Dead Island is full of Zombies. Shambling zombies, flaming zombies, knife wielding zombies, bile spewing zombies, exploding zombies, charging zombies even giant, slow moving zombies, all set against the stunning backdrop of the fictional Australasian island of Banoi.
There are more zombies here than you can wield a freshly upgraded monkey wrench at. That said, it's not like we're starved of zombie based action these days. So does Techland's first person zombie brawler RPG have the meat bait required to entice the slovenly hoards?
Awaking from a drunken slumber following a wild night of island partying, it's clear from the outset that all is not well. Eerily lit hotel rooms and classic zombie ear candy penetrate your surroundings early on. It would appear that this was a wilder night than usual, as 'the infected' have taken quite keenly to chomping on human flesh.
You can choose from one of four, equally clichéd, characters to start your adventure. The Jock football player, career ruined by injury and alcohol, or the Asian woman fighting for honour and her father's memory. It's tiring to read their bios but essentially these are just shells for four different styles of play with which you can approach your adventure. You can choose to specialise in four types of combat; thrown weapons, blunt weapons, sharp weapons or firearms. Each of these provide a different combat experience, rewarding you the more you use the type of weapon best suited to your character of choice. Of course you can pick up and wield whatever miscellaneous article happens to drop into your path, but it may prove less effective.
These weapons are dotted around Banoi's winding, leafy mesh of sandy carriageways and dishevelled buildings. Bathed in the midday sun, Banoi's primary setting 'the resort' is truly pretty. Your brave party of adventurers must attempt to escape their seemingly doomed luxury island surrounding, via a local off-shore prison, where a mysterious voice offers the promise of an air lift to safety. Venturing out into the open, equipped only with assorted household items for protection, it won't be long before the streets are turned claret red....
...and turn them red you must.
Dead Island's post mortal wanderers are intent on helping you out as best as they can one way or another. Herein lies this games primary triumph, gore.
There's seemingly endless ways to dismember, disable or disembowel your foes and it's your choice as to how much of your free time, spent roaming around Banoi's sand box environment, is devoted to it. Every quest you complete rewards experience and every level you gain will enable you to invest one point into one of three talent trees to help boost your re-animated, corpse crushing credentials.
Zombies are varied enough in their offence to keep things interesting. Early on, most will topple upwards to their feet looking to chomp you from the ankles up, but as time elapses, shambling turns into sprinting and spitting and a well time swing of your machete will feel satisfying as cranium is cut from corpse.
Levelling up and talent trees aside, the name of the game in Banoi is money, undoubtedly fitting for a luxury holiday resort. Most of the infected bags of bikini clad bones you smite seem to have some cash on them, specifically in their pants it seems, almost as if the outbreak started at a giant stripper convention.
The liberal cash smattering is handy, as one of Dead Island's most frustrating elements is the rate that your shiny new weapons deteriorate. This does add to the tension, as what was once a mighty zombie mashing tool minutes before, may prove almost useless when faced with a ravenous horde moments later. You can repair and upgrade any weapon at work benches throughout the land. The more damage your weapon takes, the more repair costs. Although Dead Island does well at keeping the tension high as you scramble for your next weapon, it would be nice if one or two weapons lasted a tad longer than they do.
The main reason to digress from the central story is to keep the cash flow coming. There are almost as many side missions to complete as there are zombies to kill, not to mention hours to spend driving around pretending to be a zombie lawnmower. You could, should you choose, increase your game time many times over by not rushing through the story and taking the proper amount of time to roam. It's a shame that so many of the missions, whether side missions or not, are so uninspired. It would not be uncommon, for example, to be sent to retrieve supplies from a petrol station in a key plot quest at the start of the game, only to find yourself spending time doing something not dissimilar within minutes of completing the final stages of the story.
Leaving the scantily dressed young woman at the side of the road, begging for help, to her fate has never seemed more logical.
It's fun to smash zombie skulls on the way past but it seems at times that this is all Dead Island really has to offer. It also seems at times that it's not quite enough. One of Dead Island's key failings is that the risk to reward ratio is hopelessly misguided. It's not just all about money, it's too much about money. The penalty for death? Lose money. Kill a zombie? Get money. Break a weapon? Lose money. Sell a weapon? Get money. Do a side quest.... you get the idea. Respawing after death happens within seconds at random points near to where you last fell, there is no challenge to this, other than to be immediately swamped by infected, only to die again and lose yet more cash.
While Dead Island has hours of replay value for you achievement guzzlers out there, it may not carry the same appeal for the more narrative hungry. It could be argued that you could best experience Dead Island by playing so many side missions that you become a cash hungry mercenary, no longer able to contemplate human emotion. This will make Dead Islands story feel only slightly less tedious.
Killing zombies is the most intelligent conversation you will get from your time with Dead Island. The story, or more acutely the characters within, fail to capture any sense of real purpose and the quest givers any sense of urgency or circumstance. It would also be best for anyone of Australasian decent to play the game with no sound. Think 'Neighbours' on helium.
As beautiful as Banoi's opening 'resort' set piece and latter 'jungle' areas are, the mid and near end game forays into the sewers are dank, uninspired and broken. The free roaming, sand box experience is replaced by a linear and irritating drudge through misconstrued muddiness. It is often simpler and strangely more rewarding to play a game of cat and mouse with your dishevelled fan base by charging past undead and uninspired alike towards daylight once more.
Dead Island deviates at random from what it generally does best. Mid way through, zombies fall by the wayside, as without warning, Dead Island turns itself into a terrible first person shooter. The brainless AI fitting the games theme and the gun-play streets away from the fulfilling melee combat. It's fortunate that these moments are brief but barely believable as they become more integral as the story concludes.
Dead Island's most endearing feature is possibly it's drop in drop out co op for up to four players at any one time. Whenever another player at a similar point or on a similar quest is nearby, the option to hit the d-pad and join in will pop up on screen. It's a non intrusive outlet that may help you through a sticky spot or two. The unfortunate theme here is like much of the single player experience where no good deed quite goes rewarded.
Online co-op is the most buggy game mode of all. Lag, stuttering visual slow down and graphical pop up or sometimes grouping with players that aren't attempting to accomplish your same goals are all common. It's another idea that should work and with a little more time working out the kinks, it surely would add further hours to the experience.
Dead Island is Marmite, it's Charlie Sheen. Not brilliant but not bad, it'll leave an odd taste in your mouth. It's insane and flawed but strangely enjoyable to behold, at least for a while. It's pretty too, but mostly uninspiring, predictable and forgettable.
Dead Island has enough content to take up 30 hours of your time, but not enough unique and enjoyable content to demand that you stick with it for that long.
If you want a zombie game with the most zombies and weapons, Dead Rising has two iterations with a third on the way. If you want the maximum co op experience, Left for Dead (at least for Xbox 360) has got your back.
If you want an intense but brainless first person melee combat experience with smatterings of glitter and bucket loads of blood, then maybe, against all the odds, Dead Island might be what you're looking for.