Game Review: Dead Island (Xbox 360)
Cool video right? I bought Dead Island because I thought it would be a quick mindless zombie killer game…kind of like Left 4 Dead. Since I had recently played games that required my attention, killing zombies seemed like a fun way to pass time without exercising any brain cells. I was wrong. Dead Island turned into a lengthy campaign of survival and zombie smashing brutality complete with an open-world environment, main missions, and enough side quests to keep busy for quite some time. Though this may sound appealing on the surface, and it was, Dead Island was not free from frustration, glitches, and a slow frame rate. Overall, it wasn’t enough to keep me from finishing the game, but frustrating it was. I did lose interest in trying to complete all of the side quests and eventually finished the game. This isn’t starting off with fireworks, but it does get a little better.
Let’s talk about the story first. You are on a fictitious island called Banoi and for some unknown reason, after a wild night of partying, a contagious and infectious disease has ravaged the island. What is left are scattered survivors and flesh-eating zombies. Cool! You start out in one of four play areas: The Resort, City of Moresby, The Jungle, and The Prison. You also get to choose from one of four characters. At the resort, you are awakened by a voice coming over the hotel PA. This mysterious voice helps you evade the onslaught of walkers and for some unknown reason, you find out that you are immune to the infection. This is not fully explained at any point. Of all the people on the island the playable characters are immune…which leads your character to being the Banoi bitch as I like to call it.
As in Borderlands 2, I felt like all I was to the people was a bitch. Get this and get that, go there and deliver that. Dead Island takes the same approach. Once you get your bearings at the resort, you find yourself with some other survivors at the lifeguard shack. Sure enough, everyone is too chicken shit to go out and fend for themselves, so naturally that is left up to you. Among the groups of people you encounter in each of the four areas, they all ask for things like drugs, water, food, tools, or to find a loved one among many other things. These become your side quests. You earn money and weapons through side quests, so they become necessary to build up your cash flow and stock of deadly weapons to take on the main missions. Some of the side quests are pretty quick and easy as they should be, but some side quests take on a life of their own as a side quest with sub side quests that take a lot of time.
Throughout your campaign you are able to acquire weapons and modify them into cool things like a shock blade, toxic machete, etc. The things you gather along the way like wire, blades, etc…anything you can pick up, contribute to being able to modify a weapon. So, don’t sell that stuff when you find someone to trade with. Since the majority of this game involves melee combat, your weapons actually wear down and you have to pay to repair them. Save as much money as possible because you need it for that and you also lose money when you die…and you die a lot. Hence, some of the frustrations with the game.
It doesn’t take much to die. Once you get surrounded by a horde it’s pretty much over. Two hits from a thug zombie and you’re done. The problem with this is that is it very hard to gauge an acceptable distance to make a strike…or avoid one. Thus, you end up getting hit a lot while trying to move in for the kill. Then again, it could have just been my character’s traits to be a pussy. And when you die, it’s friggin’ expensive…something like 10% of the money you have. It hurts the wallet for sure to die two or three times during one campaign. At one point I had over $500K, but ended the game with just a few thousand to my name.
Another thing I found frustrating was how time-consuming some of the missions were. You don’t always have access to a vehicle especially in Moresby. It’s almost pointless to try to drive there because the roads are blocked or cluttered. So, you spend most of your time on foot…and it seems like many of the missions are set up to force you to travel all across the town and in the sewers on foot. Of course killing the zombies along the way nets you money and weapons. The problem with this is that no matter how many zombies you kill, they always appear when you go for your next mission in the same place doing the same thing. Trying to kill every zombie on every mission thinking you are making it easier for yourself down the road is not the case. The zombies are always there. During the city of Moresby I had a few missions that took place in the police station. After clearing it out once, I would go back only to find the same zombies chomping on the same dead bodies. After a while I just started running past them only slicing my way out if I got backed into a corner. It helps to get on top of a car or dumpster and hack away.
As far as the game giving me direction, I thought it was pretty piss poor. I had a side quest that said “find Maggie.” I am sure they told me where to look for her during the cut-scene, but I missed it and the GPS would never highlight where to look. When I checked the details section is said she “came in the group with James”…well I didn’t remember that either probably because I didn’t play the game for a couple of days. And the Resort is so big that it would take hours to scour the entire place to find her. Needless to say, Maggie was left for dead. This happened a few times where I could not complete a side quest. The actual map in the corner of the screen was terrible. It was black and showed a dotted line to my destination. It didn’t always show the fastest route. It would pretty much stick to the road which, in many cases, was a longer trip than cutting through bungalows and property.
Driving was cumbersome as your only view while driving was through the windshield. If you needed to back up you couldn’t see behind you so be careful not to back off a cliff. Been there done that. Because you can’t see behind yourself, you sometimes back yourself into a situation where your vehicle gets stuck. Then bad words will come out of your mouth as your only option is to exit the vehicle in the middle of a horde. The vehicle proved useful in the Resort and Jungle for some of those missions. It’s worthless in Moresby and in the Prison you don’t need it at all.
Guns don’t come into play until later in the game and they aren’t that useful on zombies, but they are on uninfected gangs you’ll come across. A simple head shot takes care of them. It’s also amazing how many bullets you can actually take and still survive, but a couple hits from a thug zombie and it’s lights out. I don’t know about you, but I think I can take many more punches than bullets.
Why is it in zombie games there are different kinds of zombies when we are all the same species of people? There are huge thug zombies, fat toxic zombies, psycho butcher zombies, ram zombies, walkers, and suiciders that explode when you get near them or shoot them. I will never understand what makes some zombies different from others or that some run while others walk. It must be to keep the game interesting, but biologically I can’t see how that would happen.
The story is pretty cool, but there are some gaps. They never fully explain why my character is immune unless I missed it during a swearing out loud session. The zombie-inducing infection stems from a mutation in the indigenous population, but it is never explained “how” or “why” that happened when it did. It just happened and lucky you, you get to deal with it. What a shitty vacation.
Overall, the game was a riddled with minor glitches and it seemed like the main missions forced you go great distances intentionally. It is one thing to have side quests to help you build your money and assets, but those side quests shouldn’t be more time-consuming and take greater effort than the main missions themselves. They should be quick and easy, short and to the point. I can appreciate a game of this magnitude, but glitches and frustrating aspects of the game took away from that. If the developers build upon Dead Island, it can be a great franchise with never-ending possibilities. It just needs a more solid believable story, a facelift, and more focused missions with modest side quests. For now it was a fun, yet frustrating game that barely cost me $10 and netted about 20 hours of bloody gore.