Dead Island Review
The original Dead Island trailer – as amazing as it is – ultimately did much more harm than good for my perception of the game. After watching it, I had high hopes that it would have more emotional weight to it than your run-of-the-mill zombie slaughter-fest. Then the preview coverage ultimately revealed that the contents of the trailer had virtually nothing to do with the actual game. Feeling burned by the misleading ad, I refused to buy or play this until it hit the bottom of the clearance bin. Maybe the trailer did little to reflect the final product, but that’s not to say the final product is bad. In fact, I’m actually really impressed with how the game came together.
When you first boot up the game, you have to choose one of the four characters to play as. Each character has a different combat specialization, which will have a huge impact on how you play the game. After analyzing my options, I went with the girl who was an expert with sharp objects. This opened up a sharp objects skill tree that gave me added bonuses for using sharp weapons. While the temptation is strong to go with the girl who is a guns expert, it’s worth noting that guns are scarce and generally aren’t the most efficient way of dispatching of zombies anyway. I like how this choice makes a direct impact on how you play the game, but did not care for their in-game characterizations. You never care for them on a personal level based on the events of the game and it doesn’t help that every character leans heavily on racial stereotypes.
Once you’ve chosen a character, you are ready to take on a zombie-filled island. While it’s easy to look at any of the promotional material and perceive this to be a take on the Left 4 Dead formula, its closest of kin is actually Skyrim. Taking place across multiple open-world environments, you take on quests and level up along the way. I originally thought going into this thinking that the resort was the only area to play through, but was pleasantly surprised when the game moves out of the resort into other areas of the island. All of these places are gorgeous, while providing a unique feel and gameplay opportunities.
Combat is another aspect of the game that takes cues from the aforementioned RPG. You will level up your character by engaging with zombies, which is mostly a melee-based affair. First person melee combat in general doesn’t have the greatest track record, but I like it a lot here. It feels really good to slice or smash a zombie, particularly when you demolish one with a critical hit. There’s also a lot of strategic and tactical considerations to make on-the-fly as you fight. Weapon selection is really important, because nuances such as attack speed and their stamina cost will impact how successful you are in a fight. You’re also not in a position to take on an entire wave of zombies most of the time, which adds a great deal of tension. If you come across a group of 3 or more zombies, you may want to consider just bypassing them instead.
Besides levelling up your character, you will be responsible for gathering, maintaining and improving your weapons. Weapons in Dead Island will break after extended use, which means you’ll have to regularly repair them, improve them through upgrades or ditch them entirely. This process adds a lot of depth to the game, which I really appreciate. I got really attached to certain weapons, but at a certain point, I had to make some hard and rational decisions about my inventory in order to improve my arsenal. With that said, there are a few kinks that break suspension of disbelief. Early on in the game, you will encounter weapons that you cannot use because you are not of a high enough level to wield them. In the real world, would anyone not be skilled enough to hit something with a baseball bat? For the purposes of working within the context of the game, I get it. However, it’s rather ridiculous when you think about this happening in real life. Also, when you throw a weapon, you will not be able to pick it up again, even though your weapon is clearly still on the floor. This is part of the risk reward system for throwing items, but is also really stupid when you think about it in a real world context.
There are no shortage of things to do on the island of Banoi, as the game is packed with dozens of quests. Up until the last quarter of the game, I was having a blast taking on everything that came my way. At that point, a number of factors contribute to the overall experience taking a bit of a nose dive. While the game’s mechanics sustain themselves well throughout, they start to grow tedious towards the end of the game when you’re asked to do the same types of things you’ve already done multiple times. Worse yet, the story stretches out the final events of the game way longer than they need to. After beating it, I feel like the overall package would have been stronger had the game cut about 25% of its content, particularly towards the end.
Though its ads rubbed me the wrong way, the actual game was quite enjoyable. It’s basically Skyrim with zombies, which works out really well for it. I had a lot of fun playing it and couldn’t put it down once I started it. There are some problems with the game that stop it from being a top-tier experience, but there’s no reason to pass on this like I did last year. With the sequel scheduled for release in April, now may be the right time to take a trip to Dead Island.