Dead Island Review(Xbox 360)
(NOTE: This review is based off the singleplayer experience.)
Dead Island is a new IP created by Techland who are the same people responsible for the abortion that was Call of Juarez: The Cartel. This game is a free-roam first person RPG that borrows elements from numerous other titles. The fact that this game was released is a revelation in itself since this game was long thought dead (hur hur) due to it's long and secretive development cycle. The story involves you choosing one of four different characters each with their own stats and abilities. The one I chose, for example, had better endurance and was best with throwing weapons. The story here in all respects is a pile of predictable crap that serves only as a catalyst to put you in new settings in which to massacre zombies. The little bit of story here revolves around your character who mysteriously has an immunity to this zombie virus which makes you the official errand boy for the survivors on this luxurious vacation island. Normally I wouldn't give two shits about a zombie game's story but when the trailers build it up as an emotionally-charged epic then I get kind of disappointed that it's just the same old same old.
Where the story lacks Dead Island makes up with fun gameplay. The combat here revolves heavily around melee combat with weapons such as knives, bats, hammers, axes, etc. and all of which can be modded and upgraded similar to those in Dead Rising 2. Throughout the game you will find workbenches where you then can fix then upgrade the weapons in your inventory. Upgrading weapons will change the stats associated with them such as it's damage and the percentage at which they can perform a knockdown. At these workbenches you can also create your own mods and weapons from blueprints you obtain by finding them out in the wild or as rewards from quests. These mods range from throwing knives with plastique on them to status effect mods to your weapons like adding electricity, fire and poison to your knives, axes and bats. To make these mods you have to loot various components like phones, wires and batteries from either bodies or from any openable container just like in Fallout 3. You then take your toys out to destroy the undead in a very satisfying manner. The melee controls here come in two different varieties that are selectable in the options menu. First you have digital combat, the default, which involves using right trigger to swing your weapon at random with the right stick being used for moving the camera as well as targeting specific body parts. The other style is analog and feels very similar to the Swingstick technology found in the MLB 2K games. Here you hold down the left trigger to target an enemy body part then you motion the right analog stick in a swinging motion of your choosing. For example if you want to take off a zombie's left arm your best bet is to target it then move the right analog stick in a motion from right to left. The analog style takes a little time to get used to but in the end feels very satisfying and adds much needed depth to the otherwise generic combat. One thing that does dampen the combat, though, is the stamina system. Whenever you use a melee weapon, jump or sprint your character will use up a stamina meter like those found in Oblivion or the WWE games. While it's not always a hassle I found that sometimes my stamina would drain when I was hit trying to swing my weapon but not getting it out. When you run out of stamina you are basically defenseless outside of a kick move performed using the left bumper which mainly serves as crowd control. QUICK TIP: If you jump before using the kick it will always score a knockdown on non-special zombies. You will also get a small amount of firearms in the game as well like assault rifles, pistols and shotguns. To use them is standard fare with left trigger going into auto-aim ironsights and right trigger shooting. The shooting feels fine but the problem is that enemies are bullet-sponges. Expect to use a whole clip to take down a zombie and the only way to get a one hit headshot kill is if you score a critical hit.
The main reasons guns are introduced, about 40% through the story, is because you take on human enemies that have the ai of an Atari 2600 game. The enemies just stand still and proceed to fire an endless clip of ammo until you die, rather quickly I might add. These fights aren't fun and make you realize that all you want to do in this game is bash in zombie skulls. The problem is, though, even the melee combat against zombie gets dull after awhile. Eighty percent into the story I just started ignoring all combat and sprinting my way through danger zones to get to the next automated checkpoint. This game really starts to go downhill rather fast. You eventually get to the point where you are constantly doing escort missions for brain-dead retards that run into danger and die faster than you can swing a weapon. One point in the story I had to escort someone through a village which obviously was infested with zombies. So what my escortee decided to do was go after the biggest "special" zombie there while the lesser ones clawed out his back. This led to him dying in about 30 seconds and me not able to kill the zombies fast enough to stop it. The other problems here were that I had no health and couldn't respawn back to full because he would die first during my five second respawn leading to me having to do the scene over with no health and my weapons fully degraded. This part was literally impossible to beat and was only conquered when I decided to game the system and run as far away as possible to repair my weapons. Apparently npc's can't die if you don't see it. I ran into this same problem in a few later quests as well. Completing these quests and doing other random acts will earn you experience points to level up where you will then get skill points. You can use these skill points to power up certain abilities in a Borderlands-esque tri skill tree. You can either level up your character-specific abilities or add other things like better stamina, more damage with certain weapons or the ability to pick certain locks.
The escort glitch was not the only glitch I encountered on my adventures but it was certainly one of the worst. On multiple occasions I had the game outright freeze on me while attempting to get mission info. I also had it where mission givers outright disappear off the face of the earth but their icons still appeared on the map. Another quest giver also decided that apparently he didn't want me working for him so I was unable to cash in my quest for a reward for about 3 hours. One of the biggest problems I had with this game was the save feature implemented. You can't form a hard save whenever you please like in Fallout but instead the game will just randomly create a save whenever it pleases. The problem here is that even when the screen says "Game saved" it's not always saving data. At one point I had to to a rather awful quest of turning on 4 speakers littered around town, return to the quest giver, turn on 4 more speakers further away, return to the quest giver, turn on yet another 4 speakers even further away before finally returning to the quest giver. I did all of this and while returning to complete the quest I did another mission on the way. The screen read "Game saved" after doing this and I returned and completed the 12 speakers quest. I waited for the game once again to say "Game saved" then turned my 360 off for the night. When I started the game up the next day half of the progress on the speaker mission was gone but the mission I had done after it was still completed. I know on release day Techland released a patch to fix 40 or so problems but it looks like they missed another 80 or so. What a shame.
The visuals of Dead Island are a mixed bag. When you first step out into the island and see the beautiful scenery with a great draw distance you are at a loss for words. The sky and the backdrops are gorgeous but the actual world you play in looks horrendous. The main problem Dead Island faces is the use of the Chrome Engine which means that just like in The Cartel you will see some of the worst texture pop in imaginable. Like pulling out a baseball bat and having it morph from a giant toothpick to a rounded bat before your eyes? Like watching cutscenes where every time the camera changes the textures on EVERYTHING have to reload leaving it all to look like a very clean looking ps2 game? Well Dead Island is for you! The other big problem this game faces graphically are the character models. The zombies look fine but the npc's and quest givers you meet are basically 2 different characters. You have generic female in a bikini with blonde hair whose looking for her friend who happens to be her clone only with black hair. You also have dad of another character, killed, only to show up later as a scientist, a refugee, and as a zombie. When the textures aren't popping in and you aren't looking at npc's, the world looks good and you will venture into a few diverse locations on your journey. I also have to throw in that the muzzle flashes from guns look like they were created by a child in MS Paint.
Where Dead Island really shines in the graphics department is with the technology used on the zombie models. Here not only can you chop off limbs but you can also break bones and shard chunks of flesh off of those bones. The gaping wounds look great and the break/cut mechanic also adds alot to how you play the game. Breaking the arm of a Thug zombie, for example, will render his main arm attacks useless leaving him to try and headbutt you very slowly. The dismemberment and gore here is very satisfying and coupled with the analog combat make the best thing Dead Island has going for it.
Much like the graphics, the audio in Dead Island is hit or miss. The weapon hits and gunshots are thick and chunky but the greatest bits of audio come from the zombies themselves. Each and every zombie makes a satisfyingly grotesque groan when just stumbling about or when running at you at a hundred miles per hour. The zombie audio is also satisfying when turning their heads into pulp and hearing the bones crack and pop. The music heard in Dead Island is great ranging from sad piano tracks to 80's action movie fight music. I really love the theme played when idling at the main menu. Where Dead Island takes an audio nose dive is in some of the character voice-overs. My character for example, was a young Texan football star that sounded like a 60-year old illiterate redneck. Most of the NPC's sound fine but I ran into a couple occasions where it seems they change voice actors mid-game. Kind of reminded me of the Batarian voice glitch in Mass Effect 2. In one case I had rescued a Russian pilot who crashed his helicopter. When I got to him he had a very convincing fake Russian accent but after I rescued him he started on this accent of God knows what while giving me my quest reward. I guess you can chalk another glitch up on the board.
There is $60 of content here but whether that content is worth it is up to you. I put about 21 hours in which included doing about 80% of the sidequests and the complete story. You can also factor in playing as three other characters, finding unique weapons and the 4-player coop and you have around a hundred hours of possible content. The problem here is that alot of the content is just plain boring. The sidequests all involve fetching items for useless survivors and the story is artificially lengthened due to the fact that all of the main quest givers won't give you the next story quest until you do some of the other sidequests found in the game. You will get some enjoyment from the combat as long as you switch it to analog. This will make a fun weekend guilty pleasure for killing zombies with a few friends but I cannot recommend a full purchase with all the glaring flaws involved.
This game could have been amazing. A free-roam FPS zombie survival game has been a wet dream of mine for a long time. In some ways Dead Island accomplishes it's goals with a huge open world to explore and satisfying combat. The problem here lies in awful pacing and tacked-on missions. I loved the first 10 or so hours but the other 10 I put in became a boring grind to flesh out the non-existent story. There is an amazing game located in here somewhere but you have to shovel through all of the horrific technical problems and the odd design choices to get to it. I really wanted to love this game and thought game of the year potential at first but Techland, I guess, doesn't think that way.