Left 4 Dead Island. BRB.
Saying that the zombie genre is derivative is, at this point, like saying water is wet. Zombie games by nature borrow from one another, and seeing glimpses of other games in new releases is to be expected. The moment I started playing Dead Island, I immediately thought to myself how like Left 4 Dead it was. The first-person perspective, four-person co-op, and even some of the aesthetics seemed a little too familiar. Then I got a little bit deeper into the game, and I noticed how like Dead Rising it was, with the destructible weaponry, a dilapidated urban landscape, and plenty of open areas to explore.
Comparisons to these two series are completely justified, and if you hated either of them, you will completely loathe Dead Island. But the good news is that Dead Island has enough original content to keep you immersed in its world for a little while. And considering it is the only zombie game coming out this fall (well, aside from the millionth Resident Evil 4 remake), this is certainly a good thing if you’re itching to smash some undead heads.
The big difference between Dead Island and other zombie games is in its overall format, which takes the form of an RPG. You start off by picking a character with certain weapons proficiencies and their own special bonus. As you play through the game with each character, you’ll learn little snippets about their background, but who you pick has no real bearing on the game’s story. In fact nothing you do really has any relevance to the game’s story, but we’ll get to that later.
Throughout the game, you can mow down zombies for XP and unlock skill trees to improve your character. You’ll pass the time hopping from hub area to hub area, talking to various NPCs and accepting quests. If you choose, you can open your game up to the online world, where the game’s matchmaker will put you with up to three other players that are the same level as you and on the same chapter. You might think this would result in a slow matchmaking effort, but the result is actually pretty seamless. Players drop in and drop out, and the online experience is fairly enjoyable. However, the only drawback is that when a mission is accepted, you can’t really deviate from it when you are with a party. But as long as you don’t mind staying on target, working with a team is the best way to experience Dead Island. Of course, you can always go it alone (and the game doesn’t really penalize you for playing solo) but the co-op ability makes getting through tough missions that much easier.
Combat in the game is fairly straightforward, as you’ll cycle through weapons and hit the “kill” button as fast as you can to swing your current death stick and take out your enemies. Guns are introduced later in the game, but are pretty much ineffective, as melee weapons often kill much faster. But interestingly, the most useful weapon in the game actually ends up being your feet. You see, when you use a weapon, you use up stamina and degrade the weapon. And if you’ve got a low-level weapon, it can take five or six hacks to really kill a zombie dead. However, a quick stomp to the face will generally lay a zombie flat out, and from there, all you have to do is hammer on the button until the job is done. And the best part? Kicking takes no stamina and works on basically every enemy except bosses. This makes for easy kills, but it does make combat as a whole feel a little shallow when the best weapon of the game is actually attached to your character’s body.
Now, a word about story. If there was one thing that disappointed me about Dead Island most, it would be its lack of plot. When the first trailer was released earlier this year, it seemed that the game would include an incredibly deep and moving story. The emotional impact of that little girl falling through the glass in reverse was something that we hadn’t seen from the zombie genre before, and I was excited to play a zombie game that dealt with more serious themes. However, what I got was a paper-thin story that seems to mostly revolve around drunk people and hotel employees. You do eventually get around to seeing the family from the trailer, but their appearance is nothing more than the equivalent of an Easter egg at best. If you’re expecting a great story here, you’ll be incredibly disappointed.
Oh, and if you’re expecting a lot of horror from this game, you won’t really get that either. Though, to be fair, a zombie game set at the beach doesn’t sound like a very scary premise to begin with. There are some areas with “pop-up” zombies designed to startle you, but even in the darkest of corridors—believe it or not, there are some dark places on a beach resort)—these plants are a little too obvious to be scary.
Still, despite the game’s lack of any kind of legitimate scares or impactful narrative, there is quite a bit to enjoy in Dead Island. There are enough story missions and side quests to keep you playing for at least 20 hours. And if you want to max out your skills trees, there will be plenty of zombies to help you grind out that XP. The only problem here is that the game doesn’t give you that much incentive to level up, as zombies level up with you and your level doesn’t have much bearing on anything aside from unlocking a few upper-echelon weapons.
Technically speaking, Dead Island is a mixed bag. The open world has a few nice areas, but zombie animations are repetitive, and some of the vistas are quite sparse. But if you are a gore fan, there are dynamic kill animations, so at least that’s something. Similarly, the audio is great in places, but some wooden voice acting and repetitive zombie sounds keep this game’s sound design from being as good as it could have been.
Dead Island is a good game. But if you pick it up and are expecting something radically different from what you’re used to, you’ll be sorely disappointed. The RPG twist on the genre is fairly cool, and does result in an experience that is longer than you might expect, but the game’s utter lack of story and reliance on pre-established genre conventions make it a pretty big missed opportunity. Dead Island may be a nice vacation, but it’s far from the most memorable trip you’ve ever taken. Yelp it next time.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.7 Graphics
Visuals are not very detailed, but kills are dynamic and gruesome. 3.7 Control
First-person controls are fairly easy to use, but gunplay takes some getting used to. 3.1 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Music is sparse, and vocal performances are uneven. 3.9 Play Value
There’s 20+ hours of content here, but no real incentive to replay. 3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|