It has been a long year for Techland and everyone involved in the development of Dead Island. After spending a couple of years in “development Hell” the title burst into the forefront of the industry with an amazing trailer
back in February. Suddenly, a game that few people had heard of was at the top of everyone’s “must see” list, especially with E3 only a few short months away. As the year went on and gamers everywhere learned more about the title, the want and desire for the Z-day RPG sky-rocketed with each passing month. A game that nobody knew about a year ago, had turned into one of 2011‘s most anticipated titles. Well, it is finally here and things aren’t all “sunshine and rainbows” on the island of Banoi.
After selecting your character from one of four possible choices, Dead Island begins with players waking up in their room at the Palms Resort on the island of Banoi after what has apparently been a hell of a night. While you you crashed in your bed, fresh off of the heels of a bender of epic proportions, the rest of the tropical paradise fell into total chaos. When you awake in the morning, there is very little life left in the resort around you; bodies lie in puddles of blood while suitcases and duffle bags litter the ground. It seems as if a lot of people were in a big hurry to leave and evidently, they didn’t get that far.
The game starts a little slowly, but before long you are join up with other survivors who are also trying to make sense of the events occurring around them and hoping to find some way off of this, well, Dead Island. You soon discover that your character is miraculously immune to the zombie virus that is overtaking the human population on the island. This “special trait” makes you the prime candidate to step into a leadership role amongst the survivors and you end up being the go-to guy for getting things done around the island. This isn’t just for your initial group of survivors, but other groups that you will come in contact with along the way.
The game is presented as an open world RPG with a heavy focus on combat and exploration. The island of Banoi is lush with beautiful scenery and is extremely expansive. Players are encouraged to explore ever crack and crevice of the paradise and are usually rewarded for doing so. Many of the environmental objects and be manipulated and used; scattered bags and be searched for supplies, huts and buildings can be broken into to provide refuge from the undead and even offer clues to the mysteries surrounding the events unfolding around you. Various missions will be given to you from various survivors, asking you to travel to various zombie infested locales and either find a missing loved one or retrieve some sort of item. Granted, some of the missions get a little ridiculous in their nature, like finding a teddy bear or champagne (seriously), but they all serve the same purpose which is to encourage you to explore. The nice thing about the mission system is that you can stack multiple missions on your “to-do” list; this makes it all more interesting to explore the island as you can knock out multiple tasks in a single trip out and about. This will also lead you down paths that you might not normally come across naturally when addressing the missions one by one.
It is through this exploration that the game really take son a life of its own. Whether you are traveling on foot or behind the wheel of an abandoned vehicle, it serves players best to be mindful of everything around them. There is a story which unfolds within various clues and information scattered around the island. This comes in the form of scattered documents and recordings, which it is up to you to find on your own. They aren’t required by any means to progress the main story, but taking the time to gather them all will make the Dead Island universe all that more interesting and appealing.
I have talked plenty about this vast and engaging world, but did I mention that it is filled with the walking dead? Perhaps walking isn’t the best description, I should say walking, running, screaming, and rampant dead. Seriously, Banoi is crawling with re-animated corpses of all shapes and sizes. These zeds aren’t just for you to look at: they are for you to dismantle and destroy. In addition to your fists and ever-so useful feet, the game features a robust weapon system which allows you to weaponize a wide variety of items that you will find in your environment. You will be using oars, knives, machetes, guns, baseball bats, wrenches, hammers, and even broomsticks. Aside from using them all in their base form, you can spend cash that you find around the island on enhancements and upgrades to make them each into even more effective tools of destruction. It is a lot of fun to see what you can find and use, and when you get to the point where you are adding electrical elements to your favorite meat clever, there is a lot of fun to be had.
As great as it is to experience the world of Dead Island on your own, it is an even better experience when you do it in the company of friends. Techland has incorporated a cooperative multiplayer mode in the game which allows you and up to three friends to play together online. While you and your buddies will experience the same main story on your own; you can drop in and out of games with your friends at any time, as long as they have not exceeded your progression in the game. If they happen to be further along than you are, they will have to join your adventure and help you progress up to their point. Playing cooperatively is immensely fun and perhaps the best way to experience Dead Island. Each player can take on their own individual side missions in addition to the primary, story mission that you are all working on.
The incredibly fun combat system that I mentioned earlier also ties into the the impressive visuals that fuel the game. The game looks good on the surface, any screenshot swill tell you that, but it is the damage system that is visible during combat that really elevates things to a truly impressive level. Each slice and blow from your various weapons has an extremely detailed effect on the zombies you face; whether you crush the bones in an arm which then falls limp or you hack off a limb entirely, it looks amazing and gives you an amazing feeling of “bad-assery”. The soudn is equally as impressive with a subtle soundtrack and incredible effects. This is definitely one game meant to be played in the dark and using a full surround-sound system; the random screams and moans of the undead are unsettling in a well-lit room, let alone a dark one.
As great as the game may sound, it suffers from a ton of issues that ultimately impair (not ruin) the overall experience. I have played very few retail games in my life with anything close to the number of bugs and glitches as can be find in Dead Island. The issues you will experience run the gamut from simple, graphical annoyances to game-impeding errors and crashes. Players will learn to do with some of them over time, which is unfortunate but a small price to pay for the overall gameplay experience. Unfortunately though, there are times in the game where the issues become more than just an annoyance; they may sometimes even break the game.
During my time with the game, I had to restart my character from scratch due to two separate game ending bugs, both of which have since been patched by the developer. The first one left me trapped inside a hut on the beach very early in the game. Despite opening the doors of the building, invisible walls impeded my way and I was unable to exit. After restarting my game, I made it a little further on my second attempt before running into a mission that wouldn’t let me turn in the required objects for completion, despite having more than enough in my inventory (juice boxes). Nothing I did would ever let me progress the mission so I had to restart the game yet again.
One would think that experiencing and ordeal like this would turn someone off from the game. Granted, I was frustrated to no end in losing a couple of hours of gameplay but was so addicted to the game that I didn’t even blink twice at the thought of restarting. I guess that the third time was the charm as I never experienced anything game-ending bugs from that point on. This addiction stems from the rock-solid core (gameplay) that Techland built the game upon. This also results from a fact that the overall game becomes more than just a sum of its individual parts; the total package far exceeds what it appears it should.
While I am a firm believer that game’s should be finished when they are released to the public, but in the case of Dead Island I am thankful that this isn’t always the case. Thanks to the ability to update and patch games past their initial launch, Techland is taking steps and making strides to iron out all of the issues that the game has. The game has a promising foundation and strong components which are being improved upon as we speak and it will hopefully rise to its full potential as one of the best games of the year... as long as Techland continues to give it a little TLC. The development team has already taken steps to address numerous problems, including the ones that I experienced, with recent patches on the game. The improvements that have been implemented already have improved the game immensely and I expect that trend to continue.