Like most of the gaming community, I was enamored with the FMV trailer of Dead Island when it first came out. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, it follows a child running away from a group of zombies within a hotel, being bitten which then leads her parents to protect her from the onslaught. Unfortunately the child dies, bites her father and gets thrown out of one of the top floor windows. The whole video was and still is deeply moving with it exploring a potential new angle on the traditional zombie game; more a Dawn of the Dead than House of the Dead (damn you Uwe Boll).
Along with the rest of the gaming community, Dead Island has failed to live up to the expectations and has much more in common with the Left for Dead series, which does it all much better, than any serious emotional rollercoaster ride. The plot follows one of four characters as they wake up after a heavy night of drinking on the hotel resort of Banoi. As has already been suggested, all hell breaks loose and it is not long until you are found by a gang of survivors whom send you on your merry way running errands. I can more than understand a survivor’s need to find a lost family or help their friends in need but making my character risk life and limb, for someone they barely know ,for a necklace that is ‘really nice’ is beyond absurd. Aside from the odd ridiculous adventure such as the one mentioned, the characters are largely well represented and do offer some pathos, particularly when character interaction usually stems from survivors killing their loved ones. A jarring image in a pool early on in the game highlights this.
The combat system used in game works on an RPG system with three skill trees that branch along defence, attack and regeneration. This does provide a nice basis for killing the many types of zombies in the game and the weapons you are given do feel like they cause pain; making death permanent is rather a large problem in the (unlikely) event of a zombie apocalypse. The weapons slowly degrade after a set amount of zombie slaying which is both a blessing and a curse; it brings realism and scares when you are surrounded with just your fists but also irritates beyond belief when you have to constantly repair weapons, like The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion rubbish armor degradation.
An attempt at breathing life into the game, pun intended, is the use of 4 player cooperative gameplay over Xbox Live and PSN. This gives the ablity to fight the horde with friends and trade the huge amount of materials you manage to build up over the course of the game between each other. Left 4 Dead does this far better as it puts a huge emphasis on teamplay; your game ends very quickly if you don’t work as a succinct unit. In my experiences, the players who joined my game seemed more interested in driving around aimlessly and admiring the scenery than to further the story or to take part in any side quests. There seems to be no punishment for wandering off of your own accord which begs the question of why on earth the coop system is there in the first place; there is no drive to help the players your with. This is even more apparent in that it seems you can’t actually die but ,instead, recover for a few seconds and magically teleport back. For a game that is so fascinated and focused on death, , the lack of any real negatives to dying means you feel like Chris Redfield when you should feel like Ashley Graham in the face of zombies. (the amazing stupidity of this particular character is for another blog)
Graphics wise, the game falls between great and average. Many of the zombies look rather similar which is fine if three of exactly the same yellow bikinied flesh eater didn’t continually attack you. The game environment is pretty big, spanning hours, and it takes a large amount of time doing any significant travelling, though vehicles do appear in the first hours worth of game play. As always there is a trade off; lots of land to cover tends to equal the qualities of a novelty children’s book rather than a game. There is a huge amount of pop up, particularly with the large amount of landmarks dotted around the island, as well as skinning issues on character models in cut scenes. The island itself varies from draw dropping to just plain boring; having the same interior for every hut on the entire beach gets very tiresome very quickly.
Dead Island is an enjoyable game for the most part. It does very little new and never reaches the heights laid out by its promotion video nor is it so unashamedly bad that it is unplayable. At the very least pick it up to rent for the weekend and experience what could have been and enjoy the human story it tries to tell. For more fast paced action executed better, play Left 4 Dead, and for complete madcap zombie killing, go in for Dead Rising 2 or Off The Record.