Dead Island review

September 27, 2011

Zombies have permeated pop culture to such a degree that it’s become a cliché to point this fact out. That’s why if someone were to ask me ‘Who would you kill if you could go back in time?’ I would respond with ‘Danny Boyle. And I’d also want to see if Snickers really were called Marathon Bars like my dad claims.’*


TechLand, the developer behind the Chrome engine that powers Rubbish but Fun™ shooter Sniper: Ghost Warrior, has turned its hand to the shambling animated corpse genre with Dead Island, another game that falls into the Rubbish but Fun™ category, but for very different reasons. It is a co-op first person RPG which relies heavily on melee combat over gunfights, although you do get to dispatch the dead with firearms after a first act in which they are largely absent.


Upon starting a new game you choose from one of four stereotypical characters with almost intentionally abrasive back stories. I chose the rapper because A) I wanted to hear how far the stereotype would be pushed with in-game dialogue and B) Being a blunt weapon specialist seemed like it would be an advantage in a game focused heavily on smashing zombies with blunt things. You get flung out to enjoy the tropical delights of resort-island Banoi, whose beaches are strewn with energy drinks, broken oars and clusters of survivors who want you to do little quests for them.


Dropping in and out of a co-op game going on online is easy enough and there are obviously parts of the game that need four people to tackle in a balanced way. However, while the zombie apocalypse as portrayed in something like Left 4 Dead needs four survivors to fight off the ravenous, running undead enemies, this is not the case with Dead Island. There is very little tension involved when playing with a party and the penalty for dying is minimal, respawning you a few feet from where you left off and taking a small chunk of your cash, which you can easily replenish.


Combat is satisfying if inconsistent. Hits will break bones or sever limbs, depending on whether you have a thick-edge bat or a blade equipped. Headshots do more damage and weapons deteriorate over time, which means you will be spending thousands of dollars at repair stations if you want to hang on to your favourite bommyknocker. The upside is that the game economy is not so much broken as entirely irrelevant. Regular money pickups from corpses and luggage as well as pay-offs for quest completion mean you are never short of cash. Which is lucky, because using the NPC traders is a pain in the arse.


I found that Dead Island makes a lot more ‘sense’ if you actually head out on your own, shunning the multiplayer element. The tension mounts because defeating larger groups of enemies or the stronger zombie variants is much tougher. In addition you will feel far lonelier in the empty streets, acting as the real hero of the piece because every other survivor is too scared to leave their fortified lodging. This is not a game that I can see retaining an enduring fanbase, although sales are probably going to do enough to result in a sequel at some point. There’s a lot that needs fixing, but for solo play a decent amount to be gained from playing Dead Island.


*In reality I would probably have sex with him.


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