Dead Island ReviewGareth Chadwick
Dead Island is not what I had originally expected. Based on my considerable experience with zombie games, I was expecting something more akin to Left 4 Dead combined with Dead Rising than what it actually was. I suppose the original trailer should have tipped me off, with its clearly straight-edged seriousness and the whole kid-zombie-death thing, but no, I thought, its an open world zombie game so I just assumed it would be an arcade-y, fast-paced slasher fest.
I was, as you've probably gathered, wrong. Dead Island's gameplay is, in fact, for lack of a better word, realistic. That is to say; if you just sprint into a group of zombies you are going to die. You will be overwhelmed, you will lose health quickly, you'll panic, and then you'll die. Taking out zombies in Dead Island is difficult, whether there is one or a group of them, you can quite easily slip up and lose a chunk of health if you're not careful.
The infected are not something you can ever ignore, they'll charge at you screaming, they'll slowly shamble towards you, bodies you thought were dead will get up off the floor as you pass by and mini-boss zombies (called Thugs in-game) will stop you in your tracks if you can't navigate around them. So this is neither Left 4 Dead nor Dead Rising and seems to have gone down the not-often-explored route of realism in zombies.
It also seems Techland aimed for realism in your chosen character's movement, but missed. Whilst walking, your camera moves in time with each step, but the actual movement feels awkward, and it accelerates in a way that tends to throw any subtle movements I may want to make completely off, usually resulting in me stepping into a zombie's waiting grasp.
You will be using predominantly melee weapons to take out your assailants. Whilst there are guns in the game ammo is far from plentiful, so you'll need to choose the right moments to maximize your meager supplies. That's not the only thing you'll need to worry about whilst crushing skulls, however, as you'll have to keep your eyes on your melee weapon's durability whilst you're using it, too. If your weapon gets too damaged it'll start doing less damage to zombies, and that's bad.
Thankfully, the characters can all carry an obscene amount of weaponry on them, with a great many slots for you to fill. How they manage to fit that many machetes, crowbars, Nail'd baseball bats, knives, wooden planks, and guns on them is a mystery, and that's without even mentioning the inventory of crafting ingredients they have in their pockets, too. So whilst one weapon may lose durability you can always switch to one of your others. You can also fix all your weaponry at a workbench that you'll find dotted around the map in the various safe areas, which are essentially mission hubs.
Missions can range from what you might expect to the utterly senseless. Chief amongst those that make no sense is perhaps the grown woman who asks you to 'rescue' her teddy bear, whilst others are the likes of defeating zombies, finding / rescuing people, or gathering food and drink. The latter is a little strange, as I was, at one point, asked to gather 3 cans of tinned food for a safe area populated with at least 10 people. That is some impressive rationing.
As far as your character goes, you can choose one of four. They all have different specializations, such as Xian Mei being skilled with sharp weapons and Purna is best with firearms. This, their stats and their skill trees are the only effect your choice of character has, other than the voice you hear when you accept or decline a mission. The story doesn't change, the beginning doesn't change, which is a shame.
The three different skill trees each character has to work through are Rage, Combat and Survival. Combat and Survival have skills related to enhancing your Combat and Survival, as you might expect. Rage enhances your rage skill as you kill zombies your rage meter increases and, once it's full, you can unleash your special ability. Xian Mei, for example, pulls out a small knife that inexplicably tends to dismember everything you hit with it, whilst Purna pulls out a revolver. They're useful when you're in a pinch and can very easily save your life, especially since they tend to regenerate your health, too. You'll get a skill point every time you level up to invest into the skill of your choosing.
As you level up so do the zombies you face, so you'll never find an area with enemies that are too strong or too weak, though you might suddenly find a group of like-leveled infected which can still be difficult to take out. It doesn't happen too often, however, as the environment is more sparsely populated with brain-munchers than other, similar game environments. What it isn't sparsely populated with, however, is items. Weapons are plentiful, though not necessarily worth picking up, but upgrade items are more common than zombies in most places. They're in abandoned bags, inside broken PCs, lying around on shelves. It's all mostly useless until you have the recipes that use the specific items, but since there isn't a limit on how many you can carry you my as well start stockpiling. You can always sell them if you need a bit of extra cash.
Should you be ambushed whilst gathering supplies and manage to get yourself killed, you'll be happy to know that there isn't too much of a punishment. You'll just respawn a little ways away and have some of your cash taken from you.
It's a shame, really. Dead Island could have done some great things, but it missed the opportunity. As far as I can tell you're just completing missions, there doesn't seem to be any real narrative. It's actually quite ironic considering the trailer that introduced the game to the world and just how much depth there was there, that none of it made it into the game itself. Still, despite that, once you've gotten used to the strange controls and amassed a few crafting recipes from side-missions, Dead Island can still be a lot of fun. Especially if you take it online, and even more so if you take it online with some friends.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.