Dead Island is a game that could have been doomed to be dumped into the crevices of “Another zombie game in a zombie infested market.” Let’s face it, zombies are everywhere. If you weren’t aware check out Joseph’s article. Dead Island initially fit this thought, it just added RPG elements.
Then the trailer hit.. heads were turned.. tears were shed.
I normally don’t talk about trailers for games in reviews, because it all comes down to the game; how good the experience is. This is a sort of exception, because it brought forth a vicious expectation. So, were expectations met? Was I right to fall in love with a game beforehand due to a trailer that wasn’t even headed by Techland? Ultimately, is it a good game?
As far as stories go, Dead Island sells itself with a trend being followed by a lot of games today: characters with backstories that don’t serve as anything except as a catalyst that launched them into a situation. Granted, this is better than Borderlands, where each character essentially had no back story. The real way one differentiates the characters are through gameplay. In other words, the playable characters here are a bit thin in the character substance department. It doesn’t get any better, considering this problem could be fixed through character development. Now if we’re talking about leveling up, sure the characters change. And no, not in some profound way where their abilities are metaphors for what they’ve gone through. They just level up.
As for the overall storyline, it’s fairly drab. Whomever you chose had a rather intense party last night and woke up to something amiss. Zombies have ravaged the once-fun resort of Banoi and you must find a way off. Along the way you make friends with some of the island-goers and complete quests that drive the story forward. It’s good that they have voice-overs for when they offer the quests, but even then, one could be tempted to just skip over dialogue and go from quest to quest. This didn’t happen to me because I considered many of the characters to be intriguing enough to pay attention to. The game has a really diverse NPC cast, something sorely missing in most zombie games.
Now we come full circle to that trailer I mentioned earlier. The key to good zombie-storytelling is social commentary. I mean, there’s been plenty of other fun zombie experiences, but I like mine to be humanistic. One that reeks of pathos and ethos much like the trailer presented that moved everyone. This game does not do that. It tries to be sometimes, like during the home base set pieces. Other than that, Dead Island actually belongs in the more silly side of the spectrum. I was looking forward to something along the lines of The Walking Dead. I never got it.
Art and Sound
Dead Island shines brightly in this department.
Very seldom do character models repeat themselves. I mean, sure, there’s an awful lot of bikini girls, but the people at Techland made sure there is wide variety of them. Other than that, the game has plenty of different tourist types and farther along in-game, disfigured zombie types. The only problem I would say is sometimes the rendering doesn’t happen quick enough, but this is very seldom.
The setting is really vast and breathtaking. There’s a moment when I was playing where I started running down the stairs and the character said, “That’d make a great post card.” I looked up and saw a swooping vivid landscape. It was something genuine.. if only they had more moments like that in the game.
The game’s soundtrack is really nice, but just doesn’t fit. Remember when I mentioned the selling point of the dramatic side of the zombie apocalypse? The soundtrack encompasses that, but when the quest I’m on involves getting a teddy bear for a full-grown bikini woman? It’s just jarring.
The best area though is the sound effects. I started off playing the game is a girl named Xian Mei. She’s a blade specialist and the cuts made on zombies gave such a satisfying sound. This wasn’t initial though, because bladed weapons don’t show up until about 45 minutes in. I instead started off with a blunt weapon, a paddle. The traumatic blows to the zombies heads gave a wicked crunch and the fact that it wasn’t Left 4 Dead-y in the sense of one-hit kills was awesome. Multiple hits until they went down meant multiple crunches and slashes that just felt satisfying.
Also, I shouldn’t forget to mention the zombie-shrieks. They send a chill down my spine every time.
Gameplay in Dead Island can be described in one word: solid.
What does that mean though?
It’s solid for games in general. Borderlands broke some boundaries with it’s approach. Dead Island follows a similar RPG formula, so it’s nothing new. Left 4 Dead also broke some boundaries as far as multiplayer zombie fun is concerned. Once again, Dead Island seems to have taken note, nothing new. Mixing weapons system? That was in Dead Rising. Once again nothing new. I thought it was initially a better feel; more real and tight on it’s weapon-creation take, but when I started making baseball bats that were on fire? Please, there goes my suspension of disbelief and the idea that they were going for a more realistic zombie-slaying experience.
Even the best part of the game: melee combat, is clearly inspired by another great boundary-breaking game. If you haven’t played Condemned: Criminal Origins, check it out.
The game takes some of the best of multiple games and puts it into one. Not a bad idea. One could draw inspiration from other arts, but unless something completely new is done somewhere, you’re still playing it safe.
That’s fine, it’s fun, but I get a sense of been-there-done-that.
Dead Island did provide me some of what I wanted upon purchase. It gave me a well-done zombie-slaying experience. It just.. didn’t give me more, nor did it satisfy my want of a more humanistic zombie story.
It’s primarily a blast with friends. This is a game where if one can round up 3 others, hours could be poured into it.
In other words, if you have a zombie-slaying urge to fill, definitely hit this game up, otherwise let’s wait for something a bit more original.