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Dead Island


by Stuart Davidson - 13th September 2011
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Dead Island (PC)

Dead Island (PC)


Dead Island was first announced a number of years ago when work was underway on the game. Since then, as often happens with such long development times, the game remained off the radar to many people as Techland took their time to build the game. That all changed a few months back though with the release of an epic trailer to begin the PR campaign in advance of launch. It is fair to say that Techland and Deep Silver (the publisher) had caught the attention of gamers everywhere, some of them calling it one of the best trailers ever made.

Of course great trailers don't make a good game (or movie) so it was a case of waiting for Dead Island to hit the shelves before we could find out if it lived up to the hype... if that was even possible in the first place.

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Gameplay
At its core Dead Island is a mixture of hack and slash gameplay mixed with a number of RPG-ish elements. We play as one of four selectable characters who each have their own back story but essentially we wake up on a holiday island with the place in chaos. Our hotel is trashed, blood and bodies are everywhere, zombies roam free and we have to fight for survival from the start.

There are a few plot holes in the opening segment of the game however what we quickly learn is that playing through a first person viewpoint we will be required to find weapons to defend our self, loot cases, cupboards and bins for items and work with the other survivors as we attempt to get off the island.

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The controls are reasonably standard for an action game; WASD for movement, F performs a lot of actions, space to jump and so on. Techland also drop in a few gesture based segments such as having to wiggle the mouse to open jammed doors to break up the standard gameplay. Speaking of gameplay despite this being promoted as an action game, the reliance on melee combat makes it feel much more like a medieval style RPG and when we add to that the skill tree, need to buy and sell through vendors and the fact that our story progresses by accepting missions (quests) from NPC's it becomes clear that those looking for a Left 4 Dead style game will find themselves in a completely different gaming genre. That's before we even consider that there is a huge amount of looting required. Suitcases, bags, drawers, equipment, bins, corpses... every area is filled with each and the requirement to buy improved weapons, or pay to have the existing weapons which degrade with each hit fixed, means we spend a lot of time searching around for resources.

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In addition to this we can enter into co-op mode, teaming up with other players to battle the zombie apocalypse together which is a nice twist on the standard campaign. This can of course be disabled through the main menus and private games can also be arranged.

Finally, adding more replay value to Dead Island the inclusion of challenges, achievements, mod unlocks and the four playable characters brings some additional content to the game.

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Graphics and Sound
Visually Dead Island is a real mixed of quality on the PC. In many ways the environments look impressive and Techland have done well, as many developers do nowadays, in creating some nice light effects. Items and character models tend to be a lot less impressive though, excluding some of the main NPCs. From low res textures, to bland or odd looking the game has a real lack of care and attention in this area, something which extends to the number of bugs present even after a zero day patch. We have for example seen objects floating in space when they should be attached to walls, or when exploring in areas where the developer might not have intended the number of missing textures or objects, even flickering is very noticeable. The same can be said of some off reflections in the game, or the lack of them as mirrors and other surfaces fail to show any detail.

Things improve when we listen to the in-game audio though. Some of the voice acting is great and there are nice touches such as fly's buzzing round corpses. The zombie screams as they attack are suitably performed also and these aspects all combine to impress.

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Summary
We have to say that going into Dead Island we had expected quite a different experience to the one we received. The significant RPG elements really did surprise us to begin with and are much more integrated into the gameplay than the "for character development" that the game information suggests. This is something which will please some gamers but those not into constantly looting, exploring for resources or choosing which "quests" to follow may be a little disappointed.

Once we had adjusted to the style of gameplay that Dead Island offered we were presented with a game which rarely offers anything new and is often frustrating or lacking in any real skill or excitement. It really is a case of walk, slash, loot, talk, repeat and there isn't a coherent or regular enough story going on to keep players interested. The lack of imagination is highlighted best by Techlands insistence that when performing a mission the best way to challenge the player is to place a large number of higher level zombies in the area stacking the odds frustratingly against the player. This is clearly a stylistic choice but something which that can't apply to are the bugs still present in the game. The range from minor issues such as hitting a zombie in the head only to see the legs fall off below the knee to pausing the game, returning later to find entire mission segment clear of zombies completely (though we have to admit this did help us during one frustrating section of gameplay).

Click here for full resolution 5760x1080

For those looking for a zombie based RPG and willing to look past some significant quality issues, or wait on future patches, Dead Island may offer a decent gaming experience but the fact is that it is essentially unfinished.

Gameplay 73/100 RPG lite, mixed with first person viewpoint melee combat. Nothing out of the ordinary but way too heavy on looting.
Graphics 65/100 Decent environments, average in other respects. More than a few bugs spoil the experience.
Audio 85/100 The highlight of the game.
Value 80/100 Online co-op mode, various characters to play and some achievements/challenges and unlocks add reasonable value.
Overall
(Not an Average)
70/100 Was never going to live up to the hype created by its trailer... needed more time in development regardless of this.
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