Sep 9, 2011

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Dead Island Review

The undead is one concept gamers might be sick of: we see the same ideas rehashed over and over again. Some zombie games have had some success, and as a result, more zombie games appear. Dead Island tries to take an open-world approach to their undead title. How could an open-world zombie game not succeed, many gamers thought. While Dead Island does have some good concepts, the product feels rushed and certain aspects of the game just don’t come together well enough.

Dead Island is an interesting take on the zombie genre. You can play as one of four characters, each with their own stats and skills unique to them. There are some good RPG elements too, such as talent trees, enemies scaling to your level and weapon stats. You can also mod and upgrade weapons by combining your weapon with other items you pick up. The game also supports four-player co-op. There is a lot to like about what Dead Island has to offer, but it doesn’t come together all that well.

The story does nothing but add to the lack of polish, and is nothing new to fans of the genre. Someone mysterious seems to understand what’s going on, and believe it or not, you need to find them. Along the way there will be various clues as to what happened, with a final advancement to the climax. Since many story segments showcase every character, who you play as doesn’t really matter. Worse, most characters could benefit from better writing and you should fully expect some stereotypical dialog from a few of them.

Thankfully, this is not a story-driven game, so let’s look at what counts. The game world is huge (you can even download a map app on your phone to help navigate) and offers loads of exploration opportunities. Most of your time will be spent running around for missions. Along the way, the scenery will change periodically. You should get a fair amount of enjoyment just looking for things in this world. There are also side missions that will come up (i.e., someone needs help) or dynamic missions (save someone from enemies). There are a fair number of side missions to keep you busy.  Keep in mind however that some missions can be repeated endlessly. For example, one mission involves a girl who wants water. Each time you give her water, you will get a small bonus and you can bring her water as much as you want, getting rewarded each time. This concept can be seen as a good or bad thing, depending on your play style.

If you’re in the mood to just mindlessly kill, then you’re in luck. As you level, the enemies will scale with you. Not every enemy will be on par with you, with some above or below you in level.  This will make very little difference come the end, as you take roughly the same damage. This will make death a common place in your day-to-day island life. As you fight enemies, your weapons will degrade, but never break. When a weapon drops to zero, the damage makes it virtually worthless. The difference was so vast, I went from one-hitting level three zombies to having to hit one three or more times even though I was at level 30. The scaling and degrading system is a nice touch, but it’s a bit excessive when you run into those type of issues.

One of the most common issues in Dead Island is being rushed by zombies. It’s not uncommon to fight an enemy on a slope and die because you can’t hit it or because you get attacked from behind. Naturally, some enemies are far stronger, too. Some, like the thug, can kill you with two hits. Deaths would be far less common if there was a more advanced blocking system. Thankfully, you can modify your weapons to be more useful.

Very similar to Dead Rising 2’s creation system, Dead Island takes advantage of various random items. Several of these items can be used to power up existing weapons. Most are simple additions, such as giving your weapon the chance to shock or sicken enemies, but this extra help is more than enough to make quick work of them. This system would be far better if items were easier to find. I recall at the start of the game finding wire/duct tape in a room.  Turns out that one room I found was one of the only places to find wires, which meant if you didn’t get it then, you’ll be missing wire throughout the rest of the game.This made modding weapons to shock people impossible. That is, unless I traded for it with another gamer.

While it’s nice to have the option to play with another person, the co-op system leaves a lot to be desired. The game is constantly pushing others to play together, which is great, but the system has a lot of issues. You’re told minimal information before joining a game. Since I have no clue what level rooms will be, I joined many level-one games or many low-level people tried to kill zombies 30 levels higher. Once you are in the game, there are issues with getting players together. People in  a party must come to the story spot and if two people aren’t there, you can’t start the mission, so you could easily have people joining games and never meet up with the party. This wouldn’t be an issue if you could kick people from your group, but you can’t.  Another issue is not being able to see what others pick up. It’s so frustrating when you don’t know what others pick up, especially if they aren’t using a headset; it makes it feel less like a co-op experience and more like a single-player experience, but with others there. These issues will most likely turn off many gamers who just want to have fun with others.

When open-world games come out, they usually feature a lot of bugs, and Dead Island has a whole host of them. One of the most common problems is that your game will freeze, but in an ironic turn, you can still chat with people online. Some of the other bugs include items you can’t pick them up, zombies locking in place, missions being glitched so they can’t be completed, and finally, sometimes events will lock up as well. When an event locks up, an example being that you can’t exit a room/area normally, you’re forced to exit and reload your game.

If the glitches weren’t bad enough, the game also features some poorly planned ideas. The most annoying being the waypoint, which sometimes points you the wrong way. It’s not really wrong, per say, but sometimes it will tell you to go through a mountain, instead of directing you around it. The game will show you the quickest possible route and not the quickest route you can currently travel. It becomes extremely tiring having to look at the map constantly for the correct route. The objectives can also be somewhat confusing. In some instances you need to clear out enemies, but if one is hiding, the game won’t advance or even tell you there’s one left.  Another instance is when you’re to find something and the waypoint disappears. This leaves you to figure out what/where the item is. They also use an unwelcome stamina bar. This bar offers you a set number of swings based off the weapon you’re using. Obviously, a sledge hammer uses more than a sword, but both do about the same amount of damage. The stamina bar is a nice touch, but both items doing the same amount of damage takes away from what the stamina bar is meant for. Finally, places like workshops appear on the map whether you’re able to use them or not. All of these problems can really get frustrating.

Dead Island is a good first attempt, but fell way short of the hype (created by the teaser trailer). The graphics are really disappointing and the bugs are extremely common. The final product feels rushed, which is a real shame considering it features some neat ideas. Some of the better concepts, like the analog fighting system, were hit-and-miss for many gamers. I enjoyed the combat system and the RPG elements but overall, you will most likely walk away from this game thinking it’s close, but not close enough, to being great.

Dead Island
Platform: PS3 (reviewed), 360, PC
Genre: Action
Release Date: 09/06/2011
Developer: Techland
Publisher: Deep Silver
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
MSRP: $59.99


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About Grant Gaines

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