Review: Dead Island
Dead Island is an open world Action RPG with enough zombies to satisfy any zombie slayer out there. It offers the best of melee combat, zombie action, awesome open world antics and questionable voice acting to date.
- Worth The Time?Yes.
- Things LovedI loved the open world environment, the different methods of killing zombies, weapon customisation, the side quests and the choice to drive a car.
- Things HatedI hated the poor voice acting, the lack of story development, the various glitches and bugs.
- RecommendationIf you enjoy open world RPGs like Fallout 3, Oblvion and Fallout New Vegas, this is for you.
- Name: Dead Island
- Genre: First Person Horror / Action RPG
- Players: 1-4
- Multiplayer: Co-op 2-4 & System Link 2-4
- Platforms: XBOX 360, PS3, PC
- Developer: Techland
- Publisher: Deep Silver
- Price: R 527
- Reviewed On: XBOX 360
Dead Island is not what it appears to be on the surface and from the first debut trailer it looked to be a typical zombie game eerily in line with games like Dead Rising, Left for Dead and Resident Evil 5. Yet it strays from the predictable formulae of the aforementioned titles and ventures into quite intriguing territory by taking on the genre specifics of an open world RPG. Much in the vain of Fallout 3 and Oblivion, which are prime examples of the genre at its best (and soon adding Skyrim to that list). The combination of open world RPG elements and an island full of the undead may seem odd, but Techland has produced a game which is deathly defying in zombie goodness.
The world of Dead Island is not as open as that of Fallout 3, but nonetheless is sizeably large in scale with enough quests, zombies and loot to sate the appetite of the most intrepid of zombie killing aficionados. The game is set in the epic expanse of a tropical resort on the island of Banoi, starting off in the Palms Resort Hotel, where by whatever means which is not clarified, a zombie outbreak has consumed the once peaceful island resort, resulting in the birth of an assortment of brain deprived zombies. There are four characters you can assume the role of: Xian Mei (her speciality is sharp weapons) who’s a receptionist at the hotel, Sam B (speciality is blunt weapons) a downtrodden rap star, Logan (his speciality is throwing weapons) a former NFL superstar and Purna (her speciality is guns) who is a former police officer from Sydney, Australia. All offer different skill sets, and stats, with different strengths and weaknesses which vary the gameplay experiences widely (especially when it comes to special skills for each character).
Aesthetically, the game follows in the footsteps of visuals akin to the first Far Cry game with a tropical paradise marked by an abundance of beaches, hotels, tikki bars, bungalows and resort luxuries. Bright and sunny is the scheme of things, even in the presence of the undead that create tension in the ‘happy-go-lucky’ resort surroundings. Many of the people in Dead Island find themselves faced with the inexplicable reality of a zombie apocalypse, with some rising to the occasion and others falling into the grip of psychosis, and depression. All the while, this is happening in paradise incarnate, and the irony is undeniable. The juxtaposition visually of survival horror archetypes, such as the strong willed kick ass female police officer Purna, against the hordes of zombies in a tropical setting revitalises norm standards of the zombie survival genre with fresh appeal. The attention to producing ‘realistic’ models in Dead Island perpetuates the frightening reality of an island ravaged by zombies, and brings the plight of many of the characters to the foreground. This would have been a vastly changed experience if visually the game was cell shaded, and character designs were cartoonish in presentation.
However, even in the beautiful rendering of character models sameness abounds in nearly all women that have survived the outbreak, with males showing more apparent differentiation appearance-wise. Every female survivor seems to have the same standard bikini clad well-endowed body, which leaves the question of what happened to the elderly. Maybe they were just massacred by the hordes of undead, or went to a different resort. But a few must have survived? Opening more questions than answers. Apart from that, like many European developed games (Techland are Polish), Dead Island is ridden with bugs, and this was made more apparent by their recent debacle concerning the Steam release of the game (and the whole “feminist whore” skill controversy).
The game suffers from a few clipping issues and this was quite noticeable in the version I played, picking up crates results in your face and the crate becoming one homogenous mess. When exploring houses and opening doors characters’ kicks may seemingly go through doors, roofs, and the odd zombie with no discerning hint of physical resistance, and this is what one comes to expect from a huge open world of this nature. There are a few issues with the drawing distance of the game world which takes a relatively long time to load textures reducing your line of sight, especially when trying to take notice of a zombie lumbering towards you. Nonetheless, these are only a few niggles with the overall game and the other elements of Dead Island make up for it in part.
Dead Island’s other parts specifically its open world RPG structure mean that players are more concretely anchored in the action as a survivor, than just being a bystander. The addition of a quest system enhances this experience by varying quests between ones of main and integral importance to the storyline, to side quests and continuous quests. Although banal and tedious in nature, for the most part, side quests (and continuous quests) help to develop side characters as well as shed light on the role of the character you play as in Dead Island. The main storyline in Dead Island follows your character in their journey and struggle to help the last few straggling survivors of the zombie outbreak survive for as long as possible. Suffice to say, you are laden with the responsibility of moving the survivors from location to location, in order to avert any tragic circumstances. But be it the nature of a zombie apocalypse a few unforeseen deaths are expected in the line of such circumstances, especially of those on an isolated island (most possibly the worst place for a zombie apocalypse to happen).
Furthermore, it is the features of the surrounding areas in-game such as the hotel, bungalows, beaches and bars which chops and changes the experience of combat in the game. Most of your exploration is in favour of completing a quest, and obtaining obscene amounts of loot, weapons, alcohol and canned meat (because this is the zombie apocalypse of course). Side quests are sites for introspection about your character’s relationship with other survivors and choices you make have an impact on the outcome of events. Side quests revolve around tasks like finding a way to turn the electricity on to boost a radio signal for help, laying out an SOS on the beach, collecting cans of gasoline for the burning of soon-to-be-zombies, transporting a victim from point A to point B, obtaining medical supplies and dealing with the psychotic rampage of a person on the verge of breaking. Also, the fact that you can drive a car around the island to nearly all destinations means you can have a great time running over zombies and arrive in style to save a few lives. You can then sort out some undead and reap the rewards of being an awesome zombie slayer. The missions offer resounding realism to the experience of Dead Island, but this verisimilitude is broken by questionable sound design flaws.
Voice acting is terrible in Dead Island, and characterisation throughout is corny, and borders on the unbelievable (like how a Nun can survive the zombie outbreak). Techland really didn’t give much thought to lip syncing which subsequently means that the game comes across as a B-rate Kung Fu movie. This might be the intention of the developers, but it’s highly unlikely. The music score isn’t really that important either and does nothing for the real scares as you progress through the game. This leads the narrative down a slippery slope where character depth is ill conceived because the voices behind the characters are soulless, and in some situations in the game ludicrous (shifting a dramatic moment into full out ‘WTF’ scenes). Case in point, during one side quest I forced my want into a bungalow to obtain a teddy bear for a woman (apparently, for her this was the answer to the zombie apocalypse, who knows); anyway, I approached a door inside the bungalow carefully opening it and was assaulted by a crazed tourist who wanted to plummet a knife into my eye. Swiftly I disposed of him, after he continually ranted nonsensically (with the most crazed of voices) and tried to stab me. I was left in the room with a deranged woman who continually kept screaming “Blood! Everywhere there’s blood!” in an unconvincing voice. One learns from this that the voice actors are seriously miscast, in most instances, and fail considerably at centring the drama. This removed any believability from the context of the situation, and really broke the flow of the narrative. Whilst in a game like Mass Effect character development is centred around vocal interaction and the voice actors really do a great job of conveying the drama of Mass Effect’s story. Therefore in Dead Island, there’s an issue with the quality of the writing which went into the development of the game, and it surfaces in nearly all instances where you interact with characters. However, one could forgive such grievances to a certain degree, but ever so slightly, as a large portion of the game is action oriented and not made up of dialogue. Dead Island’s quality of writing is lacking, and comparatively the game shines in terms of its combat system which is the backbone of the game.
Moreover, since Dead Island is an open world RPG the levelling system is a great way of approaching zombie killing, and figuring out the sufficient method you can utilise in opportunities with certain zombies, and weapons you can use. In the game, characters earn experience and level up from killing zombies, completing quests and are rewarded with a higher percentage of health and skill points. Skill points can be used to purchase new abilities, and allow for the selection of different sets of enhancements from the three skill trees available for each character. These are: fury which deals with the character’s signature ability that is extremely powerful and has to be used sparingly because of its high damage. In order to re-use a rage attack whilst in battle you have to continually kill zombies and that is quite a mean feat when there is a horde of the undead chasing you. The second skill tree is combat related enhancements which impact on the damage your weapons deal out in battles against zombies. You can also specialise in certain weapon classes with specific weapon enhancements which can affect the effectiveness of your weapon of choice (like a cleaver, knife, crowbar etc). The final skill tree is survival related, incorporating abilities related to actual survival skills like lock picking for instance, and can be used to help survivors around the island.
Combat is affected by all the selections you make in the skill trees and determines the ways in which you deal with the undead in the zombie-infested island, allowing players to not strictly be a tank in-game (however, a character like Sam B was intended to be tank by the developers). But rather diversify and reach out into the different skill trees for a variety of skills and enhancements that will come in handy, and they are indeed a necessity. Nearly all of Dead Island’s combat is melee (lacking guns in the majority of the playthrough) and as is the case you tend to get close and personal with the zombie hordes. Players have the ability to collect an abundance of weaponry ranging from a simple wooden plank, shovel, paddle, to throwing knives, machetes, a katana (yes that’s right), cleavers, hammers and crowbars to name a few. The variety is astonishing and makes the combat of Dead Island dynamic in contrast to the rest of its parts. Consequently, combat involves the usage of a primary attack mainly the ability to slash, hit and pound away at zombies and secondly the ability to kick the undead daylights out of the hordes that approach you. Kicking is an essential part of the Dead Island experience and is helpful when you’re stuck on top of a car with the zombies scratching at your feet. In such situations, it is advisable to sprint away, but sometimes you just have to fight on, this can happen quite a bit in Dead Island. If you’re not careful you’ll quickly run out of stamina as indicated by the stamina bar on the HUD, as well as have your health diminish because weapons decay and need to be constantly repaired. Zombies can strangle you if your stamina runs out, or sometimes you can be caught off guard which means you have to fend off the undead hooligan by pushing buttons in accordance with a quick time sequence.
When it comes to weapons, they need to be repaired at the workbench which is available to your character at set locations like the Lighthouse and Life Guard Tower where you can upgrade, repair and modify your weapons. Repairing weapons costs money and loot is easily found in quests, slaughtering zombies and searching through discarded luggage, in cars and inside bungalows, and hotel rooms. The option to create weapons in Dead Island is also another plus as it adds more to the combat component of the game. Players can collect different weapon recipes which come with a craftplan that is a shopping list of materials needed to make a modified weapon. Once collected, a weapon you already have can be modified into an uber version incurring higher damage, better handling, improved durability and greater force when attacking zombies.
Each zombie in Dead Island is stylised differently not merely encapsulating the stereotypical representations of zombies pioneered by zombie film great George A. Romero. Following a trend popularised by the Left For Dead, series each zombie has unique abilities such as agility, superior strength and toxic spit which melts the face off of an unsuspecting zombie slayer. The adamant zombie slayer can expect a vast amount of blood soaked zombie annihilation in-game which is paired with a levelling system reminiscent of other RPG titles, and also different difficulty levels for all zombies across the map. Meaning that if you the player unaware stumbles upon a level 14 Ram (basically a Brute), whilst you yourself are level 11 you might experience a tough battle between yourself and the zombie that will be gunning for you face. Also when playing, you need to take into account that the majority of the weapons in the game are intended for melee combat, and that few guns exist. If they do, I have not come across any yet playing through what I can of the game. Yet such is the nature of an open world RPG. Zombies are various throughout Dead Island with the traditional zombies called Walkers being your first introduction to the unsavoury undead. The walkers are slow and more docile than their counterparts, like the Infected who are more agile and vicious than Walkers, followed by the Floater who is a bloated obese zombie capable of producing toxic slime that corrodes flesh, the Ram the brute of Dead Island whose towering figure can take you out with one single ramming attack. This is followed by the Suicider with huge pulsating boils can produce a self destructive explosion and the Butcher who is a more extreme version of the Infected lacking any type of forearm whatsoever, and instead has sharpened bones as weapons. He often greets you with a friendly disfigured face ad unpleasant grin.
Dead Island is a game with few bugs, and offers an open world environment for mass zombie annihilation that is both fun and enjoyable. It suffers from a weak story, poor sound design and a lack of discernible effort when it comes to creating a game with presence like Fallout 3 and Oblivion. The game is great to play but can become repetitive after long hours of play. Yet the freedom to explore and kill loads of zombies, customise weapons and be the saviour of an island dominated by the undead is a enticing endeavour. The game offers hours of play in comparison to many of the linear titles out on the market and is good in parts, but suffers tragically in some. A decent game nonetheless, but still poorly executed in some areas. It falls short of achieving the heights of promise that gamers want it to be. Maybe it’s just me. Still, it’s a good Action RPG and it’s decent enough play.