Sometimes it’s hard to fathom the ripples that a singular element can have on a wider scale. Giles Lamb is a name that rose to unexpected heights as he gained international repute for the accompanying soundtrack to the quite sensational trailer for Dead Island. Something that resulted in such an unexpected impact on the industry is impossible to ignore, as not only did it put the Deep Silver game on the map, but it set a new standard for the elegance and cinematography for trailers as it created a vision for the eventual release.
It was always going to be difficult to live up to such self-created hype – a scenario that’s not too dissimilar to the infamous Killzone 2 E3 trailer, and as did the shooter, Dead Island manages to silence any possible critics by nailing its key aspect: the atmosphere. It places you dead centre in the catastrophe. Not your character – you.
Very rarely does a game have me fleeing for my life with such raw fear in my veins – the phenomenal Dead Space duo being the only other. However, at every turn, every corner, hell, every single corridor, hallway and open space, Dead Island has you fearing for your life, for your very survival. Not a single moment passes where you feel safe; each and every second could be your last. A heart-wrenching soundtrack, serene setting, beautifully staged scenario are just a few of the reasons as to why, despite never being really being on your own, Dead Island ensures that you feel completely isolated.
The world it creates is Dead Island’s greatest triumph. Every environment is lavish with discarded holiday apparel, drinks and food left scattered, chairs, tables and sun-lounges knocked over, stores ransacked, and pavements stained with blood and littered with bodies. The bodies… they’re everywhere. As you explore, you begin to understand just the scale at what has happened, the horror of it all.“Dead Island has you fearing for your life, for your very survival”
Away from the scenery, gameplay focuses around completing the set tasks in an open-world environment, whilst either avoiding or eliminating the ‘infected’ that roam the now entirely isolated holiday island destination of Palms Resort, in the fictional locale of Banoi. Having woken from a fierce night of partying in the local hotel, your selected character is seemingly alone; although obviously this is not the case. Within minutes you’re fleeing for your life from a blood-thirsty horde down a narrow hallway, before you’re thrust into the campaign.
From the off, you select one of four characters: Xian Mei, a hotel employee who wants to experience different cultures and people; Sam B, a one-hit wonder rap star with a drink and drug fueled past; Logan, an egotistical former NFL star who destroyed his own career; and Purna, a former officer of the Sydney Police turned personal bodyguard. Each personality comes with their own voice actor and core abilities, from shooting proficiency to effective use of blunt objects. Aside from that, there seems to be little difference between them, with only fleeting references to their past lives as they become a vessel for you to fill, rather than a character you end up connecting with.
Unfortunately, it’s not all quite as wonderful, or horrific, as the world in which it’s played within. Plot-wise, there’s little substance but plenty of it. You’re constantly told to go here and do this, only to be coerced into going somewhere else to do something for someone else, all just to achieve your original goal. It’s packed full of side-quests from needy, often ungrateful survivors who seeming don’t understand the risks you take to find out that their beloved have already perished. You’ll be rewarded with a few dollars for almost being eaten alive, which you’ll end up spending on repairing your weapons as they degrade faster than a slug going for a swim in the sea.
Whilst bottling up the copious amounts of atmosphere, Deep Silver seem to have paid very little attention to the game’s presentation. Although the scale and scope of the environments are both well executed and impressive, the graphical quality in general is poor and lacks several coats of polish. Our worst enemy, the jaggies, are common place, whilst foliage among other things will ‘pop-in’ from just a few yards away. There’s an unusually high amount of clipping, which often allows you to be hit through walls. Menus are clunky and convoluted, with even things as basic as the currently-selected-colour being far too similar to the background to be easily distinguishable.
Smooth and crisp is certainly something Dead Island is not, with bugs and glitches galore such as zombies disappearing out of thin air and entire missions not completing properly, thus requiring a restart. The sound will intermittently cut out, whilst the frame rate decides to take a few milliseconds off here and there as you suddenly grind to a halt.“Whilst bottling up the copious amounts of atmosphere, Deep Silver seem to have paid very little attention to the game’s presentation.”
With a focus on melee combat, it’s frustrating that the body-impact system is hindered by the over-enthusiastic auto-aim. By applying enough force at the correct point, it is possible to break limbs and ribs, slice apart torsos, or even decapitate your enemies. It adds a fantastic tactical element to combat, allowing you to weaken enemy attacks by stopping them from carrying weapons, or even having arms at all. There is little control as to which section of the body you actually hit however, as the auto-aim constantly focuses on a particular area of their bod, seemingly at random. It’s a shame as with a more focused yet free direction to combat, it could have been a game changer for melee combat.
The limited stamina system is well implemented though. You must remain cautious of sprinting through the streets or mashing the attack button as you’ll leave yourself defenseless, meaning you may have well signed the death certificate yourself. Your ‘life’ doesn’t just replenish automatically either; medikits, snacks and energy drinks must be used to survive, adding further to that fantastic survival feeling. Gunplay and driving make an appearance but don’t really do anything of note aside from acting as additional features. The expansive skill treeallows you to choose what to improve as you level up, further allowing you to customise the character to your mould.
As you venture further into the island, progress becomes increasingly difficult. It won’t be long before you avoid more often than you engage, as the numbers are hugely overwhelming. Taking on a swarm of two or three is challenging enough, but double that and throw in the powerhouse that is a “Thug” and you stand no chance. Speaking of enemies, there are plenty of different skins to keep things fresh enough, and the variations that are thrown into the mixer later on will keep you on your toes and more than likely see you change tactics.“Few games will rival Dead Island for experiences.”
Set to add “a new dimension” when player in four-player co-op, even the developers agree that cooperative is the way Dead Island should be played. It is therefore immensely frustrating at the number of problems it brings. Whilst it’s easy to jump into another player’s game – with a pop-up message informing you or a nearby player, there seems to be little to no matchmaking involved. The result is you tagging along either way out of your depth or so overpowered that it removes any and all challenge, and with it, the tense, fearful atmosphere. Joining a player who’s more than double your level is not even remotely enjoyable, as all of the enemies scale to the host’s level, meaning that a single hit from one of a dozen enemies was the end.
Equally discouraging is that anyone can skip the dialogue, meaning that if there’s one impatient busy-body amongst you then you all lose out. One of the biggest flaws is in regards to the difficulty level though. With even just two of you, it becomes vastly easier to complete; so with up to four of you at hand, taking down zombies becomes more of a game than it does about survival, ergo, an integral part of Dead Island is lost.B+
There just seems to be an underlying sense of roughness about Dead Island; almost as if it could have done with a few more months in development. It’s ridden with bugs, lacks any real visual impact, cutscenes are atrocious, too many characters have less life in them than Pinocchio, and there are a lot of issues with gameplay. That said, few games will rival Dead Island for experiences. It will make you scream like a little girl; crying out for help before picking you up and slapping you in the face until you man up. There’s something about Dead Island that will make you want to go back to its undead populated holiday villas again and again, and like the famous TV show Lost, it’s all about the island.