Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dead Island PC Review

Dead Island is a frustrating zombie game that delivers on zombies, but let's you down with so many other aspects. It's a game that makes itself easy to hate, especially with the awful buggy release it had, yet at the same time it makes you want to look past it's poor aspects in order to find something thoroughly enjoyable underneath. I finally conquered Dead Island this last weekend, ending up at around thirty five hours and level thirty nine. Many reviews I saw of this game had done just a minimal amount, very few side quests and not much cooperative playing, so I decided to do it all. I bring this review to you as a reviewer who tried to do everything there possibly was to do in Dead Island, every single quest, hours of cooperative play and many of the secrets.

Brief Overview
Dead Island is a non-linear zombie survival role playing game that came out on September 6th for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. It boasted a large island to explore, many hours of gameplay, four different characters to play, easy to use online cooperative play, tons of rpg elements, driveable vehicles and an "intense" story. It is developed by Techland, a new company, and it had a very rocky start when it was released. It was about a week after release before most players could play the game in a reasonable state and they are still trying to fix all of the technical problems the game was released with. All of those features do exist in the game, but none of them are fully realized. If you wish to skip over the many paragraphs about gameplay, graphics and the story, then head to the very end to see my quick break down plus final score.

Gameplay is probably one of the best aspects of Dead Island, it is genuinely fun to tear zombies apart and when you team up with other people it gives even better. Although, it does suffer for being repetitive and having hit detection problems. Dead Island is a first person shooter, but it focuses on melee combat, while firearms feel a secondary. You can select different parts of a zombie to cut off and there is also an analog option that makes it so you can aim at body parts without relying on the auto targeting. The Analog option makes the controls feel a little less generic, but it also makes Dead Island feel more like a console game. Cutting off the limbs of zombies actually matters, if you cut off their arms then they will have a harder time hitting you. The thug, for example, is a large zombie that moves slowly but has a ton of health and if he hits you it sends you flying; so, in order to take him down, especially when you are low level, you need to cut off his arms before trying to end his life. Zombies can be killed in a large variety of ways, like burning them, decapitating them, electrocuting them, blowing them up, shooting them and so many other fun options. Zombies use an Oblivion like leveling system, meaning that enemies stay near your level throughout the entire game, always providing you with plenty of experience and challenge. Yet, this type of leveling system also makes you feel like you've never truly conquered an area nor grown powerful. 

Gameplay trailer showing off many parts of the game

There are four characters in the game, each of which have a weapon type specialty. Specialties only really show up in the skill trees, each character has one different row of skills due to their specialty, while there are two other rows that are the same for all characters. The skill tree in this game feels a little like Deus Ex's, in the sense that it's very hard to max out all of your skills, but unlike Deus Ex, most skills do not fundamentally change anything other than attributes. The two non character specific trees have to do with rage and survival. The survival tree is incredibly useful, adding increased healing, better loot, more inventory space and that kind of good stuff. On the other hand, the rage tree directly affects the kamikaze ability, rage. Rage is an ability that makes you character go into a berserk mode that does crazy amounts of damage for a short period of time. You have a rage meter that builds up through killing and injuring zombies. While you are in rage mode you can still get hit, so that it's one downside. If you get hit by a zombie that knocks you down you will usually lose your rage by the time you get back up, unfortunately. The skill tree helps out with making it last longer, do more damage and build it up quicker. Rage can get you out of some really tricky situations and it usually makes you feel like a bad ass, but it seems to be more useful to put a lot of your skill points into the other skill trees. Other than the skill tree, there would be very little point to leveling other than enemies and weapons leveling with you, but the act of leveling does not increase anything it just merely gives you skills points to distribute. Gameplay is pretty well done, definitely a bit flawed though. Unfortunately, gameplay is probably the high point of Dead Island. 

Quests and Story
The length of Dead Island comes from it's side quests. Like Fallout 3, you can run through the main story in about ten hours, while if you attempt to do all the side quests then you probably will hit twenty to thirty hours. Unlike Fallout 3, the side quests are not often of the same quality as the main story quests. For the most part quests in this game tend to be generic fetch or kill quests, offering no real emotional or story impact. One of the most insulting aspects of Dead Island is how it was originally marketed as a open world zombie survival game with a lot of heart, but that is not how it turned out. Side quests have absolutely no emotional impact, which is made worse by the decisions throughout the main story. It is something that I must explain because it is so very frustrating.

Slight Spoiler Warning
No matter what you do with side quests or the main story the game will end in the same way. A big part of the draw to many of the stories/quests throughout the game is the idea that you are helping people, presumably helping them get off the island, but the game put's absolutely no weight into that idea. Sure, you help plenty of people, save plenty of people, but in the end it doesn't matter at all and when you get to the end of the game it cements that idea that none of it mattered. Throughout the game I was constantly hoping that there would be some kind of loop around with the story by tying everything together and concluding it, but the end of the game is a big slap in the face.
Spoiler End

Remember this trailer? Well it's nothing like this unfortunately

The quest system also falters in several other ways. In the beginning of the game the quests are fun and unique, but by the time you get halfway through you start to recognize that your just doing the same kind of quests over and over again. Another negative about the questing system is how unrealistic the stories are. I've seen a lot of bad mission/quest ideas and writing, but Dead Island's lack of real world sense is painful. Sure most aspects of Dead Island don't feel realistic and they don't offend the sensibilities of the players, but when you get a quest to go kill some guy held up in his house in the middle of a zombie infested city, all because the quest giver thinks hes a scumbag; then you have to say hold on a second...there are zombies everywhere and this is what you need help with. There are so many quests and stories like that in the game that it's quite offensive. It shows a world where people think the same as they did before the zombie outbreak and they have "first world problems", meaning there problems are absolutely ridiculous compared to the problems of so many other people, like the people running from zombies and just trying survive one more day. One of the main things to throw you off is money, why does everyone want and offer money and why do you have to use money to repair your weapons. The currency system makes little sense and never apologizes for itself.

I am glad to say that most of the main quests in the game are not so stupid, but they are often just as repetitive as the side quests in the game. The nice thing about the quests in the game is that there are a ton of them, lasting you a long time and giving players plenty to do cooperatively. The main quests tend to be longer than the side quests and actually involving some displays of emotion, but they are few and far between. You actually learn quite a bit about the story of Dead Island through collectibles, recordings and fact books. The recordings are really well done. They have great voice acting, they effectively present a real world perspective on the story and they actually make you care. Had the actual story of the game been anything like the ten collectible recordings, that piece together the story of a journalist, then the overall experience would have been more satisfying.

There isn't a lot to say about the graphics of Dead Island. The animations in the game are varied, some looking pretty decent while others look like they were never intended to be seen. The jungle environment is gorgeous at times, presenting streams of sunlight breaking through vines across a lush area, but as soon as you start looking close at anything you realize that it's really not that impressive compared to today's standards. The graphics for weapons are also pretty varied. For instance, some of the effects on weapons look great, while others look like old models that they never quite finished making into high resolution. Zombies are thankfully pretty good looking and the gore aspect of the game works appropriately well for a game that is all about melee. Generally, Dead Island looks good, but underneath everything that looks good is a layer that looks old and generic. 

Last Comments
I really liked Dead Island when it was working right. It filled the a need for zombies that few others games have come close, but in the end it left me feeling like I wasted a lot of time and didn't get much out of it. There is future content coming, but it cannot change what is broken and boring about the game, it can only hope to extenuate the good aspects of Dead Island. This game did a great job making me feel conflicted from the beginning, but it did not end in their favor. After a month of being out, Dead Island still has plenty of bugs, some of which are truly awful. For instance, just recently I joined someones game and then it dropped connection, when I came back into my world I had a bunch of old quests and I was in the wrong place. For all that Dead Island does wrong, it does do quite a few things right. It does create a often tense, scary and chaotic atmosphere. It also handles gameplay in an unique manner, but one that needed a little more polishing and variety. There are so many better games out, and coming out, that I cannot recommend Dead Island to anyone. Maybe once Christmas comes around and it's on sale for cheap, then I could endorse it, but I don't want anyone to stick through this long repetitive adventure only to find that it doesn't deliver in anyway. Thanks for reading. 

   The Good                                                                      The Not So Good

-A lot of quests to do.
-The world can be terrifying at times
-Many weapons to find and create
-Online works well and it's easy to jump into other players games
-Zombies are continiouslly challenging throughout the entire game
-The melee based gameplay is really solid and enjoyable
-The game rarely crashes, since the first week
-Very many collectibles to find
-Challenges and Achievements are offered
-Skill trees offer plenty of options
-Some great looking environments
-Many craftable items to find and create
-A variety of zombies to learn how to fight
-Zombie sounds are well done
-Graphical glitches are all over the world
-Atrociously bad release
-Firearms are powerful, but stinted
-The world is not truly an open world, it has many restrictions
-You have no impact or choices on the story
-The story is poorly done and emotionally flat
-The infected class of zombies are absolutely obnoxious
-Characters are forgettable
-Cars act like they take damage, but never break down
-Some poor weapon textures
-Graphics seem dated
-Hit detection is very sporatic
-Currency is annoying
-The end is very unsatisfying
-There are secret recipes to find, but they aren't worth the time

 Violent Score: 7 (out of 10)

-Written by Sean Cargle


  1. It sounds like you were expecting too much from a game that CLEARLY is only meant to be a hack and slash.I bet if you spent more time having fun than complaining about how unrealistic it is (its a zombie apocalypse, what do you want?) you would like a lot more games

    Plants Vs. Zombies gets a higher score than this? What is wrong with you?

  2. Plants Vs. Zombies delivers in a lot more ways than Dead Island. I understand that is meant to be a hack and slash, but it tried to do so many things at once that it couldn't enrich it's greatest features. I definitely enjoyed the game, but due to it's length, repetitiveness and lack of intriguing story lines, I ended up upset with it. It's worth noting that without all the bug's and technical problems, this probably would have received an 8 at least. Thank you for commenting though, don't get enough of that around here.