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Survival in the Jungle – A Week of Fun with Dead Island

2011-09-14 by . 4 comments

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2nd Review Attempt: The Revenge of the Zombies

Now that the launch mess has been sorted out, I finally got my hands on a proper copy of Dead Island.  Dead Island is best described as being the unholy lovechild of Left 4 Dead 2 and Borderlands, combining the zombie survival genre with Borderlands style loot collecting of weapons. Being a fan of any game involving zombies, I spent 30 hours thoroughly exploring and enjoying the game before writing this review.

Warning. Contains some spoilers!

Graphics and Effects

The graphics of Dead Island is gorgeous. The wonderful dichotomy of a tropical paradise filled with gristly corpses, blood, and carnage makes a lasting impression. A drained swimming pool coated with blood and dead corpses will immediately make you go on heightened alert. There MUST be some zombies in there; will they wake up as you try to sneak by? The artwork, music, and ambient sound are really well done and keep you well engaged in the game.

Blood from a killed zombie slowly seeps into the water.

Grisly scene indeed.

Gameplay

Dead Island does a lot of things right in its gameplay. The combat mechanics are extremely well done, where each attack with a melee weapon feels slightly different, and using shorter weapons such as daggers and knives against zombies can be quite hazardous to your health as they require you to get very up close and personal. Knocking down a zombie can be very satisfying, and the curb stomp afterwards is equally so, especially with the high heels wearing Asian chick. It brings a smile to my face every time when the very last thing a zombie sees are two tiny heels stabbing their way into their rotting eye sockets.

High-heeled feet of fury.

Dead Island also allows you to throw your weapons at zombies. This is a great design choice. The game forces you to make the decision of using weapon on a zombie up close (and put yourself in far more danger), or throwing your weapon to do some ranged damage but then put yourself in a position where you may run out of weapons if your current one breaks. Just don’t do this in multiplayer with random people, however, as they’ll happily take your weapon and keep it for themselves. Unfortunately, as the game proceeded on, and the weapons grew stronger (and more expensive to throw as they are now upgraded), it became less and less likely that I would throw my weapon and instead, I relied more on guns and grenades. It is a shame that the throw weapon mechanic fell onto the wayside.

The character skill choices are also quite interesting. Each is given a unique special ‘fury’ tree (which is utter death to all if you are Xian), a fairly tailored combat tree, and a Survival tree that is very similar across all the classes. Fury is by far the most entertaining of trees to use, especially as Xian. It is just not a good idea in most games to piss off the tiny Asian chick, because if you do, she will most likely pull out a tiny pen knife and filet you. Xian does exactly that by whipping out her pocket knife and going absolutely berserk. And when the fury is done, all you are left with are freshly diced corpses and the gaping mouths of your teammates as they stare at you in awe. Then they’ll usually grimace and mutter something about the stupid stick they are holding and how they should’ve gone for bladed weapons.

Blood will flow when the little pocket knife comes out.

The second tree is fairly standard, and boosts the damage, weapon durability, or amount of bullet you can carry. It also gives some skills that adds special effects like extra chance to perform a critical or conditions that are applied with your attack.

It is the last skill tree (Survival) that makes the least sense, at least for Xian. The entire tree should just be renamed to saving money as just about each skill in the tree is designed to do just that. Improving health kit healing keeps you alive longer… so you don’t die and lose money as often. Lowering shop costs or the ability to open locked chests is more of the same. I highly regretted wasting skill points into the lock picking skill as I did not find a single decent weapon from any chests I opened in the entire game. The improved XP skills are equally useless as the level cap is 50 and those become wasted skill points once you hit max level. At the very least, the Techland could have put in some skills that boost item find chances (I know Purna has some), which would make the entire skill tree slightly more useful.

There are also quite a few rough edges in the gameplay of Dead Island, especially towards the later maps. The first two areas (the resort and town) feel extremely polished and well done, with lots of tiny nooks and crannies hiding goodies for you to find and grab along with many side quests. As the game proceeded on, however, the missions and zones became much more tedious and linear as a good portion of the late game is basically one big escort quest so you are forced to fight waves of zombies at random times. The big issue I have with forced escort quests is the glitchiness of the missions themselves. There were many times where the NPC would get stuck for no reason, and I had to go and kill some random zombie that was apparently causing them to not move (usually the zombie is a prone one lying face down somewhere) so I could proceed with my quest. The forced fights and escort missions are a huge contrast with the early freedom of exploration part of the game.

Perhaps a kick to your head will get you moving again.

I also butted heads with some of the weird design decisions within the game. The first of which is the convoluted ways the game tries to keep you within its zones. It was early on in Act I when I first ran into this phenomena, I was in a U-shaped bay with bungalows on each side. My quest was supposed to take me from one side to the other. However, when I tried to go through the water in a straight line, a big unfriendly “You are Leaving the Playable Area” sign appeared in front of my character. When I tried to continue, the game teleported me back to the previous checkpoint. I found that rather silly.

But... I just want to go over there!

At another point in the game, I was up on a second story of a house and I wanted to toss some fuel canisters to the designated area down below rather than having to carry them down. Again, the game blocked me and I found myself staring at a canister that was hovering in mid air because it ran into some invisible wall and got stuck. Instead, the game forced me to take a few steps to the left and carry the fuel cans down. It is design choices like this that makes me think that Dead Island should have spent a little more time polishing its edges and adding more content into the later levels.

That must be some heavy air to be able to make a gas can fly.

The Big Mistake (contains minor spoilers)

There is one huge glaring mistake in Dead Island; it’s so big that it deserves its own section. This mistake can occur during any of the escort missions (I HATE escort missions with a passion), but in particular, one of the late game escort mission where you are taking a chief through a village involving super zombies. I call them super zombies because they are mean f***kers that are ultra fast and durable. If the chief dies during this sequence, the quest and the zombie spawns are reset… BUT YOUR WEAPONS ARE NOT. So you’ll try again, with slightly damaged weapons, over and over again, until you are all out of options. At this point, your game, effectively, is over. You cannot continue beyond this point without outside assistance, and you cannot easily go back to town to repair your weapons as the escort character will die if you aren’t there to assist, triggering another restart. This is a terrible game design choice and I wonder if Techland has done any gameplay testing in the later missions at all. I eventually bailed myself out by of that situation finding a co-op partner to protect the chief while I repaired my weapons. Speaking of which…

CO-OP

The co-op in Dead Island has a lot of potential to be great, but turns out to be fairly messy and not very well done. The closest description I would have for it is that it is very similar to how co-op is handled in Borderlands (i.e. not very well). While experience and money is shared, loot and items are dropped based on a first person to grab it wins sort of experience. That coupled with the fact that unless you have dedicated people to play with, you may end up being stuck with random people with names such as Nippleshot. Co-op also takes a lot of the suspense into the game, as long as one person constantly kicks while the other few people hacks away, you basically become a invincible zombie killing machine. Overall, my recommendation would be to play with people you know, or don’t play co-op at all.

Nippleshots is waiting for you to join him.

Story (contains spoilers)

Rule #1 of zombie games. You don’t play them for the story. Rule #2, see rule #1.

The thought that I might spoil the ‘story’ of this game to someone is very laughable, but I must post the warning just in case.

The DI story is very flimsy, and consists mostly of “do what the bossy asshole on the radio tells you to do.” By the end of the game I was ready to kill that dude, if I could only find him. Lo and behold, he betrays you then you get to kill him (yay!). Bam, he’s dead (filleted by the Asian chick). The End.

Moving on now…

Summary

Dead Island is a bucket load of hack-and-slash fun in a zompocalyptic world. It hooks you very fast with the need of getting bigger and better loot and brings a sense of dread and intensity in the early levels, but becomes a little stagnant towards the end of the game. If you can find people you know to play co-op, that is definitely the way to go, other wise you’ll end up trying to get your weapons back from someone called Nippleshot or being repeatedly slaughtered as your weapons fall to pieces.

2.5/5 Entertaining, but needs polish. (Would have been 3.5 if it wasn’t for the big mistake.)

Recommendation: Buy (during the next Steam sale, and hopefully after patches are made).

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4 Comments

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  • Mana says:

    “Rule #1 of zombie games. You don’t play them for the story. Rule #2, see rule #1.”

    Man, it’s such a shame. The early trailers made it seem like this was going to be a zombie game that actually put emphasis on the story/emotions. It worked well as advertising, but it just got way too many hopes up.

  • Wipqozn says:

    STory? Emotions? Zombies? You should be in a windows 7 commercial @mana.

  • yx_ says:

    @Mana

    Yes, that trailer really got the hopes up of a lot of people (including me), but then I remembered rule #1 :P

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