When Dead Island was first revealed through the trailer that won everybody’s hearts, the people at Techland and Deep Silver put a giant target on their heads. Either Dead Island would live up to the promise of that amazing first trailer, or it would fall short and be scrutinized for failing to make good on that promise. As it turns out, Dead Island is an impressive title from both teams, but it left me wishing it was a bit more polished.
On day one, Dead Island started out with horrible problems that required an enormous patch, and then the people over at Techland received some interesting press over the “Feminist Whore Purna” skill name that was buried in the code. Dead Island did not have an amazing launch, and both teams are probably kicking themselves in the butt for messing it up. The good news is that, with the first couple of days on Steam behind it, the game now runs smoothly with only a few problems here and there.
Dead Island starts players off choosing between one of four different survivors (Xian Mei, Sam B, Logan, and Purna). Each one has their own specialties. For instance, one character has better abilities and skills that help them when it comes to throwing weapons. Each also has a back story to help people get attached to their character, but while it is as nice feature it’s too bad none of that back story for the character I picked got fleshed out more as I made my way through the game.
Once you choose a character, you fade to a scene of him or her waking up in an eerie hotel room. Shortly after you come to find out you have been thrown into the zombie apocalypse. While trying to escape the hotel you come under attack of a zombie horde, but, after being knocked out by the zombies, you are saved by another set of survivors. Apparently your character has some unknown immunity to the zombie disease, and it’s your job to be everyone’s errand boy.
Dead Island plays very similar to both Borderlands and Fallout 3, but this is in no way a bad thing. If a team is going to try and imitate something it might as well be something that was good. You will be doing a lot of questing around the island gathering objects, finding people, and killing a lot of zombies. There is a fine line between tedium and fun, and unfortunately Dead Island likes to play on both sides of it.
The story is rather forgettable, and honestly it only serves the purpose of pushing the character along the path to the ultimate goal of survival. The meat of the game, like those it draws its inspiration from, lays in the quests. There are moments where some of the quests are fun and interesting – like driving over zombies to get supplies back to the headquarters – but then there are moments where I felt annoyed that the game asked me to perform silly tasks for whiny people. Another problem with the game is that it didn’t make me care about my character or the people around him.
The inhabitants all look generic, and the voiceovers could have been better. Most of the people on Banoi like to whine and complain over the littlest thing. There is one girl in the game – who looked to be in her twenties – who could not stop crying about her teddy bear she had to leave behind instead of worrying about her sister that was on the other side of the island. Some of the people on the island me want to chop their heads off with the machete so I wouldn’t have to hear their complaining anymore.
The island of Banoi is a gorgeous place, but, at the same time, it feels eerie. Dead Island succeeds at creating tension where lesser games would have failed. While playing solo, I had this constant state of wondering if there was a zombie right around the corner whenever I walked around the resort. The best compliment I can give this game is that it made me jump and got my heart pumping. There was this instance when I was walking back to home base minding my own business, and then I suddenly heard a zombie scream. I thought: ‘OK, no big deal, it’s just a zombie.’ Then I turned around and they were right in my face. There were several moments when I was by myself and this kind of thing happened, but unfortunately I didn’t get the same feelings as when playing by myself.
Playing with or without other people can definitely change the feel of Dead Island. People can jump in and out of another person’s game on the fly. This means at anytime someone can jump into what you are doing to help your progress. While this is a very nice feature that most games should implement, there is a slight problem. The minute someone jumped in the game it turned into a zombie beat-down festival, and all the tension left. The game does try to scale to multiple players, but when I was flying solo the game seemed a lot more difficult and scary. The threat of zombies, though, dissipated with another person in the game, and it drained the horror right out of the place.
That is not to say that multiplayer is bad; it was just a different experience. If you’re looking for more of a survival horror experience play the game solo, but if you’re looking for a more Left 4 Dead or Borderlands feeling, definitely get four friends together to chop some limbs off the zombie horde. Despite all the problems with the game, the deep core mechanics of it show off the game’s true potential.
Each character has their own skill trees that you will dump points in each time a level up occurs, and each character has a berserk mode. They all have the same basic skill trees for combat, survivor, and one that represents each character’s berserk mode. Each tree levels up something different for the individual characters. Xian’s combat tree focuses more on the knives and blades while Sam B. has more of a focus on blunt weapons.
Berserker mode causes the screen to go black and white, and your character gets buffs and wields a specific weapon that is uniquely his or hers. For instance, the character I went with gets a knife while another character gets brass knuckles. In this mode you can still die, but your character basically can deal enough damage to take care of just about anything.