Written by Micah Messer
Mixed bag: A collection of dissimilar things; an assortment. This is the best way I could possibly describe Dead Island. The game is riddled with problems and lack of polish. There are some aspects that are just downright bad… but… it’s just so damn fun to kill zombies! Dead Island does enough things right, that it outweighs its problems and short-comings with super fun gameplay. The big open-world RPG genre fits the zombie setting very well. Combine it with a simple but addictive first-person melee combat system and the ability to play co-op with up to 3 friends, and Dead Island, although rough around the edges, can be loads of fun.
The story is pretty basic. Nothing that you haven’t already seen in every other zombie fiction ever. You are a group of survivors, immune to the virus for some unexplained reason, and you need to find a way to get off of the island. It’s more of an excuse to chop through zombies, rather than a thrilling tale, but what else can you really expect from a game like this? Despite an underwhelming ending, the story is simple and gets the job done.
There are some very pretty environments to be found, and they’re super varied. You cut through waves of zombies in backdrops such as a beautiful beach area, creepy sewers, a prison, a jungle, and a decrepit city. All of these are great, and add some decent variety to your adventure as you progress. The city is legitimately disturbing to be in. Zombies are around every corner, in every alley, and no matter where you go, you can always hear them shrieking out into the night as you walk the streets of this depressing location. Unfortunately, this quality of presentation doesn’t stay consistent throughout the other aspects in the game; not even close. Character models are ugly, animations are stiff, voice acting is poor, lip-sync is awful, and interfaces are clunky.
Thank god they’re down there and I’m up here…
The whole “being immune to the virus” thing is not only part of the story, but also sets up the game’s quest structure. There are various groups of other survivors that you will encounter throughout the course of the game that are not immune. They ALL want you’re help with things as insignificant as going to get some teddy bear from an area swarmed by zombies… SCREW THAT! Of course most of the quests are more important than that, but some of the side missions can be a little ridiculous. Even though the quests are fairly entertaining, they never really stray away from the basic fetch mission outline. You know, the whole “I need your help with ____, if you go and get my ____ from ____ then I’ll give you _____ as a reward.”
This is actually one of Dead Island’s biggest problems— repetition. The game is quite big in terms of length, even if you ignore all the side quests. This is usually a good thing, but in a game like Dead Island where the gameplay doesn’t really evolve all that much as you level up and progress, then you’ll be doing the same stuff at level 30 that you were doing at level 10. After 16 hours or so, the aforementioned “fetch” quest structure can become very tiresome. Thankfully, the combat is addictive enough that it should keep you significantly entertained for the majority of this 20+ hour adventure.
Well that’s charming…
Speaking of combat, it’s among Dead Island’s strengths. At the beginning of the game, you are given a choice of four playable characters. You can chose to be a sharp weapons expert, blunt weapons expert, firearms expert, or throwing expert. Each has their own skill trees and their own strategies for dealing with the living dead that inhabit the island. The game includes a stamina bar within its first-person combat system, and it’s greatly appreciated. It’s fairly simple, but very fun, very addictive and almost entirely melee-based, with the exception of some guns as well as throwing weapons. The firearms are fairly underwhelming, so combat mainly consists of a mixture of swinging, kicking and throwing. Enemy variety is surprisingly good for a zombie game. You still have the basic “walkers” that you run into in almost every combat scenario, but there are about 6 or 7 other infected enemies that you’ll encounter. Excluding the Thug, (I DESPISE THUGS) they all serve a purpose and are a lot of fun to fight. These additional enemies help the combat stay fresh and keeps you on your toes for every fight.
The main weapons of the game are blunt and sharp objects that you find through quest rewards or just scattered across the island. Blades are super effective at dismembering the undead, while blunt objects pack more of a punch, usually knocking zombies to the ground. You’ll most likely use the two of those more often than guns, which are incredibly unnecessary and poorly implemented. They’re really ineffective at killing zombies, and super effective at killing humans, and of course, the only enemy in the game that have guns are other humans. This triggers some absolutely horrendous shoot-out sequences where you have to use your guns to deal with some crazy bandits that decided to start killing people… for some reason. These events are way too frequent and are just a gigantic annoyance. So if guns are ineffective at killing zombies, and are only effective against humans, that means that the ONLY reason guns are in the game are to deal with other people with guns… And since it doesn’t really make sense for people to start killing other humans in a situation like this in the first place, and all it does is trigger gameplay sequences that aren’t fun… why have guns in the game at all? Really just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense… Alright, that’s the end of my gun rant.
Huh… Well that didn’t do shit!
The cool thing about Dead Island’s weapons is the crafting system. Well, it’s kind of cool… some of the time… You collect various crafting materials while exploring the island, and you can use some of these materials to craft a weapon if you have the blueprint for it. You can do things like attach a battery to a machete to make an electrical weapon of death. Realistic? Hell no. Effective? Hell yes! Although completely ridiculous, the crafting system does its job of giving the player an in-depth way of upgrading and changing the weapons they’ve already found.
On the other hand, you can’t make a simple Molotov cocktail. Instead, you have to turn to the assistance of an NPC named Mike. Now, Mike is offering his services of providing you with Molotov cocktails to help you against the undead. He is offering a trade of five bottles of alcohol for one Molotov cocktail. FIVE bottles of alcohol for ONE Molotov? What the shit!? You can strap a circular blade to a baseball bat and then put on some wire and a motor to make the blade spin rapidly to create a deadly weapon… but I can’t make a stupid Molotov? Either my character is an idiot or Mike here is the most brilliant con-man/alcoholic on the island… Or both.
Mike giving his sales pitch
UPDATE: Apparently there IS indeed a blueprint you can find for making Molotov cocktails. Oh joy.
Now, all this may sound like I hate the game, but I don’t. I very much enjoyed Dead Island, it just has a lot of problems that I feel should be mentioned. None of which, are big enough to ruin the overall experience. The combat is still addictive, leveling up and putting points into your talent trees is still interesting, and exploring a gigantic island full of zombies is as much fun as it sounds. I loved finding a new blade that puts all my other weapons to shame, and then changing it in some ridiculous way to make it an even deadlier weapon, and then upgrading the crap out of it. And playing with friends can be a blast. All together Dead Island is a lot of fun. It has its problems, but the overall experience is an enjoyable one.
Overall Score: 72
Like I said, Dead Island is a total mixed bag. With entertaining combat and beautiful wide-open environments being its biggest strengths, and poorly implemented gun-play and mediocre quest design being its biggest weaknesses, Dead Island can still be loads of fun. Despite its many short-comings, killing zombies with makeshift weapons still manages to be quite entertaining.
First-person Action: 79
Dead Island’s action and combat are what drives the game forward. With detailed talent trees, weapons galore, and a “fetch and grab” quest structure, its heavy RPG elements are very reminiscent of Borderlands, but it puts its own tweak on the combat by being entirely melee based. It is repetitive, and you will probably be a bit sick of it by the end its long campaign, but the level of customization for how you deal with the undead is compelling.