Top critical review
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[PC] Only worthwhile with a friend or two.
on September 16, 2011
As a fan of zombie games, and a fan of co-operative games, I was pretty excited for the release of Dead Island to play with my friend. Then it actually came out, and all my expectations were shattered...
1. GAMEPLAY: The gameplay is horribly uninspired. You choose one of four characters (blade-centric, throwing-centric, melee-centric and gun-centric), and then proceed to kill zombies and complete missions for experience to level up. Each time you level up, you get a skill point to spend in the character's "unique" skill trees. Each character has 3 trees: Fury, which is basically the character's special move and spending points in this tree helps go towards enhancing the effects of Fury; Combat, which is the character's effectiveness with his or her specific background description (IE, Xian, the blade-character, has combat skills which revolve around landing more Critical Hits with knives and machetes, whereas Logan, the throwing-character, has combat skills which revolve around increasing damage with thrown weapons); and Survival, which is just a random assortment of skills, mostly shared between characters, that allow you to do things like pick locked chests or repair weapons for less money. I would like to point out that the only real "Skill" you have in the game is the Fury move that you can unlock with 1 point; all other so-called "Skills" are basically modifiers to how much damage the character does or how much money he/she has to spend.
Besides this, there are no real RPG-elements to the game. Zombies scale with your level the entire way through, as do weapons, and you'll gain health as you level up. Other than that, there are no attributes you have to manage, or even get to look at for that matter. As I said, it's basically a first person hack-and-slash with some RPG elements thrown in to the mix.
There are dozens of weapons in this game, from pipes to hammers to katanas and assault rifles. You'd think that such a wide variety would lend itself to several different play styles, but this is unfortunately not so. A majority of the weapons are objectively worse than others. Compare Diving Knives and Axes to a Machete, for instance. Diving Knives are EXTREMELY fast, which should make them perfect against scoring massive amounts of damage in a short amount of time. Except, their durability ratings are so low that they break after two kills, leaving them completely worthless until you can repair them again. Likewise, an Ax does MASSIVE amounts of damage in one hit, and has high durability, but the swing is so unbearably slow that you will have to rely more on kicking the zombies back if you want to even think about using it. So really, the only logical choice between the three is a Machete, which has a fair balance of durability, damage and speed.
Throughout the game you'll find weapon mods, which can add elemental damage (or just increase damage) of a weapon. You'll use items you scavenge in chests, luggage, etc, in order to modify these. This is actually a pretty cool feature of the game. Unfortnately, the repairing and upgrading aspect of weapons (done at the same work benches) was not so well-thought out. Instead of using any physical materials, you just spend money to repair the equipment. There's no point in paying money, since you're not paying a person, and most of the work benches are in abandoned areas anyway. This aspect of the game felt extremely rushed.
The combat itself is also very redundant. On a PC, with a mouse and keyboard, you're locked in to using the "Digital" control mode, which only allows you to left click to swing your weapon. If you have a gamepad, you can switch to "Analog", which adds more indepth combat to the mix; namely, controlling how and when your weapon swings exactly (it lets you prep your weapon for attack). The combat essentially always boils down to either Kicking zombies and stomping them when they are down (if they are in a group of 3 or less), or if they're in a group of 4 or more, engaging in Fury mode and wiping them all out in a matter of seconds. Or, kiting (strafing around them and attacking). There's not much variation to it. Firearms are weak against zombies, but are capable of taking down human enemies in one hit to the head... And because ammo is in limited quantities, it's basically a way for the game to control how you play throughout the game.
GRAPHICS: I don't have a lot to say about the graphics. They look OK (maybe an 8/10, not ultra-realistic but they won't make your eyes bleed). Perhaps the most detailed thing about this game, though, are the zombie models as they take damage. It's impressive to light a zombie on fire and watch the skin and muscle melt off, "Raiders of the Lost Ark"-style.
STORY/AMBIENCE: So far I haven't spoken too highly of the game, so you may wonder why I gave it a 2. As the title suggests, I played it with my friend, and it was fairly enjoyable to team up and share commentary, glitches we encountered, and just strategize together. That said, the rest of the world just feels utterly lifeless, be it with a friend or offline. This may seem like a cool thing in a zombie game, but it's not. Half of the characters you encounter have NO desire to save themselves, and seem more concerned about finding lost teddy bears or gulping down dozens of bottles of water instead of self-preservation. It feels highly unrealistic, and I felt like I was just going through the motions for the majority of the game. The characters stand there lifelessly and assign you the most tedious and mundane of tasks ("find my necklace from my bungalow!", for instance).
You'll travel from a resort beach to a city to a jungle and so on... And there is a slight amount of exploration to do, but you'll never really find anything unique. You're most likely to encounter random scavenge items everywhere, and possibly generic collectible items, but beyond that, the whole world feels generic. Any survivors you do find that need help are there only because they have a mission to offer right after you save them, and then they ungratefully repeat to you several times that they need this task done yesterday.
The story itself develops VERY late in the game; of 4 Acts, you don't really see any development until the end of the 3rd. There's been a zombie outbreak on the island, and one mysterious voice on the radio seems to have the answer on how to escape. So you concern yourself with the first several minutes (hours, days, weeks? The game does an awful job of telling you how much time has elapsed) of just trying to set up safehouses for people and then getting them apple juice to survive on.
Also, regardless of how many players there are, the game will always imply that all 4 possible Player Characters [PC] are on this adventure together! Of course, if you're playing by yourself or a friend, you won't see the other PC's at all the rest of the time, and so this seems completely silly and nonsensical.
SOUND: My last point of the day (and this review is draggin', sorry), is the sound quality. Weapons sound great against the zombie corpses, zombie sounds pretty nice (and some, like the Infected, can be especially terrifying). Also, as zombies burn or get electrocuted or throw up, they make pretty convincing noises.
The voice acting is fairly bland in its own right, but to the developers' credit, they made the characters sound how they should (Russians sound... fairly Slavic, the guy from New Orleans sounds like he's from the South, etc.). The problem here is that the voice acting lines repeat themselves quite a bit. If you walk into a room, for example, a character is likely to say something along the lines of, "OOooh I hope this is all over soon!" Take two steps outside their "voice trigger range" and they're gonna repeat it again. I was on an escort quest, and the character we were escorting repeated the same line a dozen times as we made progress through the mission.
SUMMARY: ALL IN ALL, Dead Island is a fairly bland game, with an illusion of exploration of (empty) territory and a choice of a vast multitude of (mostly useless) weapons, but I would say that a purchase could be justifiable if you're playing with a friend or two and enjoy zombies. Otherwise, stay as far away from this as possible.