Dead Island PS3 Review: A trip to Dead Island isn't quite a vacation.
Dead Island is a brilliant concept that's met with shoddy execution. An open-world zombie apocalypse set on a gaudy tourist island, it should be a no-brainer smash hit, pun very much intended. Instead, it's an engrossing but enraging work in progress.
Your trip to the island begins by picking one of four characters, each with unique abilities and stats that make them their own class of zombie slayer. Sam B is the tank; he's a one hit wonder rapper looking for his next big smash. Then there's Logan, a spoiled ex-NFL star, he specializes in chucking things at the zombies. The gun master is Purna, your typical renegade cop who plays by her own rules. Finally there's Xian Mai, a master of swordplay, a brilliant student, and other Chinese stereotypes.
So Dead Island doesn't break any molds with its characterizations. In fact, it digs up some old ones and dusts them off. But what really matters is the class-based gameplay, which gets players working together in compelling ways.
Co-op zombie smashing is Dead Island's crown jewel, and the game is very good at finding you teammates, or matchmaking you into a game. Unfortunately, it's a bug ridden mess. There's an issue with auto-save that has publisher Deep Silver recommending that you stick to single player until they can fix it.
Did that infamous trailer write a check that Dead Island couldn't cash? We knew it wouldn't be as emotionally engaging as a little girl's well-edited plummet to her doom, but the game's tone doesn't even resemble the trailer's. With a bunch of reality TV rejects for characters and energy drinks for health, you can almost smell the Axe body spray. Dead Island's first few chapters take place in an MTV-hellhole you'll likely enjoy seeing ripped apart.
Then you'll move a bit inland where things are getting desperate. At one point you're barricaded in a church, where people ask you to put down their infected loved ones and find them life saving medication. Your character's cookie-cutter responses of, ?A'ight? and ?copasetic? fail to reflect the increasingly dire situation.
While Dead Island has no control over it's tone, it does do a nice job of escalating things. Your first safe house is a life guard station where the nearest zombies are up the road. Eventually you reach city hall, where the undead pound on the boarded-up windows.
The game also does good work with the different types of zombies. The most basic is the Walker, a shambling, rotting corpse from ?Night of the Living Dead.? Then there are the Infected; sprinting, screaming PCP freaks a la ?28 Days Later.? There are also special boss-like zombies: Thugs, Rams, Floaters, Butchers and Suiciders, each best approached with a different method.
In an interesting choice, zombie's level with you, so you never get much of an edge over them in sheer brute strength. Instead, players become dominant through skills and equipment. Work your way down Sam B's combat talents, and you'll gain the ability to tackle groups of zombies, knocking them to the floor. Follow that up with his curb stomp ability, and you've got a lethal combo.
In Dead Island, weapon durability is like ammunition. Your various clubs and knives degrade quickly, and repairing them is costly. It's a questionable design decision, since it's not at all integrated into the story. You walk up to a work bench, give it money, and your weapons are repaired. Who are you paying? The reliance on money forces you to loot nearly everything you see, which becomes incredibly tedious. It's just bad design to have looting a suitcase take two presses of a button; once to open the suitcase, then again to collect whatever you find. There are stacks of luggage all over the island. Obsessive-compulsive loot hoarders, welcome to your nightmare.
While Dead Island's Fallout 3 comparisons are not without merit, it's not nearly as fun to explore this island as it was that nuclear wasteland. You'll find some repetitive ?go fetch? side quests, but it's far more rewarding to simply fast travel your way through the main quests, which are varied set pieces that take you through the island's most interesting locales.
The most Fallout 3 thing about Dead Island is it's inspired use of first-person. Melee from this perspective takes some getting used to, but it's well implemented. Longer weapons like bats and oars are slower, but let you keep your distance from the undead. Brass knuckles and knives are fast and devastating, but you'll need to be quick on the dodging coming in that close.
The one part of Dead Island's combat that fails is the weapons switching. You can scroll through your weapons with R2, and holding it brings up a radial menu. It's imprecise, you have to press it just right to get what you want, and the radial menu is clumsy, especially mid-battle. It's a silly system, especially when the D-pad is sitting there unused.
Dead Island's other most inconsistent feature is its graphics. There's massive texture pop-in, and shadows are jagged and stuttering. The draw distance is big, but everything in the distance looks flat and under-rendered. The worst issues, screen blur when you turn and unsynchronized speech animations, have been ironed out by patches, but there's no telling if the other problems will be taken care of.
Still, when it works right, Dead Island can catch you off guard with a moment of beauty. Water effects are nice, and once in a while you'll be treated to a gorgeous vista where the view managed to render just right.
Dead Island's audio is very good, the zombie noises being the highlight. You can tell what kind of undead is coming for you by his groan or roar. The voice acting is pretty good too, the cast does their best to breathe life into the cartoonish characterizations. Veteran voice actor Phil LaMarr, voice of Samurai Jack and Hermes on Futurama, brings a gravely twang to Sam B's broad New Orleans accent.
Ultimately, Dead Island is fun and deserves to be played, but I recommend waiting a bit until the game is patched into a more stable state. Visual gaffs are one thing, but problems with auto-save that have the publisher recommending you avoid multiplayer, the game's best feature, are a complete red flag. Still, this will likely be a game with considerable longevity, since it's been
embraced by the mod community and there are several pieces of DLC on the horizon. One of them is an arena mode, a good sign that Dead Island will soon drop the pretence of being story-driven, and embrace it's zombie-smashing strengths. If you're a fan of zombies, co-op gameplay and gore, you need to play Dead Island. Just wait until they fix it.