When I first sat down with Dead Island at this year’s E3, one thing was certain: It was insanely fun. As the whimsical members of Deep Silver’s PR folk guided me through the game’s island setting of Banoi, I knew that Dead Island wasn’t quite shaping up to what many thought it would be, but that it was in fact turning out to be something better.
At the onset of Dead Island, players can choose from four distinct character types, each with their own special traits, and none of which make any real bit of difference when it comes to dealing with the task at hand. As a cooperative experience, Dead Island has got to be the most entertaining game I have ever gotten my hands on. With three friends to share the experience with, Dead Island quickly becomes a wonderful sandbox title filled with severed limbs and the laughter of you and your zombie-slaying cohorts. Things just get so ridiculously out of hand and so deliriously campy, that you can barely contain yourself. Whereas most online multiplayer or cooperative games try too hard to create a serious atmosphere, Dead Island is all about complete bedlam. Tinkering with the game’s weapon upgrade system is undeniably right out of Dead Rising 2 and you know what, it doesn’t even matter. And as you and your teammates participate in this bloody good romp of sheer lunacy, you’ll find it terribly hard to pull yourself away.
As a single player experience however, the game plays out a bit differently. Those guns I was so eager to ignore during co-op, were now saving my life in the direst of situations. I found myself fleeing from the zombie horde more than I anticipated, and opting for vehicular transportation as opposed to running everywhere like a madman with an electrified machete in my co-op run. When I did have to take of business, I made a lot more use out of the game’s ‘Kick’ Button, retreating to higher, unreachable grounds and safely kicking zombies in the face. It isn’t the most desirable means of attack but when you have the integrity of your weapons to consider (especially when you realize how pricey it can be to repair even the most basic of upgraded weapons), it’s all a matter of being prepared when the game’s more aggressive zombie variants come stomping your way.
For those of you that scrolled down to sneak at my final score, yes, Dead Island is indeed worthy of a score that high, but that doesn’t mean that Techland has created a near-perfect game – far from it actually. Aside from the numerous bugs and glitches the game is plagued with, Dead Island suffers from an uneven visual presentation. There are times where the game looks absolutely stunning, where the sight of the cascading waters off a few well placed rocks or the grisly image of a pool filled with blood and bloated corpses will hold your attention for a bit longer than you would expect. And then there are times where the game is bogged down by same-y looking locales and cut-and-paste type visuals that border on the repetitive side. But as for the zombies themselves, these shambling suckers are perfectly modeled, and everything from the way they run at you, the way they grunt and moan in agony is executed with haunting beauty. The voice acting is also incredibly hammy and as for the story, well, we’ll get to that.
There is a moment in Dead Island, a moment that is so easily missed and yet captures the very essence of the expectations players had for this game’s narrative. In a room, at the end of a corridor to the immediate left of where the game hands itself over to the player, is a familiar couple – husband and wife – laying lifeless on the floor.
The glaring question that has been on everyone’s mind is does Dead Island live up to the trailer that took the world by storm earlier this year. Well, the answer is ‘no’. Those hoping for something along the lines of Heavy Rain meets Left 4 Dead are indeed up for a massive disappointment. And honestly, it isn’t something that I can hold against Techland or even Axis Animation for creating the tear-jerking trailer. The trailer was nothing more than a marketing tool, a way to draw attention to a game that was forgotten for quite a bit of time. And without even a shred of gameplay, many gamers anticipated something that Dead Island never promised to deliver. And that’s how I see that moment at the very beginning of the game for what it really – that oh-so slight tipping of the hat, the gentle winking of the eye. It’s Techland telling us that this is all that is left of that trailer. That family of smiles, of high expectations for a memorable vacation is dead and gone. And with them, went any sense of story-telling.
Taking the finer points of Borderlands and serving it alongside the most gratifying melee combat presented in a videogame is an unparalleled formula for success. With a plethora of side missions to tackle, weapons that grow increasingly more violent as the game progresses, and an endless plague of zombies to whack, bash, and decapitate along the way, Dead Island is the quintessential zombie game. It doesn’t really need much of a cohesive story or even an inkling of character development to shine. Dead Island is all about its undead inhabitants and the satisfying ways players can tear their rotting flesh from their decomposing bodies.
Fun Factor: Dead Island is all about zombie-fueled mayhem. It has a bizarrely fascinating way of taking hold of you – just make sure you bring three friends along for the ride.
Difficulty: When playing with friends, Dead Island has an easy-breezy feel to it. The zombies come in packs but it is never more than what you and your team can handle. Going at it solo however…
Length: Expect the zombie-slaying experience to last anywhere between 25-30 hours.
On the Negative Side: Where do I begin: Cruddy voice-acting, no story, bugs and glitches galore. And not to mention the fact that the car controls are just plain bad.
Bang for Your Buck: While Dead Island has a lot of fundamental problems, it doesn't keep this irresistibly fun zombie game from taking over you life. Bring a handful of friends and go to town, this is the zombie game you have been waiting for.