Dead Island Review
Ever wondered what it would ‘really’ be like to stave of a zombie plague? Dead Island is the most realistic undead-slaying survival simulation yet. You play as one of few holiday-making survivors, stranded on a once idyllic holiday resort turned zombie haven, think Barbados with no-benefits and you’re half way there. Dead Island is a do-whatever-it-takes slog for survival against all odds. Can the latest in horror survival gaming live up to its meaty expectations? Stephen Ebert finds out.
Surviving a zombie plague is a tense struggle to fend for yourself under desperate circumstances, using whatever you can to survive. It’s something Dead Island maker Techland clearly gets.
As one of four survivors on the island of Banoi, just off Papa New Guinea, you find yourself having to survive the zombie threat, as one of the few immune to being infected. Not only that, but it’s also up to you to almost single-handedly at times, keep everyone else on it safe.
The result is a game that, while living up to what it says on the tin, doesn’t always feel like the action-packed, fast-paced zombie killing game fans may have hoped for. What could have been a mainstream must-have, feels more like a B-movie cult hit, sure to be loved by some, and hated by others.
Dead Island does a lot of things well. It’s biggest achievement is in recreating what it might be like to find yourself marooned on a holiday resort plagued with zombies and no way off in sight. It’s a proper survival horror in which you use anything you can to survive. Wooden paddles, brooms, sticks and spades and puny kitchen utensils (and firearms later on) make up some of the zombie-bashing armoury that gradually wear down, break or blunt with regular use, forcing players to constantly forage for new weapons.
With hundreds of zombies roaming the resort, baying for blood, surviving is always the constant struggle it should be, particularly when faced with the “infected”. These fast-paced undead (think 28 Days Later) constantly strike fear into you, often coming at you in groups, leaving you with the choice of kicking them down, or making a dash to a (temporarily) safe retreat. Dead Island has all sorts: slow zombies, quick zombies, clumsy zombies and even boss zombies that spew toxic fumes at you.
To help combat them, a well thought out levelling up system lets you improve your attributes to increase weapon strength, stamina the ability to pick locks and more. It’s also here, that the wearing down of weapons lends Dead Island its strategic edge. Players must think carefully how to ration weapon use. Saving the best weapons for the harder to kill “Thug” zombies is essential to avoid having to constantly restart at a nearby checkpoint.
Cash used to upgrade and repair weapons is earned by looting felled holiday makers now turned zombies, and rummaging around the stricken landscape, unzipping unattended luggage, ransacking desks, and anywhere else you can dig up a dollar. Early on players rely on near useless weaponry, kicks and punches, but a number of upgrades later, the ability to kill zombies with just a couple of whacks to the noggin makes doing so all the more fun in comparison to the undead slaying slog early on. Those zombies are resilient, if anything. With no reinforcements in sight, you can create your own help.
The ability to create and modify weapons is another welcome addition. Attaching nails to a baseball bat, or electrify kitchen knives transforms them from everyday objects into formidable instruments of doom. RPG fans are sure to find much to love about this aspect of Dead Island.
Dead Island’s greatest success is also its greatest weakness. Doing whatever it takes to survive means more than constantly rearranging the face of zombies. It means making sure those around you have enough to eat, ensuring the lighthouse is working, and mind-dumbing trips to ensure the electricity is switched on (or off in some cases). Because of this, Dead Island can feel more like a chore list than the exhilarating struggle for survival many will have hoped for. By the time you’ve smushed your 300th zombie, they begin to feel less like flesh-hungry mutants and more like annoying relatives you’d rather just run away from. Only you can’t.
A constant do this, go here, do that approach to gameplay, peppered with missions in which you escort characters to safety, while perhaps an accurate representation of doing what it takes to survive, doesn’t always lend itself well to a game, certainly not one you could feasibly more than 20 hours on, taking into account the many side quests in addition to the main campaign, that later on begins to feel like hard work. A lack of personality in the characters and their emotionless expressions means that half the time, you won’t even feel like helping them.
A clunky mission log, at least initially takes some getting used to, and could do a better job at effectively letting players know where and what they must do without having to set a marker on a map for themselves or feel the need to refer to it early on, however, as the game progresses this feels less of an issue.
The bottom line
Dead Island does exactly as it promises. It’s an RPG-inspired fight for survival against all odds, crammed with masses of undead killing carnage set on a tropical resort with seemingly no way off. A true love/hate game, Dead Island’s biggest problem is that it’s appeal eventually wears thin, yet many will find plenty to love about it. An acquired taste, Dead Island is destined to be more of a cult hit than the mainstream box office smash we all hoped for.
*Note: At the time of writing we were unable to test the multiplayer co-op mode using our pre-release copy of the game. Look out for our thoughts on it soon.