Dead Island Review

Dead Island

When gamers first laid eyes on Dead Island, it was through a gripping cinematic trailer set to somber music as an unfortunate family of three was tragically set upon by the relentless walking dead. Needless to say, it firmly put the game on the hype train and in the minds of many as one of their titles to watch this late 2011 season. Unfortunately, Dead Island just doesn’t meet these lofty expectations. While its core mechanics are an absolute blast, several technical glitches and a sputtering story hold back what could have been a truly great zombie RPG.

When it comes down to the bare bones of what Dead Island is about — killing zombies — the game shines. The first-person combat system that includes blunt, slashing, and throwing weapons with a dash of firearms offers plenty of variety and enjoyment. Players will be able to slash off and/or break limbs to cripple infected as well as the sure-fire zombie stopper of crushing or severing the head. But the zombie maiming doesn’t stop with the base weapons themselves. Several mods can be found throughout the game and unlocked as quest rewards to shock, paralyze, bleed out, or even set ablaze the undead hordes. The mods will also allow for the creation of ammo, explosives, and other items, such as zombie bait to lure an overwhelming group out of harm’s way.

It isn’t just the mods and weapons that make cutting, whacking, and shooting zombies to bits a lot of fun. The physics engine in Dead Island can be both realistic and ridiculous at the same time, but in an incredibly great way. When wailing on ghouls, they’ll react accurately, according to where your blow lands. Hit them in the knee and it will buckle. Kick them in the chest and they will stumble back, and possibly fall flat on their back if their stamina is low enough. At the same time, hitting them with a powerful fury attack or an electrically charged weapon will send an undead foe flying. It all combines into an incredibly satisfying combat experience.

Dead Island

Behind all of the fun zombie killing is the game’s rich RPG element. Every weapon has stats for damage, force, durability, and handling. Each of these weapons can be upgraded three times, boosting these various stats and making them more effective. In addition to the weapons, each player’s strength, stamina, and health will improve with each level gained, which maxes out at 50. The game also features three skill trees for fury, combat, and survival. These trees will give players character-specific bonuses to their weapons of choice, health regeneration rate, and more. Players will only gain one skill point per level, and certain skills have three levels to acquire before one can unlock the next section of the tree. This variety can mean that even people playing with friends or other random gamers through co-op could have quite different characters despite playing the same personality.

Players won’t find much personality in their main characters, however. Aside from the opening prologue video and each one’s biography during character selection, the player learns practically nothing about Sam B, Logan, Xian Mei, and Purna. It’s not until the back end of Act One that the foursome seem to truly chat about their situation with one another, and only by halfway through the second act do they seem to treat each other as members of a close-knit group. Before those points we don’t see any of them trying to get to know each other, or even the other, quest-giving survivors, for that matter. They simply sit back, taking orders. This would have been okay had the group been approached as completely silent heroes a la Borderlands, but their serious dialogue and interaction with one another later in the narrative makes it seem like Techland and Deep Silver wanted to have their cake and eat it too.

Without a strong group of individuals to get attached to early on, the story does fall a bit flat. The sheer shock and panic of a zombie outbreak is captured well, but players will eventually find themselves just going through the motions. It also doesn’t help that the plot twists feel clich√© and facial animation for characters during dialogue can sometimes be a bit off. It doesn’t make the story terrible, as the supporting cast can grow on you, but it severely disappoints for anyone who you expected a grand tale of loss, sacrifice, and struggle.

Dead Island

The issue with facial animations is just one example of what is a game that has its fair share of glitches and technical issues. Texture pop-ins became frequent whenever loading a map, so much so that I had to wait a good thirty seconds whenever entering a locale for all of the graphical nuances to load. The co-op mode offers fast travel to teammates who are at the location required to continue a quest, but in one instance this feature failed horribly.

Myself and my group had to fast travel into an elevator that our teammate was in to move ahead in the main quest, and we were actually transported outside of the elevator between it and the shaft wall. We had to kill each other with molotovs… only to end up stuck once again. Eventually we were glitched magically back into where we were supposed to be. Other glitches I encountered that can ruin the game experience include loading checkpoints after hitting a dead end on quests only to be pushed forward into another area of the island on a separate quest line. They’re immersion-destroying problems that really mar and heavily distract from the enjoyment of the action.

Though the game’s soundtrack isn’t very memorable, with the exception of “Who Do You Voodoo,” its sound design is. Much like in Left 4 Dead, you’ll know exactly when a zombie is nearby without even seeing it, so long as you use your ears. Each will give out a distinct groan or yell when they are shambling near you, so you’ll know exactly what you’re up against or trying to avoid. Weapons and zombie-bashing effects are also equally as impressive, sounding as satisfying as one would hope driving a sledgehammer into a walking dead’s skull would be. The voice work is solid, but at the same time nothing that will amaze.

Dead Island

One of Dead Island‘s biggest focal points is its co-op, which actually works quite smoothly. It’s an entirely drop-in, drop-out affair, which means that no matter what your friends or other online players are doing, you can join their game to lend them a hand. If the person doesn’t want you there, it’s as simple as bringing up the menu and selecting the first option on the main menu: Drop Out. It’s quick and seamless, and also a lot of fun. Though you can get through the campaign on your own, it’s much easier and more enjoyable to do so with others. There are few experiences in gaming that can beat relentlessly kicking a downed zombie to re-death with three pals.

When you package it all together, Dead Island is very much a mixed bag. While the co-op, combat, and RPG backbone are all top-notch, the technical and visual problems in addition to a sub-par narrative bring down the game’s overall value. It’s not the epic tale that everyone expected and can get quite frustrating for all the wrong reasons, but when it’s on track, the game is one of the best zombie-slaughtering experiences in the medium. Those who have always dreamed of carving their way through the undead apocalypse should have a good time with this title. But anyone looking for something deeper or more technically sound may not be completely satisfied.

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Author: Mike Murphy View all posts by
Mike has been playing games for over two decades. His earliest memories are of shooting ducks and stomping goombas on NES, and over the years, the hobby became one of his biggest passions. Mike has worked with GamerNode as a writer and editor since 2009, giving you news, reviews, previews, a voice on the VS Node Podcast, and much more.

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