Late 2 The Game – Dead Island

posted by Andrew Cross

After finishing Dead Island and having a stiff drink, I’m baffled by how it found a publisher. Could it have been the zombies? Well, they aren’t dying out in popular culture anytime soon, so that’s a +1 marketing point. People can’t seem to shut up about the islands in Papua New Guinea (wait, what?), so dump trucking a small army of zombies onto one of them is all aces. Meleeing in shooters is always a satisfying way of delivering a kill. So it follows that a whole game designed around that would be awesome!? In fact, why not just borrow a mishmash of concepts from Borderlands, Left 4 Dead, and Grand Theft Auto, and see what happens? Sure, Dead Island has a leveling system, hundreds of side-quests, a variety of zombie types, and a massive island that is open for you to explore freely (kind of). The problem is all of these elements are either broken or ham-fisted into the game.

On the broken side of things, you have enemy types that are either too easy to kill, or frustratingly overpowered. The sprinting, hands-flaying zombies are so fast, that you can’t react quick enough to kick them away, but then again that doesn’t matter because your kicks either barley faze ‘em or glitch through them anyway. Don’t even bother going for their heads, as “aiming” is more of concept of luck then actual skill. They can also kill you in three hits, but that’s OK. Failure in Dead Island doesn’t matter. You just re-spawn a few feet away from where you died, lose some cash (that can be gained back easily), and begin where you left off, because the zombies retain all the damage you did to them before they clipped you. There is no sense of threat in Dead Island. I never felt on edge or scared. The game is predictable in its enemy placement, you can just run around the undead, and failure doesn’t mean anything. The zombies in Dead Island aren’t frightening; they are annoyances getting in the way of you accumulating more experience points.

Other aspects of Dead Island feel thrown in. Leveling up sucks and I on no account felt like I was getting more powerful. The zombies level up with you too closely, so I never got that sense of accomplishment that comes with grinding to higher levels. You’re always on an even playing field, similar to how it would be in any standard action title instead of an RPG. It’s like Techland put the leveling system in at the last minute and didn’t have time to refine it. The side quests could have used more imagination also, as very few of them varied from the standard, “Get my shit and bring it to me” type. Dead Island doesn’t seem to make much of an effort to hide the fact you’re doing the same mission over and over again. You just get one survivor’s boring plight after another thrown at you to solve. The people are also unintentionally eerie looking. Women in Dead Island have the bodies of 22-year-old swimsuit models and the faces of strung-out heroin addicts.

I could continue to rant about how terrible it looks, the flimsy melee combat that has no weight to it, and the dreadful voice acting, but at this point the game has already shipped one million copies, so the damage is done. Dead Island is a game with a brilliant concept: an immense, free-roaming zombie game with an emphasis on survival. It takes a studio with some serious balls to approach a design concept this daunting and when creating a game this massive, you’re going to have problems. Fallout 3 – a Bethesda game that Dead Island digs inspiration from – has enough glitches to make a typical 10-hour game unplayable. Bethesda counteracts those problems though by having vision and dynamism in the experience they want the player to have. With Dead Island, Techland dropped some zombies into the tropics and thought it would design itself, coming away with a game as dead as the walking corpses it depicts.

Developed by: Techland
For: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC

Monday, September 26th, 2011 at 12:02 pm