Saturday, September 17, 2011

Review: Dead Island

Some games allow you to see past the rough edges, past the texture pop-in, past the dodgy voice acting and, crucially, past the weak plot. Dead Island is one of those games. In fact, I can honestly say that Dead Island can take its place in the short list of games I consider 'good clean fun'. Which is ironic, considering I spent the majority of my time on the tropical island of Banoi, just off Papua New Guinea, up to my armpits in infected blood.

To break it down, Dead Island plays like a cross between Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead and Fallout 3 – on steroids... and filled with zombies. Taking place on the leisure resort island, the game's long (if weak) plot leads you into sewers, cliff-tops, cities, beach bars and more, all filled with the crazed party-goers – most of which, beneath the blood, are still in bikinis. It's a strange situation.

After a somewhat lacklustre opening, the game opens up into a 20 hour+ melee of zombie smashing, quest-driven gameplay, with more than enough fun and adventures to be had to override the doubts that spring to your mind at the rough edges the game occasionally shows.
Taking the role of one of four survivors of a zombie apocalypse (blunt weapons guy, throwing guy, gun girl and sword girl, respectively), you have to hack, slash, gun and loot your way through the game's huge and varied environments – and you can bring up to three friends along for the ride. Yes, Dead Island is all about the multiplayer.

While you can (and sometimes should) take on the zombies by yourself, the game really comes to life once you log onto Playstation Network and start some co-op slashing. Anybody can join your game, but of course it's best to play with friends if you don't want a newbie to take all the loot and leave a thuggish zombie to bash your brains all over the floor.

The matchmaking, while typically slow and clunky – as with anything on PSN – does get the job done, and the extra pair of hands in the middle of a pile of zombies goes a long way. This is especially true once you get hold of one of the scarce vehicles left on the tropical paradise – it's useful having a friend in the back of your pick-up truck with a baseball bat.

Featuring a complex skill tree, XP and mods for the hundreds of weapons on the island (some you can build yourself, from a nailed bat to exploding, electrified knives), there is a lot to see and do.

The varied cast of characters you encounter along the way offer a huge array of tasks, from fetch-and-carry to exploring shipwrecks and everything in between - and you can stack quests up as you go, making it easy to complete two or three at a time. Though the map and menu interface could use some work, getting around the island as you explore it is pretty simple – even with the zombies infesting every corner of it.

Thankfully, the combat – which is the core of the game – is crunchy and satisfying.
While there are guns, you're far more likely to spend most of your time using an array of blunt and bladed instruments to get through the enemies, as well as a very useful Duke Nukem-style kick (before Duke went bad).

Choosing how to upgrade your character is a difficult decision, but after a while you finally become capable of being the zombie-killing badass you've always wanted to be, with a whole bunch of perks to help you out.

Graphically, the game is often a little rough on the eyes. While it occasionally surprises you with a stunning vista, these moments are eclipsed by the times you see textures pop in, or lighting effects go a little wonky. Animation can also be a little off, and sometimes the combat gets so intense that the game suffers some minor framerate stuttering, but it's not really noticeable unless you go looking for it.

Likewise, while the musical score is excellent - and the sound effects (zombie screams, meaty chainsaws ripping the air) are without peer - this is sadly let down by awful voice acting. I don't know if the producers hired all the B-Movie stars they could, but even when the game's actors are trying to sound serious, it just makes you laugh. Or maybe that's the effect the team behind Dead Island were going for. I don't know.

What I do know is that Dead Island is an all-round good, fun game, with the range of Fallout 3 and the intensity of Left 4 Dead. While its rough edges can be an irritation, the core gameplay, quest system and multiplayer aspects make it all worthwhile, and don't be surprised if you get sucked into the island for hours on end.

*Reviewed on PS3


I can't wait for this. L4D meets Fallout 3 is a dream gaming recipe. Is it free roaming or are you shepherded around several discrete areas?

Just finished my first session with this game and there are definitely some rough edges. But they are overshadowed by the co-op and the incredibly satisfying combat.