I ignored all reviews. I disregarded all opinions and stances on Dead Island and went into playing the game with only the glorious echo of the heartfelt trailer that was released months prior to the game’s launch. I revved-up my Xbox 360, waiting to be immersed in emotion and a story-driven experience.
And then the game opens up with the song “Who Do Your Voodoo, Bitch?”
This was only the first of many disappointments that came along in playing Techland’s open-world action RPG zombie thriller, Dead Island: Game of the Year Edition. From bland characters to an uninteresting storyline, the game let me down and made the trailer appear as the very definition of false advertising. But it’s not a total ball-drop. Let’s delve a bit deeper into Dead Island, shall we?
You take control of one of four characters: former football-star Logan Carter, ex-policewoman Purna, hotel receptionist/spy for the Chinese government Xian Mei, and rapper Sam B. who is responsible for the “very insightful” lyrics heard during the game’s opening. The four characters wake up — after a very high-profile party on the tropical island resort of Banoi — to a strange voice coming from the hotel intercom that urges everyone to evacuate immediately. As you vacate the premises, you dive into a tutorial that brings you up to speed with the control scheme. You then encounter various people trying to fortify their positions and find a way off the island. Many of them will give you quests.
The quests are more like errands, really. Most assignments see you shutting down a power supply source or gathering food and resources. Although these missions are essential for staying alive in the zombie-filled world, they feel mundane and like busy work until an important mission comes along. Dead Island has four acts — each of which is more fun to explore than the last — that offer different places to tread and different enemy types. However, these quests are just an excuse to chop off limbs and dismember the dying flesh of ghouls (which, I must say, is the highlight of this game.)
Zombies upon zombies attack. Sometimes they grapple you by your shoulders, which requires you to press the trigger buttons to shove them off you and into each other. Sometimes an unreasonable number horde in and you die. But you don’t actually die; you just lose a few bucks and respawn in five seconds. As such, there’s no cause for concern and the zombie threat is greatly diminished. Plus, you can quickly earn back the lost money collecting the cash left behind after a few zombie kills.
There are many different types of undead in this game, from regular walkers to infected that run at you and beat you over the head three to five swings at a time. There are also special infected such as the tall Thug who swipes player to the ground with his giant arms. Or the Ram who’s as big as a tank and charges at you while being restrained by a strait jacket. These enemies not only give you interesting characters to slaughter, but force you to change your combat strategies as well.
Attacking can be a hassle, though, especially when swinging melee weapons. The animation feels stiff and unnatural. And you can’t swing forever, as it will deplete your stamina just as running, kicking, or jumping does. Leveling up is fun and adds an RPG-like element. You have a three-category skill tree: one for your character’s own unique specialty, one for combat, and another for survival. Each level-up you obtain adds one skill point to use on any of these three categories. Some of the upgrades available are very useful such as the ability to stomp on the head of a downed zombie, which instantly kills the undead. Other upgrades are barely noticeable. Dead Island lets you drive cars, which would appear a welcome addition in a world so huge, but the vehicles control like bricks (so it’s almost always best to use the fast travel option on maps in safe havens whenever possible).
You collect different assortments of weapons with different stats, and as you continue to use the weapon, it will wear down. You can visit a workbench and use your cash to repair the weapon, upgrade it, or create new weapons from the blueprints you find scattered across the island.
Dead Island‘s multiplayer reminds me of Borderlands’ in that the story doesn’t matter because the gameplay and co-op experience is so great. Except in Dead Island’s case, the gameplay isn’t quite great enough to get away with a lacking story, although co-op is where it gains the most replay value.
You get alerts while playing that informs you another player is near and can join your party. And if you have a friend that has the game, he or she can drop in and out whenever they want—as long as you both are of equal or lesser levels. Or you can go the lone ranger route and switch the game to single player to sequester yourself from everyone.
Dead Island‘s environment is beautiful, but the characters models look a bit dated. The music is underwhelming as a whole, but the bone-shilling moan and groans of the undead are on par with any zombie film I’ve seen. The sounds of the infected approaching are easily where most of the scares originate. There are moments where the developers try to tug on the emotions, but they fall completely flat thanks to the actors’ horrid voice work.
The amount of bugs in this game is unforgivable. I’m usually lenient when it comes to these types of things — especially in huge game worlds — but I experienced far too many technical issues. There’s visual flickering when getting quest papers, occasions where vehicles glitch into the environment and are unable to move, escort missions where the escort won’t move, awkward gaps of zombie spawning, textures not loading fast enough, zombie limbs coming through of walls or through closed doors, and many, many more.
Now, since this is the Game of the Year Edition, the disc also comes with the Ryder White DLC. It allows you to play with the character Ryder White in a single-player campaign and also sheds a lot of light on the storyline. This piece of DLC is by far the most unpleasant DLC I’ve ever had the displeasure of playing. I’ve seen alternate costume DLC with more appeal than this.
First off, it’s riddled with glitches. There are moments when you look behind you and see nothing, and then look again to see a Suicider zombie that blows up and kills you. Or you could be on a platform and see zombies instantly glitch their way to where you’re positioned. It’s just inexcusable.
Dead Island‘s basic gameplay remains intact, but your character — now non-customizeable — is fixed at level 15 without a skill tree. In addition, the last hour or so feels more like a shooter than a RPG. The only strong thing about this DLC is the level of perspective the ending gives. You’ll find yourself actually caring about the story towards the end of this DLC more than you did at the end of the actual game.
There is fun to be had with this game, especially with a few friends, but the fact of the matter is it could have been a masterpiece if it was handled correctly, and that’s where the source of my disappointment lies. There has been an announcement of a Dead Island sequel and I can only hope that the developers pick up this game’s slack, because the greatest disappointment in life is a waste of potential.