Let’s be clear: Upon launch, Dead Island was not a finished product. It might be, reading this in the future, but when it was handed out to the public it was either plagued by lazy programming or playtesting or saw a publisher push a game to premature release. This game of epic scale launches a good idea, to incorporate zombie slaughter into an open world RPG, but falls short in many ways. Yet, it starts strong and will see many glimpses of greatness in between in it all, but this comes at the price of millions of glitches.
Dead Island did do one thing right: Releasing trailers.
As a game, Dead Island can best be compared as a mix of Borderlands and Oblivion, pitting up to 4 players in a huge, open environment with tons of customization options. The first impression of the island of Banoi is breathtaking with its verdant, yet gritty level design and added visual effects. In general, the vibe is so enveloping and realistic; it’s one of the driving points of this game. Several locales offer an overwhelming amount of content, with tons of buildings, forest paths and secluded beaches. Naturally, these come with incomplete sceneries where players can get stuck, improperly coded visual effects such as added grime next to walls and textures that take ages to load. Luckily, the atmosphere never gets knocked off its grandiose feeling, mostly thanks to grizzly background noise, chilling and guttural zombie screeches and a superbly hair-raising, minimal soundtrack. In addition, the opening credit features a hip hop song that will stick for many days, as one of the characters questions: “Who do you voodoo?”
Characters themselves however are disappointingly bland and sometimes plain annoying. The 4 choices each offer a weapon specialization, but every backstory presents an unlikable person. Additionally, the people encountered in-game each only spout 2 lines of material, without pause or actual sense. While the story isn’t beyond any zombie apocalypse, it’s this repetition that kills the mood more than anything. But Dead Island doesn’t focus on story, even if it makes believe it does; the real attention lies in action.
In first person perspective, the game follows the group of 4 as they try to escape the island and fend off the undead attack. To do so, they’ll have to loot everything they find and then scrape together bits and pieces to produce makeshift weaponry. By also adding a given durability to the already altering weapons, such as electricity strikes or venomous blades, the game adds more realism to the already brutal action. Dispatching zombies comes encouraged by lobbing off limbs and shattering skulls. This makes for a simple, but effective combat scheme that never gets old, while at the same time racking up experience and acquiring new skills from 3 different trees.
By either choosing for survival, attack or a special fury attack, players can add even more bang for their buck with attacks such as stomping undead heads in. By killing foes a bar gets filled, after which players can unleash a Fury attack, devastating most zombies in one swift strike. Using an experience multiplier based on kills, the game also pushes players to only trigger it when neck-deep into rotting flesh. Unfortunately the game uses a universal leveling mechanic, where each enemy is always equally challenging as the next. There is never a sense of using a new skill to overpower enemies and furthermore, once a certain level is achieved, even the most potent explosive become less devastating. This adds a slight slump on gameplay, but not nearly as big as the millions of glitches present in the game, which ruin the entire experience altogether.
The game already suffers from wobbly controls which aren’t harmful, but can be troublesome in delicate situations. But when the frequent errors of unprocessed actions come through, such as slashing through zombies without the game detecting it or controls freezing shut, a lot of deaths will come cheap and plentiful. Exacerbating this, spawn points often pit players right back into the fray they died in, making it quite the annoying loop of death. Quest progress gets deleted or is horrendously broken. Items can disappear at random when customizing them and the currency system used at workbenches makes no sense. It would’ve made more sense to solely use salvaged goods, as rubbing money on sticks shouldn’t make them better. Zombies can literally appear out of the walls or out of thin air and many exploits will need to be abused to make it through, particularly in the last section of the game. To go on would be fruitless, as the many glitches and errors in this game are virtually endless.
Additionally, Dead Island has a tough time deciding what it wants to offer. It gives players gargantuan playing fields, but creates a sizeable section where it pigeon-holes characters through mazes and buildings. Some sections also require forced gunplay, making a specialization lose value. But luckily, the selection of differing enemies adds variety to the mix, softening the blow when trying to pass through another human infested section.
Yet, contradictory as it seems, it’s adding humans to the mix that make this game really shine, with its simple and fun mechanic for co-op play. By prompting when players are nearby, anyone can swiftly pop in and out of games and help out with quests. Also, by adding more humans, the glitches become bearable as players can work together to work around them. It’s a bit of trouble to assemble players into the clunky cars or having to wait to complete objectives, but other than that, multiplayer is definitely where it’s at in Dead Island. Leave the connection open and enjoy, as it is easy, direct and most of all fun to work together.
The highpoint of Dead Island by far: Playing together with your human counterparts.
The incomplete Dead Island is a tough one to size up, as it offers a huge, lush game with great length and replay options thanks to customization, but frustrates constantly with its countless, noticeable errors. It’s undeniable that it will find its success due to the “zombies equal gold” rule, but the game can be so aggravating playing alone, it’s best viewed as a multiplayer only. As long as players lower their expectations, Dead Island will deliver however, but the epic open world RPG comes with a very heavy price.