When the announcement trailer for Dead Island launched 3 years ago, the hype for the game was huge. For an instant, the gaming media that was so focussed on the titans of Call of Duty, Fallout etc. stopped and took notice of a new IP from a little-known studio in a way that hasn’t really happened since. Sadly, the mind-blowing CGI trailer promised more than the game could offer – which is understandable, but still a little disheartening. Dead Island is a fun game to play, but not one of the finest experiences out there.
The game was available as part of Xbox Live’s Games with Gold Programme for February, and I was always intrigued by the game on a certain level, so I thought it make sense to pick up my first game in a while.
Set on a tropical island, you take charge of one of four starting characters, each with their own specialist playing style. These four are immune to the infection that has taken over the island, and are rescued by a lifeguard who sets them off on a range of tasks to ensure the survival of those lucky enough to avoid infection. The premise is simple, if a tad on the unoriginal side, but it does set out what is a good game to play. The CGI trailer made the game seem as though it revolved around a character who had lost their family, and had went through deep emotional trauma. That level of emotion is never close to being matched by the game, which was disappointing.
The story itself is a largely uninspired effort, revolving around rather bland and predictable missions and a plethora of find-and-fetch side quests. You would expect these in an RPG, but with very little emotional engagement or interesting story events – they become repetitive. Helping people out in pseudo-random encounters can be rewarding at times, but at others feel like a chore in between you and your destination.
The overall design of the campaign’s missions isn’t great, but being an open-world game it doesn’t have to be. Simply picking a point on the map and going there can be fun, when it takes you through a dense jungle infested with the undead or over an almost unscalable hill with a swarm of enemies ready to attack you if you fall. Looting and levelling is also something that keeps you going in the game, with weapons upgrading and improving as you go on. You can mod your weapons to give them cool effects like shocking enemies or setting them on fire – which makes slaying zombies even more fun than it was already. You can upgrade your character using three skill trees, earning a point to put into the trees every time you level up. This helps your overall damage, health and your special “fury” ability – which can be activated after a long cooldown to help you attack more enemies at once. These traditional open-world elements make up for the lacklustre main story.
The general mechanics of the game are okay, but not stellar. I played as a melee character, Sam B, for most of my main play-through and combat felt good and relatively rewarding. It’s not going to take on Skyrim in terms of gameplay, but it is still fun. Ranged weapons, like guns, aren’t quite as good – with aiming being clunky and the firing of guns being rigid. Traversing the map in cars isn’t very fulfilling either, being clunky to handle and difficult to see out of in the game’s first-person perspective. However, none of this is to say that playing the game itself isn’t an enjoyable experience. Taking on groups of zombies is a thrill, especially when you are contending with different varieties – like the tank-like thug or the RAM that will charge at you.
The graphics of the game are not world-class, but not bad either. The vistas of devastation on what could have been paradise are impressive at times, but don’t stand up to close inspection. The style of graphics could be seen as somewhat of a cross between the gorgeous Far Cry 3 and the cartoony Borderlands. Character models can sometimes be a little off, particularly in conversations, but considering the age of the game it is to be expected. Cut scenes are far below the cinematic brilliance expected of top-tier games now. The game can at least be praised for having a large map through which to explore, with many different areas from the beautiful resorts to the ruined cities.
The game’s real saving grace is how well it integrates multiplayer into the campaign. After a short introduction, if you are online you can make your game open to be joined by fellow players, both on your friends list or not. Pop-ups will let you know if someone else online is doing the same mission as you, so that you can play together rather than alone. The co-op function works really well, with little lag and easy trading mechanics that enhance the experience greatly. Playing with other people makes the game a whole lot more fun. Taking on large groups of zombies on your own is nigh on impossible, but with friends it is much easier. Above all, having some company makes going out into the warzone and finding items for people much more bearable. The only downside to multiplayer is that it makes the game more prone to glitch – leaving missions unobtainable by some characters or unfinished by others.
I’m glad I got the chance to play Dead Island. I had fun playing it, although it’s not a game I’ll be returning to in a hurry to play through again. If the game appears on offer again on Xbox Live or PC, and you’ve little else on your gaming plate, then I’d say go ahead. However, for anything more than £10, there are a wide range of games that you could buy that would give you better bang for your buck. Dead Island is a passable game, but not a classic.