Once upon a time, someone (we’ll call them Alan, but that’s a guess) came up with the idea to make a video game about zombies. Since Alan’s masterstroke his bandwagon has become ever heavier with so many different developers leaping on board that it’s surprising there are any zombies left to go round. Game designers have had to come up with new ideas, better ways to scare or freak out their intrepid customers without them thinking they’ve seen it all before. With Dead Island, Techland have managed to do just that, and although it’s not a smooth ride Dead Island has slipped into its favourite Hawaiian shirt and turned into something very enjoyable.
Since the initial gnarly trailer way back in February, hype has slowly built for Dead Island. The game itself, an open world RPG-style questathon sits quite nicely between Borderlands and 28 Days Later (but with less guns) and follows you as a survivor of a sudden zombie outbreak on an idyllic holiday resort. From the start you’re up against it, running from crazed holiday makers who have been infected with the virus while someone tries to help over the hotel security comms. From here on it’s all about survival as you meet up with a handful of others hiding from the masses who wander the beaches, pools and hotels looking for someone else to have a good munch on.
Fortunately, there’s quite a bit knocking around that you can use to batter seven shades out of the undead. Sticks, brooms, spades and wrenches all make decent initial weapons, but unlike the super-hard-wearing tools found in most other games, you can’t expect your weapons to last all that long. After a few well-judged whacks to the head, that broom handle will crack, bend, get covered in blood then snap in half. If you’ve got nothing else tucked in your back pocket then it’s just you, your fists and a sizable kick standing between you and death.
Not that death is a big problem. To help with the co-op based campaign (where even a single player campaign sits and waits for you to invite someone into your game) you respawn quite close to where you left off, sometimes even closer to your objective. On more than one occasion I got taken out by a group of nasties, only to respawn a few seconds later right next to the item I’d been sent out to fetch. Handy. Sadly, the group were still waiting for me when I went outside, but a well judges set of kicks, swipes and running like hell managed to get me through. Phew.
The quests you get, both in terms of the main storyline and side quests, are quite often fetch quests. You know the kind: go over there, get that, bring it back, don’t get killed, get a gold star. Quite often though you don’t even realise – you can take on a lot of quests at once, and you’ll stumble across others as you’re out and about, making everything feel far less labourious than a basic series of tasks. But it’s the combat that stands out, and with it being mainly melee based you get to take some satisfying chunks out of your opponents, tearing chunks of flesh away from their ribs, slicing off limbs or shattering their heads into a pulp. The most interesting part is when you eventually get hold of some decent firepower (which you’ll have to fight other “real” humans for) they’re not all that great, so the battery-powered machete that you put together yourself will still see a fair bit of action. But Dead Island never tries to be a shooter, it revels in the brutal face to face combat that you’ll end up enjoying almost as much as jumping into a truck and seeing how long you can keep a zombie balanced on your bonnet after running it over at 40mph.
The gorgeous surroundings of the beach resort takes a slightly downward turn when you move inland into the city, and some of the character models are a bit wooden… it’s a shame that the visuals are so mixed, if everything looked as stunning as the nicest parts of the environment then Dead Island could easily be one of the best looking games around. As it is it’s good, very good, but it doesn’t stand out. The game as a whole goes along the same idea; the storyline is alright, but nothing special. The voice acting is occasionally decent but often flat, while the zombies make the most brilliantly horrifying and blood curdling screams and screeches as they drag themselves towards you or, in some cases, run full pelt in your direction. In such occasions, a well times kick followed by a slice with a meat cleaver is so satisfying it’s easy to get addicted.
Everything in the game seems to have these two sides to it, but overall I really enjoyed Dead Island. In fact, I still AM enjoying it. It’s a massive game, offering well over 20 hours and that’s assuming you don’t go back and play through with another character or try a different skill-tree emphasis. Yeah it’s a shame that there are a few issues, but that shouldn’t stop you playing it. Take it for what it is and you’ll have a great time, especially if you’ve got a few friends on standby to play through the entire campaign as a 4-player joint effort. Just don’t expect everything to be perfect and you won’t be disappointed.
Well done Techland, It looks like Alan’s legacy is secure for a little while longer yet.