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The Game Effect Review

Dead Island Review

Bring a friend, and lots of weapons, to fight your way through the zombie apocalypse.

By Alex Gralski on 9/8/2011
September 6th has come and gone, and without a single zombie movie in sight, it's time to get our fix of the undead scourge via that wonder of modern invention, the video game - specifically, Techland's Dead Island. As a whole, it's a very interesting concept, a sort of Elder Scrolls meets Left 4 Dead meets Far Cry 2 scenario, at the risk of using that tired old comparison methodology. And like all games, and especially new IPs, it has its own highs and lows, with a final verdict somewhere in the middle. But without rushing, and without further ado, let's examine the game step by step...

Setting

There's a lot to say about Dead Island, but perhaps some background information is in order first. Dead Island is arguably best described as a zombie action-RPG. There's shooting and zombies, yes, but there is also a leveling system for player characters as well as weapons and skill trees. Techland and Deep Silver set out to tug our heartstrings with the first trailer for the game as it set the stage for the tragic fall of a tourist destination into a circle of hell populated almost entirely by zombies. The island of Banoi, near Australia, is struck with a terrible virus that causes everyone to become mindless, flesh hungry shells of their former selves. The player can select one of four characters who happen to be immune to the plague, I Am Legend-style.

To the game's credit, despite the zombie premise, all of the player characters have interesting back stories, and the writers have done a solid job of creating a plausible reason for a zombie outbreak without trying to rationalize every detail of this indispensible element of nerd culture; something for which the game is all the better. The only science involved is supposed to be very soft, at best.

At any rate, the story itself is rather standard zombie fare. At first the idea is to get to secure shelter, then the goal becomes longer-term survival, then (like most sane humans) the characters decide that the zombie-infested tropical island isn't the best place to retire, and endeavor to get out of dodge any way they can. Along the way, they meet interesting characters, deal with the problems of a survival situation, and slice and crush many, many, many undead. This leads very nicely into the first gameplay issue... monotony.

Gameplay

Now, perhaps this is sacrilegious to the hardcore zombie camp, but there is a reason that zombie movies like Dawn of the Dead and games like Left 4 Dead are based around the fast-paced, action-packed mayhem of the moment, and specifically in the initial rush of short-term survival after the first outbreak. Often, zombie stories end with the main character(s) making their way to indefinite refuge.

This isn't the case in Dead Island. While a significant portion of the game is based around survival, the tense, white-knuckle moments are few and far between. When they do come, it's more of a particularly difficult battle than any dramatic chain of events. Now, don't assume anything here - there's nothing quite like throwing the last machete into the innumerable horde charging to a droning scream that seems to rise up out of the collective masses. These moments make Dead Island a serious contender in the zed-word market. But after traipsing back to base to repair tools and weapons for the umpteenth time, fighting one's way through a horde becomes less of an eternal "Badass!" moment and more akin to a day job. Only, y'know, with undead monsters instead of a frustrating copier and an annoying coworker named Bob.

Fortunately, the monotony never becomes a deal-breaker in the truest sense. It gets frustrating, to be sure, but there's always an objective hanging overhead - either the main quest, or one of a surprising number of sidequests to help the poor souls trapped on the island without the survival skills of the main characters.

If one could be forgiven for using the comparison method again, this can develop into a bit of Borderlandsitis - a virtual disorder characterized by an overflowing quest log, with many of those quests being variants of killing a given target, fetching a given item, or going to a given point and pressing the use button for a given period of time. The main quests are somewhat immune to this disorder, being much more interesting on the whole - which is fortunate, since after escorting another survivor back to the nearest base, joining the horde starts to seem like it might have some merit as an idea.

Weapon customization and variation serve to alleviate some of the grind, and once you've killed zombies with a machete a hundred and fifty times, the only solution (other than stopping, of course) is to kill zombies with a highly charged, electrified machete. Yet the issue, naturally, is still the fact that a zombie and a machete are involved intimately for the hundredth time that hour.

However, despite all the complaints thus far, the gameplay is solid at its core. Movement feels natural and works well, be it sprinting from the undead or dodging a boss's attacks. Fighting also functions surprisingly efficiently, with swings of melee weapons feeling solid and weighty. Being able to throw melee weapons and retrieve them later is also a welcome addition, since throwing an axe at a zombie is infinitely more fun than just switching to the next weapon. Gunplay also transfers well - while it doesn't feel like an FPS at heart, these people are more survivors than they are soldiers, and the bit of clumsiness in reloading a shotgun or aiming a handgun helps to add some realism and immersion to the experience.

Visuals

Of course, in this day and age of stunning graphics, every game must pass the HD trial by fire. And, remarkably for an open-world game, Dead Island pulls this off pretty well. The decaying buildings, degrading weapons, and rotting flesh of the zombies all work together with a number of other factors to create the impression of a living world - or rather, an undead one. Since, well, zombies and all. And when a zombie tries to tackle the player and shoves the aforementioned rotting flesh into the camera until they're pushed off with a nice friendly elbow, well, where else can the discerning public get that in a game?

Unfortunately, a large portion of the points that the game gets for visuals is lost with the facial animations. Granted, open-world games aren't exactly famous for the NPC interaction. However, lots of the questgivers and even the main characters (when exhibited in cutscenes) show a sort of deadpan, blank-eyed stare most commonly associated with Bethesda games.

But then, all but the most hard-hearted of reviewers would have to give some credit for the animations. The more cynical observer might remark that of course the animations will be easy to make, what with zombies being famous for jerky, uncertain movement. But the virus must have passed straight past the Uncanny Valley on the way to Banoi, since all of the characters exhibit realistic, believable motions.

Finally for this topic, the level design is fantastically varied and often breathtaking. A nice variety of environments is on display, from the touristy beach to the wild jungle to the city reminiscent of Rio de Janeiro's favelas. Fighting in each territory comes with unique challenges and opportunities, whether it's the knowledge that zombies could be anywhere in the jungle or battling with looters in a city that was poverty-stricken before all this.

Audio

Last but not least, the most iconic of zombie trademarks - the sound. This is one place where Dead Island really shines, and also moans. The moans, screams, and cries of the zombies create the sort of oppressive, terrifying environment one would expect from the situation. The absence of normal human life sounds only adds to the impression, and the sound of battle drifting over a wall from the nearest conflict completes the experience.

Techland and Deep Silver have outdone themselves in this department - guns have different sounds unique to the caliber and weapon type, every melee weapon makes its own impression (no pun intended) when used against zombies, and the voices and accents of the remaining humans (varying from Pacific Islander, to the American Deep South, to British) help to bring the experience to life and pick up a lot of the slack from the facial animations.

Overall Impression

Dead Island is a good game. Let no criticism in this review distract from that fact. Unfortunately, many of the game's best qualities have been ripped from other successful IPs. The gunplay is heavily reminiscent of Far Cry, the melee similar to that of Condemned, the questing structure borrowing heavily from Borderlands, and the overall experience sharply recalling Left 4 Dead and the rest of the zombie mythos... there's not a whole lot here that can be legitimately defined as "bad."

Conversely, however, very little can be defined as "original." Even the special infected are heavily influenced by the ones in L4D. Certainly one could say that these elements have never been combined in this fashion, and this is true. It's a very solid game, but it doesn't exactly push the envelope.

If there is one word of advice to anyone playing the game to remedy the problems, it would probably be "play with friends". Well, that's three words. but the point still stands. Co-op is very fun, and serves to lessen the monotony in ways that can hardly be described - competing for the next kill on a special enemy, or trying to barter with a friend for weapons or ammo breaks up the experience and adds a special something. After all, in a real zombie apocalypse, anyone going it alone wouldn't make it far and would have to rely on others. On the other hand, when we can't trust our friends to not steal the ammo and health in-game, who can we trust when the virus strikes?
The Good
  • Co-op
  • Customization
  • Challenge of Survival
The Bad
  • Monotony
  • Lack of originality
8.0
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USER COMMENTS
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Forbidden404 on January 09, 2012
Should I play this game or wait for Last of us? ):
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Merfyz on January 09, 2012
Well you have no idea what the gameplay for last of us will be like, and you maybe just read the above review about the game dead island, so if you read the article i think you could decide if you want to play it or not........if you read it.....
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Forbidden404 on January 10, 2012
But Last of us seems to be more attractive for me =C
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NinjaViking on December 01, 2011
yeah im not planning on getting this game screw that i am not losing weapons i spent days getting in a fight
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rohity03 on October 29, 2011
i complete d game using trainer :)
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NinjaViking on October 28, 2011
had a chance to play this the other week...but it didnt look any good....any1 know if it is any good???
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rohity03 on October 29, 2011
no itz not
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shumonitor on October 28, 2011
my brother give me this game for a present, but something tell me wrong about this game, but i haven't try it until now, still busy with college
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MarkHarmon on October 23, 2011
It should be mentioned, for those that are wanting to purchase this game, that there is a pretty bad defect that causes you to lose your weapons occasionally. Imagine playing WOW or some other game that you spend days on, just to get the gear you want, and then the gear disappears in a fight. To me, this game is broken until they fix that problem. Not sure if you should believe me, google it.
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avisharma2196 on September 20, 2011
dead island is my personal fav! a set of automatic rifles with unlimited ammo? well thats wat you WONT have if a zombie Apocalypse takes place.. this game is the real deal!
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SpoonsOfDoom on September 10, 2011
Apparently its hard to find guns :\ and i like gunz
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kilky18 on September 13, 2011
Yeah and they are quite useless against zombies... kind of sucks really.
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Shakaku on September 18, 2011
the things you can do with melee on this game are way too awesome to be thinking about guns
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BloodPhoenix101 on September 10, 2011
I'm loving the game so far, I've made it to the town and I'm finding it very difficult...
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Sawbones12 on September 09, 2011
And of course they use the ever popular "you're immune" excuse. The risk of infection is the only thing that makes zombies scary; without it they're not really very threatening enemies.

Not ragging on the game because of it, it looks good, but... come on, people.
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JTHenry on September 09, 2011
Ive had so much fun playing this with my friends. Can't wait to see how the game ends. Stellar review Alex.
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steveytevey on October 19, 2011
can you split screen it or is it multi player online
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kilky18 on September 09, 2011
Fair review, I'm currently up to investigating the helicopter crash. Spent a lot of time exploring, probably way too much that it has dragged on a bit. Everything kind of looks the same after a while.

Still though, the actions great and I'm still having fun.
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