are slow moving but steroid-fuelled body-builder types who can knock you down in one punch. Best tackled from afar, that’s where the “lob the electrified machete” comes in… Each zombie has a certain amount of “life” and the points are slowly hacked and slashed off them. It’s fun watching a zombie on fire slowly lose hit points as it sprints pathetically towards you. Burn, undead bitch, burn!

There are also “special” zombies. So far I’ve encountered three types – one is the exploding one (Boomer, anyone?) that seriously seriously harms anyone nearby. Do NOT run up to it and twat it with a hammer – trust me, that is instant death. Then there’s the massive blokes in strait jackets – kind of like a steroid-induced Hannibal Lecter meets Tom Hardy’s Bane – that are virtually impossible to kill unless you throw everything at them or run the bastards over with a truck. He knocks you down by brushing you, he’s that hard. And finally I’ve noticed some zombies with a green smoke billowing from them. I have no idea what they are or what they do, but the smoke is kind of irritating and probably poisonous.

The Missions

Plot wise Dead Island is pretty obvious. Zombie outbreak, get off the island. The end. The main storyline propels you around the maps, facing harder and harder tasks, from obtaining car parts from crashed vehicles to turning off all the fire hydrants in town (which is bloody difficult).

There are many many sub-plots / missions in Dead Island, spit into two categories – continuous missions and one-offs. The continuous missions involve obtaining something specific (like water) for someone, and you gain a little experience and some money every time you do it. Useful for topping up experience, kind of pointless otherwise. The other side missions are escorts, find-the-something etc… which are varied and interesting. Success in these result in gaining a lot of money, some special weapons or even weapons modifications plans, which is awesome.

Admittedly the side-missions can be absolutely bloody stupid. One man wants you to find him alcohol, for a handy bit of hair-of-the-dog during a zombie apocalypse. Another woman wants her teddy bear. Another wants “brand” champagne. Conversely there are also some very smart, saddening missions, such as getting insulin, asthma inhalers and one – which is particularly horrible – that involves killing someone’s undead family so he knows they’re resting in peace. A mixed bag, mission wise.

Overall the mission structure is unoriginal but compelling and exciting enough. Each mission is labelled with a difficulty rating (Very Easy, Easy, Medium, Hard and Very Hard) so you know whether you’re ready to tackle them or not. It’s a nice little addition that works well and does instil a sense of fear when you finally attempt the Very Hard mission…

Multiplayer

Sadly I haven’t played multiplayer Dead Island, although at one point a random person did appear in my game, stole everything from all the suitcases and killed the zombies around me… The ability to drop-in to anyone’s game can be turned off, but it’s automatically set to “let strangers appear” when you begin. It also constantly informs you about buttmonkey56 or johnnyape1985 playing nearby, if you want to join them (which is both annoying and just a little bit creepy).

Multiplayer lets you and three friends battle through the entire story together, which should be immense fun. My lack of friends who own the game, however, has meant I haven’t had a chance to test it. Only time will tell…

The Negatives

Okay, here goes…

There appears to be a large number of glitches, which suggest Dead Island wasn’t tested rigorously enough or that the makers found them acceptable enough for the rushed release date. One particular problem is with that hair-of-the-dog moron who requires you deliver him alcohol for cash reward. I ran all over the island finding alcohol, and when I first returned to him and gave it to him he took it ALL and paid me nothing. The side-quest remained open. I tried again with the same shit results. When I turned Dead Island off, however, and played it again, our alcoholic paid out twice… then on the third time failed to even acknowledge I’d given him all of my freakin’ alcohol! This happened early on, and did not bode well for the rest of the game…

There are a number of other noticeable glitches throughout – when I first appeared on the new map of Moresby and saved it in a Church, I quit and when I reloaded the game I appeared in an undiscovered warehouse on the other side of town! There were also a few occasions that zombies would attack & knock me somewhere where I’d promptly become stuck in (behind a shelving unit, in some rocks etc…), which is infuriating. Reload ahoy.

The biggest and frequently frustrating part of Dead Island is the godawful save system. You cannot save the game whenever you like, there is nowhere specific you can save the game (no typewriters, for example!) and no way of knowing when it was actually last saved. You have one save game and it saves it frequently but randomly. There are checkpoints when you complete missions (and at other seemingly random times), but these are never greatly clear. When you DIE you appear at the last “Checkpoint” not at the last “Saved” place – the saved points just save your progress, not your position on the Map. It’s a bizarre, awkward, frequently confusing system that should’ve been sorted out a LONG time before being released. The worst part of dying in Dead Island is not losing a bit of money when you cop it, but how irritating it is when you respawn miles away from where you were! Or right slam-back in the same place, where eight zombies are!

Talking of Maps – when you move to a different “map” you’re unable to visit the previous / other maps unless you physically return there, which is okay unless you’re inside a building that has NO map (like the abandoned houses in Moresby, the sewers, City Hall, the supermarket!). Once inside, you have no idea where you are or where the exit door will lead to… because there’s no map of the outside world. It’s a simple but stupid mistake – sadly a frequent thing in Dead Island.

Oh, and Maps AGAIN – and this is REALLY annoying – the “open” environment we wander around in does have borders (obviously), but unlike Fallout or Grand Theft Auto, the edges of the environment aren’t just denoted by mountains you can’t climb or sea you can’t swim through, but by the most lazy method available – a sign flashes on the screen saying “You are leaving the playable area”. This patronizing icon appears in some of the most absurd places; on some rocks, on part of a beach, even a patch of water BETWEEN two playable areas! These non-playable areas are not flagged on the maps, so when you’re looking for a crashed plane (for example) it’s massively frustrating not knowing what is accessible and what is – in fact – not a playable area! This little sign also destroys any illusion of reality. It’s lazy, infuriating stuff.

After the random spawning of the undead in Left 4 Dead, you’d hope Dead Island would’ve learned from this, but alas they have not. Zombies reappear in precisely the same places, so after a while you begin to KNOW exactly how many zombies will be in each location. Three by that ambulance, one in the pool, three behind the coach etc… It is a minor issue, but it’s disappointing that there’s no variety.

Zombies aren’t the only things that respawn – EVERYTHING does! One of the main maddening tediums of Dead Island is searching every suitcase, cupboard, corpse, shelf, box, wallet, fridge and basket for money and useful items (such as detergent, wire, batteries etc…) – but these also respawn. The contents are random too, so you can steal money from a bag, exit the game, come back and steal a belt. It’s endless and horribly repetitive. You could literally make a million dollars if you just revisited a place over and over again after quitting and restarting. It’s seriously dumb.

Gameplay! For the most part gameplay is solid and exciting, but at times you feel the damage you’re causing is absolutely random. You can use the same weapon four times and it’ll hack off a limb, knock someone over, do hardly any damage and instantly kill, and it doesn’t seem to matter how you wielded it!

And finally, the voicework – it’s substandard stuff, and apart from the dire-logue between characters, the constant quips your character makes become a little irritating, especially because they’re clearly absolutely bloody random. I had to kill someone’s zombified daughter, an emaciated 4 foot tall zombie girl, and when my character cuts her head off he throws out a “That bitch was huge” quip. Either he’s being wryly sarcastic and deliberately offensive or the game – once again – makes an awkward mistake that sits uncomfortably at a moment of genuine potential pathos. It was an ugly moment that made me hate my character and the game.

Rant over.

These flaws do not destroy your enjoyment, but they add to an overall sense of frustration that the game isn’t quite what it should’ve been. These are all issues that should’ve been ironed out in testing, but for whatever reason still remain in the game. Perhaps like Dead Rising, the sequel will eradicate these problems and make for a truly amazing experience. Roll on Dead Island 2: Canvey Island Apocalypse.

I have literally just read there is a MASSIVE patch for day one release of Dead Island – 37 fixes! – although most of them do not address the frustrations above.

A Conclusion of Sorts

Play Dead Island.

It has it’s faults – lots of them, all minor – but overall it’s absolutely stunning, endless fun, brutal, bloody, ridiculous, challenging and incredibly addictive.

Bold, brash and gory, this will be loathed by some and adored by others – it is the Dawn of the Dead remake of zombie gaming.

Dead Island is not perfect, but it is a great game.

*   *   *   *   *

Dead Island is Developed by: Deep Silver & Techland

Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC

This review is based on playing the Xbox 360 version of Dead Island

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

7 Comments on “Dead Island”

  1. Pat says:

    37 patches within the day one release? Who’d've thunk it! Expect another 100 or so within the week. Honestly, I don’t understand the point in buying physical game media for consoles anymore, other than the exciting feeling of hearing the player spin up. And that IS an exciting feeling.

    Oh, most entertaining review too :)

    • Scullion says:

      It needs more than 100 patches to sort itself out properly.

      As it said, it IS a great fun, madly addictive game, but just incredibly flawed. At times it honestly feels like the Developers first ever game!!

  2. Steve says:

    Thanks for your review Scullion, although I’m amused that you game it 7/10 after all the negatives! lol

    Can’t say I’m surprised. I too had hoped for Fallout / Dead Rifing mix but seems that’s just not to be, although the possibilities are endless if it was done!

    • Scullion says:

      It’s a strange one, Steve, because despite it’s absolute sea of flaws, bugs, annoyances etc… it is still a thrilling, difficult, addictive game. Whilst something like Duke Nukem is heavily flawed but also incredibly dull, Dead Island does magnificently well at constantly surprising you – I’m now 75% through the story and it’s still great fun.

      A combo of Dead Rising and Fallout would have been amazing… but it’s nowhere near the same quality.

      Roll on Dead Island 2…

  3. Breanna says:

    Thank youu for that awesome info! wish i knew what the green smoke was around some of the zombies :? thanks thou!

    • Scullion says:

      Hahaha! Thanks Breanna – I’m glad my useful “information” was so well received!

      As it turns out, the green smoke is some kind of toxic waste stench, derived from the sewers of Morseby, and basically serves to cause you even MORE harm when they attack you… and the smoke also confuses the crap out of you! I can’t see! I’m being attacked! Smog is killing me! There’s a zombie! Now I’m dead etc…

      Luckily you can also use their flesh and add it to weapons, making a toxic, green smoking machete (for example).

      Good times!

  4. Hello I found your review helpful and for the most part accurate. I must say I have played dead rising, left 4 dead, and resident evil 5. I have come to the conclusion that Dead Island is by far the most enjoyable, pure fun experience.

    Of course, the developer of the game isnt well known and I would imagine aren’t top notch, so some of the game is a bit rough around the edges, minor mistakes that should have been corrected in quality assurance testing but weren’t probably due to rush release when the hype for this game was through the roof.

    I think Dead Rising was too “arcadey” style, non realistic, and the gameplay questionable. And what games are made in 2011 that feature characters who dont speak but communicate through subtitles? Left 4 Dead was great, not many complaints besides a lack luster single player campaign. Resident Evil 5 was great except for slow gameplay and poor aiming controls. My point, I dont think any of those 3 games put EVERYTHING together that zombie fans wanted in a video game, I think Dead Island came close to achieving this.

    Classic zombie apocalypse scenarios, realistic high quality graphics, Fallout style item collection, large amount of varying weapons customizable, escort missions, survivor safe houses, deep zombie damage system, unique missions/storyline, great gameplay, and long duration.

    Overall, yes I agree rough around the edges with the glitches of zombies falling threw walls, punching through closed doors, odd save system which doesnt let you save anytime and respawns seemingly in random areas, and at times the games graphics have cut in and rendering slows downs, sound cuts in and out. But these are uncommon and not very bothersome. Very tolerable.

    Hope a sequel is to follow which corrects some of the minor annoyances, enhances what it does right, and adds a local 2 player Co-Op mode.

    Also DLC content?

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