Once upon a time, there was an island. Not some weird island where people are doomed to crash land, push buttons and fear smoke monsters (although like the J.J. Abrams TV show, there are a lot of Australians). This was a tropical paradise catered for the desires of all. The only trouble was that the inhabitants were primarily zombies.
You are on Dead Island, the once luscious get-away of Banoi turned bananas in this FPS survival horror. There has been a lot of hype about this game in recent months, primarily thanks to a stunning movie-style trailer. Considering this game was originally announced to be in development five years ago, it was quite remarkable that people were so willing to dust off the cobwebs and pay attention, but seeing a little girl trying to eat peoples’ brains out will probably do that for you!
The only trouble there is that when you finally put the game in your console, you’ve hyped yourself up to expect the greatest title of all time to jump back out at you. Unfortunately, in reality you find a mish-mash of astounding games from the past three years, in a not so perfect, but undeniably ‘decent’ game.
From the get-go, Dead Island is like a gaming equivalent of a buffet table at a Gordon Ramsey restaurant, with a greatest hits of gaming styles on offer. The opening moments of the game feel incredibly like a not-so-under-water Bioshock, in style, graphics and controls. This is by no means a bad thing, as obviously Bioshock is one of the standout titles on next-gen consoles.
Graphically, the game is very attractive, and if it wasn’t for the undead swarming around the pool, I’d be tempted to book a package deal with Thomas Cook tomorrow. The playable area is huge and thanks to the main and sub missions, exploring the island doesn’t feel like a chore, despite the frustrating vehicle controls and views which are often required to travel from one part of the island to another!
Next on the menu is the combat system. This one takes a lot from Dead Rising, with weapon building components and even a workbench table to create them. Running on a blueprints system, the need to explore the island is essential to find the best weapon plans and the items needed to build them, and once in hand, a whole host of limb slicing, bone crunching weaponry is at your disposal in beautiful bloody horror; this game definitely got its gore content right!
The four characters available all come with their own combination of upgradable weapon preferences and ‘Fury Skills’ (much like Borderlands!) so there is a definite lure of multiple run throughs to experience all that the individual characters have to offer. There is also the option for online four player co-op, and after running into some seriously beefy zombie ‘Thugs’, the appeal of getting a helping hand became more and more attractive! Once playing with others, the real survival element seems to feel more prominent and much more fun.
With each character as one of the only four people immune to the zombie virus on the island, much of the campaign is split in search and rescue missions for items and survivors, but like games of a similar genre, they rarely feel repetitive, mainly due to the threat of undead charging at you with a moment’s notice. The zombies themselves also offer an array of challenges depending on the particular classification (including walkers, infected, rams and butchers), who all level up alongside the characters.
The game overall offers some very enjoyable play time and also creates a good dosage of atmosphere despite the bright and sunny setting. As with most games, it does have its frustrations such as minor glitches and unclear mission directions which can often leave you in the middle of beaches scratching your head as you’re not quite sure exactly what it expects you to do. Once you find your groove, you begin to appreciate what the game has to offer, and with such a large island to explore, you’re sure to have hours of blood thirsty fun, regardless of where it got all its ideas from.
With a bit more consideration to the greater whole rather than the elements of gameplay that work well on their own, Dead Island could have been a scorcher. Unfortunately it feels like Techland spent far too much time blending the best ingredients from a variety of games instead of finding Dead Islands individual identity and being bold enough to make a real statement of its own that would be remembered for years to come.