Tuesday 20 September 2011

Game Review – Dead Island

Formats: (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

It seems that in contemporary video game development, the zombie franchise has seen more than its fair share of involvement. From independent zombie titles to add-ons, expansions and mini-games, zombies are clearly in fashion right now. Enter Dead Island, an action role-play adventure that doesn’t bring much new to the table, but pays homage to well established zombie games such as Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead and their sequels. Zombie killing and questing is a whole load of fun on the fictional island of Banoi, but a few minor issues prevent Dead Island from being the number one zombie title on the market.

Please be aware this is a trailer for an 18 rated game and can make even the toughest people choke up. *weep*

Dead Island begins in exciting fashion; you wake up after a night of fun and frolicking to find your once peaceful Palms Spring Resort has been overrun with zombies – not exactly the first thing you’d find in a guide-book. Amidst the panic and destruction, you play as one of four pretty lifeless and un-engaging characters as you try to survive and find out the mystery behind what happened on Banoi. This sets up the sandbox style open-world gameplay that is at the heart of Dead Island. As you find survivors throughout your journey you will be offered quests to complete, which range from saving survivors to finding particular items and so forth. The RPG like elements are clear for all to see as you level up, unlock new skills, enhance abilities, improve your upgrades; all of which clearly resembling the Dead Rising series.

Just like Capcom’s zombie slaying experience, Dead Island leans almost entirely towards melee combat; pipes, oars, mallets, axes, whatever you can get your hands on, you will certainly try to bash a zombie with. Fighting waves of zombies is incredibly satisfying in Dead Island as the weapons make a believable impact and cause serious damage whether you’re slicing the undead limb from limb or putting gruesome dents into their heads. There is a weapon degradation mechanic present here, which can serve to irritate at times. Some weapons break all too easily and later in the game when you begin creating advanced weapons, it’s frustrating having them break down, especially after working so hard to get all the content to create it in the first place.

Whatever your weapon of choice may end up being, you will have fun trying out everything you can find on Banoi. Unfortunately not all is well with Dead Island’s first-person fighting mechanics – the game can feel clunky at times and a page could have certainly been taken out of Condemned: Criminal Origins or The Chronicles of Riddick for better dodging and blocking. Guns are introduced eventually into Dead Island, but these are predominately used to kill the human enemies (yes, we are once again given a moral story suggesting that the real evil is humanity), but these are really nothing to write home about. Nevertheless, armed with your trusty push-kick and a whole load of things to swing at the undead, there’s no doubt you will have a blast battling your way through the various environments of Banoi.

As with each zombie game, we always wonder what kind of special zombies the developers have it store for us. Unfortunately Valve are going to think that someone sneakily went through their garbage and found discarded zombies from the Left 4 Dead series and put them in Dead Island. The cast of super zombies includes the Suicider, a large enemy who explodes in proximity, the Thug who knocks you down with viscious tackles, the Drowner who uses projectile vomit and a few others I’ll keep hidden to avoid given away everything. Nevertheless, it is clear for all to see where inspiration came from when these super zombies were being designed.

The cast of humans is unfortunately even less inspiring than the undead, with the four playable characters all bringing almost nothing to the table in terms of emotional attachment or even likability. An employee of the resort, an ex-cop, a former NFL superstar and a has-been rapper make up the group you’re expected to lead to survival; but caring about the protagonists gets harder and harder with each sentence they spew out of their mouths. Dialogue and voice acting is pretty poor across the entire board, ranging from the four playable characters to almost everyone you meet throughout, which is a shame because you really lose the sense of terror when you become distanced from those you are trying to rescue. Fortunately there is hope and that comes in a terrific co-op 4-player mode present. Enjoying Dead Island is a lot easier if accompanied by a group of friends and this is especially true for the more exhilarating set-piece scenarios that are spread across the story. While you may not care about a particular character, you do want your friend to survive so that terror that is clearly lost when playing alone, is brought back in full force when you partner up with buddies.

It is unfortunate that not even your friends can help you escape from the minor technical hitches that hold back Dead Island. We know the kind of top-end visuals are present in some games, so sub-par character models, scenery and lighting in certain areas make Dead Island not the prettiest game available. The story serves as nothing more than an excuse to drive the action forward and it is thanks to the action that these minor deficiencies can largely be overlooked. Dead Island deserves praise for thoroughly entertaining combat, an enjoyable cooperative experience and the use of RPG like elements lets you sink into the fictional paradise of Banoi and become engrossed with the characters’ stats, regardless of how unlikable they all are as people.

8.0 | Gameplay |
Plenty of zombies to kill, lots of different weapons to do the aforementioned and big talent trees create an immersive role-play adventure.

7.5 | Presentation |
It’s by no means bad, but it could have been so much more. Special zombies look very cool but human character models and some environments are dull.

8.5 | Replay Value |
If you played it through by yourself first time round, then you must experience Dead Island with friends. The RPG elements will hook some more than others but there is definitely room to come back and bash zombies around multiple times over.

8.0 | Final Thoughts |
Zombie killing is entertaining, that’s fact. An open and expansive environment makes moving into uncharted territory incredibly tense, especially considering you’re using sticks and poles against waves of the undead. There is something captivating here but clear shortcomings hold Dead Island back.

Igor Kharin, CeX UK Contributor.
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