Posted Thu 6th Oct 2011 10:43pm by Ruser Saldana
Dead Island Review
Dead Island is a video game and developer Techland won’t let you forget that. There are reminders throughout: respawns, a trivial money system, and dozens of women wearing the same bikini. It’s a shame; taking on zombies in Dead Island is an engaging exercise in melee combat, but the reliance on simple gaming devices quickly destroys any sense of immersion. The scope of your task evokes a satisfying sense of desperation and hopelessness – “satisfying” in the sense that getting off the island should be difficult, and Dead Island is perfectly set up to challenge gamers. Ultimately, it is a difficult game but not for the right reasons.
All four playable characters are immune to whatever is turning people into zombies, but there is no panacea for bleeding out or being torn apart by these creatures. The roads are littered with wrecked automobiles, and chewed-on corpses are strewn about; it’s clear that a single person wielding a baseball bat stands very little chance escaping the island of Banoi. More effective weapons become available as you progress through the game, but surviving an island full of zombies with anything less than a tank appears to be impossible.
There are guns in the game, but you’ll mostly do your damage with blunt and sharp objects: boat paddles, pipes, sticks, machetes, kitchen knives, etc. The game controls well – analog control for swinging weapons is particularly nice – and seeing gory, real-time damage on zombies is especially pleasing. Most importantly, the game asks you to assess each zombie confrontation and consider your options. A single Walker zombie might be easy enough to dispatch as it slowly makes its way towards you, but how about three or four at once? Can you outrun a pack of Infected zombies? Is your machete long enough to attack a Thug while staying out of its reach? The excellent mix of zombie types combined with your surroundings and available weapons will affect your zombie strategies as you make your way through the game’s 16 chapters. Dead Island is not a straightforward action title where you take on every zombie you see; neither is it a pure horror game where running is usually the best option. It’s a successful mix of the two, one that constantly has you changing gears. It’s unique in that way: a surprisingly thoughtful approach to interaction with the undead.
Less thought appears to have been put into the overall design of the game. Respawning takes away much of the thrill; there’s no sense of urgency knowing you’ll respawn in the same area with full health. Items, weapons, and vehicles reappear when you load an area, and these reliable sources of aid diminish the sense of desperation. Talent trees have too many passive abilities: they’re helpful, but in practice, not very interesting. And for some reason, all the women at the resort wear the same bikinis. It’s really odd.
Even odder than that is the cost to use workbenches. Money can be used to make purchases at merchants, but it’s most useful for repairing, upgrading, and modifying all the free weapons that you find around the island. Paying someone for these services would be understandable but as it is, your character does all the work. So where does all the money go?
This might seem like a trivial aspect of the game to nitpick – and perhaps it is – but it’s indicative of the game’s overall design problem: much of the challenge feels manufactured. Why is losing money a meaningful penalty? Because it costs money to repair weapons despite doing the work yourself. Why aren’t other survivors helping the playable characters? Because only the playable characters are inexplicably immune to the disease. Why must you go on so many quests unrelated to getting off the island? Because you need certain people’s help and they won’t help you unless you break a friend out of jail or fight a bunch of people to the death. The game isn’t difficult because zombies are especially vicious or because the trek through the island is particularly arduous: it’s difficult because the designers wanted it to be. They made money more important than it actually is, constructed a weak plot device to explain why only four characters can do all the work, and filled the game with many useless but required quests.
There are other problems. Cut scenes don’t flesh out the underdeveloped plot and the main characters come off as ridiculous stereotypes. The writing is filled with random f-bombs and textures load seconds after the rest of the visuals do. Shootouts with local gangs take too long and are an unwanted break from zombie-killing. But the contrived nature of the game is Dead Island’s biggest shortcoming.
Instead of structuring the game as a quest for survival with plot points and missions organically appended to the adventure, Dead Island handcuffs players to rudimentary gaming devices and hands them a laundry list of quests to complete. But taking on zombies is a lot of fun, and I don’t know if any game does it better than Dead Island. This is especially true online where a simple press of a button simulates the exciting discovery of another survivor fighting his or her way through the thick of things. The result is a good zombie video game, but one that could have been a much more satisfying experience.
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