key review info
- Game: Dead Island
- Platform: PC
- Gamepad support: N/a
- Reviewed on:
- Show system requirements
Zombies have become cool again lately, flooding the entertainment space with high profile products like World War Z, which is both a comic book and, soon, a movie, and the Walking Dead, one of the most appreciated television series on AMC. Both of these are nuanced looks at the possibility of a zombie apocalypse which manage to focus on characters and moral dilemmas more than on simply fighting off the hordes of undead.
Gaming has long been accustomed to them in various forms but Dead Island might just be the game that manages to deliver well crafted zombie bashing action while also making the player think about his choices, what he considers important and what he chooses to do when faced with life or death choices.
Everyone will think about Dead Island as a cross between Dead Rising from Capcom, but maybe without the humor, and Left 4 Dead from Valve, minus most of the firearms and the Artificial Intelligence zombie leading Director. The developers at Techland seem completely unoriginal at first glance but once a gamer gets deeper into the game, which also means deeper into the island, this familiar feeling will pass and Dead Island will be able to stand on its own as the best way for a hardcore geek to prepare for the inevitable coming zombie apocalypse.
Dead Island takes place on the tropical island of Banoi, where the normal night includes a lot of drinking, some flirting, some high stakes gambling and maybe a few misdemeanors. One particular evening does not go as planned and the main character wakes up to find the area around him filled with zombies.
They can kill him but he cannot become one of them, which means that he or she is the designated hero of the moment and must explore the island, helping out survivors and trying to find a way of getting off the island or finding a cure for the zombie affliction.
There are four characters to choose from, each with a different focus in combat and different skill trees. In terms of story the four do not chance anything and the conclusion of the game, which includes a few twists that will not surprise any aficionado of the zombie movie genre, will be the same regardless of the choices players make.
Dead Island is not a game that needs to be played because of it's story and I often found myself clicking through the dialogues and the cutscenes so that I could get back to the real heart of the game, the zombie fights.
Dead Island is an open world game. It is also a pretty complex role playing game, with a lot of crafting and a significant number of side quests. It is also a horror game that manages to deliver some good scares. It is also an action title which has some of the best close up and personal battles of the year.
It was inevitable that in creating this mix the developers at Techland would make some mistakes but, despite of some weird choices, the game lives and dies on the strength of its combat and, fortunately, this part of the game is realistic, complex and engaging enough to keep me coming back long after I lost interest in the story and even in the island setting.
Seeing a zombie or a group of them in Dead Island leads to a quick spot of risk benefit analysis. How many are them? What type? Can I move around? Are there valuables in the surroundings? Based on these questions one chooses whether to engage or to avoid.
Attacking zombies means using a weapon, which degrades with use and uses stamina, a foot attack, which drains stamina, to stun as many as enemies as possible or otherwise put them out of the fight and then deal with the group one at a time.
The fights are genuinely nail biting, mainly because zombies level up and stay a challenge throughout the game but also because the design of the island means that they sometimes manage to surprise the player and knock his health down a little before he can regain his footing.
There are a few fights, mostly those where the main character is forced in close quarters situations, that feel unfair but mostly Dead Island has impressed me with the quality of its up close and personal zombie battles.
One weird decision is to give money so much importance in Dead Island. Most zombies have cash on them, which is fine considering the setting, and there's more to be found in various containers. What's weird is that the survivors you work for tend to give you copious amounts of cash for your trouble and that it costs exorbitant amounts to repair the best weapons you find or craft. It's highly unlikely that during a zombie apocalypse the value of the dollar would hold steady or rise and it would have made much more sense to have energy drinks or food items the currency on the island and keep the entire game closer to the original idea. Seeing dollar values everywhere and seeing my cash pile drop significantly when I die tends to take me out of the fiction and eliminates some of the value of Dead Island.
Graphics and audio
Dead Island is created using Techland's own Chrome Engine 5 and is, for the most part, a good looking game that could have used just a little less blood and guts. There's a level of violence here that goes beyond what is needed to show off the brutality of the combat and the power of the zombies. Every dead body is a festival of red and more squeamish gamers might find it hard to play.
Other than that and the tendency to make the sun a bit too shinny all the time the game delivers on the graphics front, from the models of the zombies to the feeling of weight that is delivered with every blow of a blunt weapon.
The sound design is also solid and I've often found myself listening intently for zombies moving around, low on health and out of good weapons. The voice acting could have been better but the story is not the focus of Dead Island and the investment in a very good cast would probably not have been justified.
There's no competitive multiplayer in Dead Island but this is one of those rare games who seem to have been designed from the ground up in order to be played by four players working together. All the cars have four seats, allowing everyone to move around, and characters have a tendency to talk to the players who takes the game on solo as if he was being part of a bigger group.
Bringing along four players, ideally one of each characters class that can be selected at the start, makes the game easier and, at times, more fun. Bigger groups of zombies, which when going solo need to be avoided or tricked into attacking the player one at a time, now become a chance to test skills, strategies and stock up on money. It's cool to have a little in group competition about who kills the most zombies or deploys the most interesting attack maneuvers.
Playing cooperatively also makes the story of the game even less important and turns Dead Island into something closer to a MMO powered by zombies, which is something that the genre has not yet seen.
One good idea is to make sure that you get together a group of gamers that can play along nicely, which basically means making sure that rewards are distributed evenly and no one becomes an egotistical hoarder.
- Open world
- Combat system
- Character variety
- Story loses steam quickly
- Can become repetitive
Techland has been widely criticized for their previous release, Call of Juarez: The Cartel, but Dead Island should go some way towards rebuilding their reputation. They have managed to deliver a game that is entertaining and filled with suspense while also implementing some of the best melee combat I have experienced in a game since the first Batman game.
That much talked about first trailer for Dead Island promised a lot more drama and emotion and that's largely missing but the exploration of the island the ever escalating challenge of the combat compensates the lack of emphasis on the story.
Dead Island can feel repetitive and too long at times but everyone who has been enthralled by Walking Dead on AMC or is eagerly awaiting World War Z should spent some money and get themselves a zombie experience that can easily occupy 50 hours of their entertainment time.