Review: Dead Island

By on September 27, 2011

As usual, I’m behind the curve. But here we are!

Dead Island, from Techland, is a first person, open world zombie game with some RPG elements. You take on the persona of 1 of 4 characters, whom you meet briefly during the intro cinematic, each with a particular strong combat specialization (guns, knives, etc). Just know that having that specialization does not affect what weapons you can pick up.

I’ll be up front, this game has a number of bugs that need fixed. For the most part, these don’t reduce the experience of playing the game. The story is mostly in the background, though it does get a bit stronger as you move farther into the game.

Let’s start at the beginning then (good place, that). You are on a tropical island paradise (right…) when something goes horribly wrong. Waking up after the introduction cutscene, it’s a very different world. Dead Island offers a mixture of zombie experiences: the slow moving mobs you can see from a distance, the crazy running zombies that chase you across each area, ones that pop out of nowhere and a good variety of zombie enemies once you move further into the game.

Click to enlarge.

The game allows for differing experiences based on whether you’re playing on your own or co-oping with friends. Admittedly, it is the same game regardless. However, certain missions will be easier with more people. But note that the more players (and higher levels) will cause the game to generate more and stronger opponents. I personally found the game more fun & less like it was dragging when I co-oped with friends. (People like Paustinj enjoyed having the 2 different experiences more than I did.)

Now, the RPG elements vary. You have the option (default settings at the beginning of the game) to see the health bar of enemies as well as the damage you do with each attack. Make it more interesting by going into your options and removing those two statuses. Likewise, you have a limited inventory for weapons, but the items you find around the island used for creating upgrades (shock machete or explosive knives anyone?) are not limited. You will find a character later on that allows you to store items (something like a chest) so you don’t have to drop or sell things you might want to keep.

For all that you can’t upgrade it, it is fun to bash zombies with a frying pan. Now there are two editing options at the work benches set up across the world of Dead Island. First off, weapons can lose their effectiveness, so the main purpose of a workbench is to repair weapons so they’re all nice and sharp (does not apply to guns or special items like frying pans). After a weapon is back to 100%, you can then upgrade it. Upgrades are 4 levels of damage that any melee weapon can do. You always get a weapon at their lowest level, and can upgrade it 3 more times.

Now the fun part. The last use of the workbench is to modify. Mods are placed randomly throughout the world, are offered as rewards for completing missions or can be received (special dev mods) by finding colored skulls and then placing them in the correct location. Some mods seem completely useless and others are all kinds of fun. As a note, even though you cannot upgrade firearms, there are mods specific to firearms and certain kinds of firearms (say a pistol versus a shotgun).

There will also be levels of mods. For example, you get a shock mod that uses 2 batteries. Later on, you’ll find a high voltage mod that uses 4 batteries and finally you’ll find a mode that uses 2 large batteries. In general, the last will have a stronger chance of shocking on a critical hit than the first shock mod. Think of it like how in Borderlands weapons with element augments have a 2x chance; Dead Island mods have a #x as well.

All this being said, it’s a fun game. I like some of the achievements, which occur in a Gears of War style, that are a certain number of a particular action that you must do before unlocking the achievement. Oh yeah, be careful with the vehicle mechanics, especially if you drive like David2SLY.

Dead Island gives you an open world take on how zombies can go wrong. You’ll get to meet a variety of individuals (the so far un-infected) that respond to the situation in varying ways. Some stay strong while others lose their minds and pretty much everything in between.

The best part? It’s not a short experience. Granted, I’m slowed down by the fact that I do a variety of side missions and am easily distracted. But even then, at 15 hours I think I’m around the halfway point (maybe a little farther). So there’s a lot to see, do and a fun experience to have.

The Good

Not short

Awesome weapon mods

Fun miscellaneous weapons like frying pans

Region, ally, & enemy variations

Differing SP & co-op experiences

The Bad

Some glitches

Open world can get annoying as you trek back & forth

Differing SP & co-op experiences (yes that is intentional)

Story element is weak

The Final Word

Love zombies, open world, RPG elements, overwhelming fights or all of the above? Then give Dead Island a chance. If you enjoy strong story elements and deep emotional connections to characters, this may not be the game for you. However, if you’re looking for a balance between all of the above mentioned, it’s definitely worth a look. While I expect a variety of patches to fix some of the minor issues, this is a game that is thoroughly enjoyable (especially in the right company). Touch up a bit around the edges and it could be absolutely amazing. Just, ah, watch out for the propane tanks.


Copy of the game (Xbox 360 version) provided to us for the purpose of review.


About ladyluck

Co-host & Editor - Mandy Paez has been cruising the scenes at community and industry events with Gamertag Radio for over 4 years. While young, her cookie eating and argument skills become known quite often on the weekly podcast.