As building game anticipation goes, Dead Island has become a master class in how it’s done, appearing out of the tundra with a trailer that quite frankly had us all bowled over. Its haunting soundtrack and cinematic approach had us gawping at the prospect of a zombie game that had the ‘human element’. You weren’t Special Forces, you didn’t have any powers, you were just ‘some guy’.
Of course, a trailer is merely a trailer, and as such is open to speculation, pre-judgement and all the rest of it, so as more videos came in we began to get a better understanding of the game. Therein lies the first point: Dead Island is not what some will be expecting, but that doesn’t actually mean it’s a bad thing.
Are you sitting comfortably?
What’s apparent from the trailers and info that’s been released so far is that it’s a FPS set on the paradise island of Banoi where you are tasked with having to escape from ravenous hordes of the undead. What you may not know is that it also heavily leans in the direction of RPGs, offering a style of gameplay which some may find either comforting or completely alien (more on that later though). It has a single-player campaign, but there’s the option of 4-player online co-op mode, which allows other players to ‘drop-in’ on your campaign, quite literally. There’s no set-up required, they can appear and disappear in the press of a button. Finally, there are four main playable characters, all offering different skills and unique stories.
Now that’s out the way we can tackle the game itself. You wake up dazed and confused on your hotel bed, presumably from heavy drinking the night before. Sadly however, more is amiss than just the state of your liver, for the moment you open you’re hotel room door, you’re thrown in the deep end. Running for your life in dark burning corridors the disorientation is impressive leaving you feel truly vulnerable. The lighting bounces around, the sounds echo what you already suspect, everything suddenly feels very Dead Space-like, in a good way. From this hell you stagger out into the sunlight and get your first glimpse of the island.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Dead Island is just how staggeringly pretty the island actually is, in fact it’s hard to think of a game that has looked this pretty since Far Cry first did the whole ‘paradise lost’ theme. The attention to detail is spot-on; combining the glittering pools of the resort, the white sand, and then lovingly dousing it with utter chaos they’ve created a world which feels wholly unnerving.
Getting down to business
Once you’ve finished admiring the scenery it’s time to get stuck in with the mechanics of the game. The island is essentially free-roaming, but to gain access to each part of it you’ll need to complete missions which are set for you by the survivors. During these missions you’ll be able to scrounge around picking up items, some of these will be weapons, while others will be materials that can be put together to create even more weapons. All this is then accessible through a ‘work bench’ which will let you repair, upgrade and build new tools of death. It’s a system that initially we found frustrating, firstly because there’s a monetary system in place, but also that it contradicts the fast pace found in the early stages of the game. Once you realise however that time limits are set by you, it can become much more enjoyable to start exploring and building up you’re inventory.
Using these weapons however will probably be the bit that divides many of you. In a game that focuses so heavily on melee attacks, the first-person angle can be off putting, especially with the camera waving about simulating the character's body movements. There are a few other niggles as well, the combat is incredibly hit-and-miss to begin with, taking you a while to adjust to the fact you can't at any point go 'gung ho', certainly not until you've done some serious upgrading. Once you get far enough into the game however this soon becomes less of a problem allowing you to relish just how enjoyable the combat can actually be. This includes upgrading your weapons to a Bioshock level of ridiculousness (our personal favourite was an electrified machete), to actually using them.
What is Dead Island?
Herein lies the dilemma. Dead Island is a game that has almost cinematic levels of production, from it’s dazzling visuals to its mood-setting soundtrack, but then has a contradictory combat system that can, at times, feel like it's blindly stumbled in from a different genre. It's not the gritty, brutal 'human' game that many of us were expecting, and in many ways that is a real shame, but it is a lot of fun, and it is extremely pretty.
Dead Island Tragedy Hits Paradise teaser trailer