Zombies have been the in thing for awhile now and will continue to be till someone writes a teen novel about a misunderstood girl that falls in love with an equally misunderstood sparkling zombie. We find them in our comics, our movies, and even in our music. Of course with the shambling undead infiltrating every facet of entertainment, video games featuring zombies are a given. Enter Dead Island, the most recent and possibly one of the most ambitious zombie games made to date.
Many of you might remember the amazing trailer that popped up for Dead Island earlier this year. In the long run the hype it built up could easily be this game’s downfall. It would be hard for many games to live up to that sort of build up, and unfortunately, I don’t believe Dead Island does. While the game does aim to be something truly unique, it fails to impress on most levels and settles for passable.
Dead Island is a first person role-playing game at its core. In the beginning you choose one of four characters/classes. Each of these characters has its own weapon style of choice ranging from thrown weapons all the way to old fashioned blunt objects. The RPG end of the game holds up rather well. Levels seem to come quickly enough, the three skill trees seem to have decent variety and the skills you pick up really do make a difference with your in game abilities. The weapon building that has been promoted heavily falls a little flat as most everything you can build is slightly boring. I know it sounds funny saying that attaching a circular saw to a baseball bat is boring, but there’s no way around it. It’s simply not as cool in practice as it is on paper.
Worst yet, the game itself is slightly boring. Maybe my extended time with Left 4 Dead has spoiled me, but there is never really a time when I find myself stressed in Dead Island. The best example is an early quest that involves you turning on a power station. When you break down the door, an alarm goes off. Now hours of playing Left 4 Dead has conditioned an “Oh s***, now I’ve really done it” response to loud noises in zombie games. Like a good zombie killer, I face the door and prepare for the unavoidable wave of zombies that will come crashing through the door. I wait. I wait a little long. Nothing. There seemed to be no real consequence to the alarm. I continue the mission and leave the power station. Then the dramatic music hits! Surely this will be the onslaught of undead I was expecting. Then came the surprise! Two zombies come charging at me. It was a less than overwhelming encounter to say the least.
Sadly that is the tale of the game. For large portions of the game you will only encounter a handful of zombies which will likely be dispatched easily. The most dangerous aspect of the game is how quickly your weapons degrade at the beginning of the game. The worst part is that developers Techland seemed to notice this ease of play and attempted to kick up the difficulty in one of the laziest ways. Instead of adding legitimate difficulty, they occasionally inject a “thug” zombie that has greatly increased health and power that will knock you down when it strikes. The problem is that they’re never really difficult and lead to unsatisfying fights that usually devolve into drawn out “hit and run” battles.
I would give you my impressions of the multi-player, but unfortunately I couldn’t find anyone to play with and the one time the game offered to connect me with a random player it failed to connect me. Though I have to say that I don’t see how adding additional players to the mix could really increase the enjoyment of this title beyond the basic joy of killing zombies with a couple of your friends. But if all you’re looking for is a zombie slaughter with some friends, I think you would be better served picking up one of the Left 4 Dead titles.
One of the things that Dead Island does get right are the graphics. The sights can be breath taking and gore can be, well… gory. I will say that this is yet another title that illustrates the fact that the Xbox 360 might be getting a too little long in the tooth. While the 360 version is still great looking, it simply can’t compete with the gorgeous screenshots that are being provided by the PS3 and PC versions of the game.
At this point there may be some people out there thinking I’m being a little too hard on Dead Island, and you might be right. Dead Island isn’t helped by the fact that it’s the first game I played after Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Both titles are flawed, but the major difference is one of them was such a fun and engaging game that it forced you to overlook its shortcomings.
In the end, Dead Island is okay. If it was a high school student, it would be that quiet guy from the back row of your English class. You know the guy that no one really seemed to like, but also never bothered to hate. It borrows from titles like Left 4 Dead and Elder Scrolls, but unfortunately it doesn’t improve on any of the ideas. I wouldn’t say the game is bad and while playing I didn’t find any major bugs. If the game had an engaging story I could easily get past these shortcomings, but alas, the small amount of story I was give in about 6 hours of gameplay really didn’t get my attention. I didn’t care much for the characters around me and I wasn’t learning anything about the character I was playing. Everything seems to work as designed, but unfortunately Dead Island just didn’t seem to be designed to be very fun. It’s a functioning but very boring game. I would recommend it to fans of zombie games and maybe action RPG fans, but I would also recommend letting it drop in price a little before you pick it up.