I’ve missed console gaming. It’s been four months since I last played a new, current generation console game, (No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise, I reviewed it here, check it out!) so I was a bit nervous going in to Dead Island. After that trailer was released earlier this year, the hype factor for this game went through the roof, like a Justin Bieber cameo on Glee. Naturally, something as hyped as this was never going to ever pull through and truly deliver what people expected of it, or the “Avatar Effect” as it is known. Well Dead Island has had a couple of weeks for the myriad of bugs that plagued it at launch to be fixed, so I am playing the unbuggy, slightly more polished version. Worrying really, when I think about it now, because the game I have spent the past week playing has more bugs up it’s arse than bison remains in the Gobi desert.
So, this week’s tropical paradise of doom is the island of Banoi, who apparently must be sponsored by Red Bull and B&Q, because there are more cans of energy drink and DIY equipment lying around than one would suspect from a holiday destination. Anyway, enough about the location for now, let’s tuck into the meaty flesh that is Dead Island’s unique and groundbreaking story. Haha only kidding, it’s the same bloody line up as every other zombie survival game from the past five years. Sing along with me: four losers must save the world, doo-dah, doo-dah, undead foes will nom your brains, doo-dah, doo-dah-day! Each of the four characters you can play as comes with a personal narrative and back-story that you could write on a gnat’s arse, and each has a speciality melee skill, be in whining like a bitch, groaning like a dick, stating the bloody obvious or my personal favourite, whining like a bitch, but in an even more irritating accent.
Okay, I think I’ve ragged on the game enough fo—oh wait, the graphics! I know the game is expansive and huge and sprawling, we get that, and the loading times between areas aren’t too bad, seeing as there aren’t too many of them, but the loading of some scenery and backgrounds just looks plain lazy. It reminds me of those awful early 90’s computers that loaded images line by line from the top of the screen to the bottom. I was fighting a horde of zombies outside some beach huts, when no word of a lie, a group of palm trees disappeared off the screen for a second, and then reloaded onto the screen bit by bit, as if they were being rebuilt out of Lego or something. The whole reason we shell out for these great monolithic consoles is that they can cope with things like this, but a bit of greenery and four enemies should send a current generation machine into absolute bloody meltdown.
Gameplay is solid, most of the time, although the throwing mechanic is as smooth to gameplay what an air horn would be in a monastery. Throwing items smaller than a hat stand are unlikely to hit targets, so unless your character has the strength to start hurling cars around, which with all the energy drinks and mutational diseases flying about is entirely possible, you’re unlikely to cause an awful lot of damage by throwing things. As soon as I hurled my nearest pointy object at an enemy I would just find myself kicking in a vain attempt to keep them at bay until I find something else to fling at them. The weapons list is impressive, and the upgrade system allows you to fix favourite weapons, improve them, and craft new weapons by adding stuff to them like bleach, nails and, of all things, lemon juice. You know, for that extra zesty tang.
There seems to be so little actually driving the game forward at any point to make me really believe or enjoy the story. Each “chapter” has about one or two crucial missions that maybe add something to the overall plot or feel to the game, and everything else is so much filler. It’s the exact same problem I have with games like Oblivion, in which you start off with a clear idea of what is wrong, what you have to do, and when you need to do it by. And then, after about an hour, you’re doing seventeen different fetch and recovery quests for the exact three people with different haircuts and there is no sight of any story-related objectives through all the muck and the mire. On the subject of characters, why is it the men in Dead Island are all varied and well developed, whereas all female NPC characters all look exactly the same, just with different bikinis and varying degrees of David Dickinson-esque tan? I’m certain I rescued the same woman, with different names each times, over the course of about five different quests.
The connectivity aspect of Dead Island shines through much of the negativity I have towards the game. At any moment you can press a button and find yourself on the beaches or up in the valleys with other “survivors” playing the game from home, whom you can team up with to solve quests together. No time is wasted going through different loading screens and matchmaking processes, just one press and voila! Dropping in and out of this coop mode doesn’t damage your score or experience earned, but the experience of enjoying this game with others is what adds a sprinkling of something special to a single player campaign that can suffer when the issues arise that I mentioned earlier.
I just cannot accept that in this day and age, a game such as this can be produced with such graphical issues after a major patch following the game’s release, and that not one character in this entire game is anything more than one dimensional. Heck, some of them barely scratch the surface of being one dimensional. The novelty of the scares barely kept me interested in a game that saw missions becoming repetitive after only a handful of hours, but the steady difficulty curve that matches your foes level to within distance of yours keeps the pace going when the missions and story don’t. If you can accept the limitations of the single player experience and try to enjoy some coop play, then Dead Island will shine through. Otherwise, it is barely average survival horror that need just a few more months spent on the game development, and a little less time hyping up the game with an amazing trailer.
MLG Rating: 6/10
Platform: PS3/ Xbox 360/ PC Release Date: 09/09/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Dead Island for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on a Ps3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.