Dead Island Survival Gear: Karate Kid Headband, Red Bull, and M&M's.
Tales of the undead have held a substantial foothold in pop culture for decades. As I thought back on all the movies, video games, and apps based around zombie lore, my internal monologue began to ramble on and sound like that Bubba guy from Forrest Gump.
With Dead Island, Techland has gone a step ahead of the zombie FPS craze and incorporated co-op gameplay into an open-world RPG setting. Don't have enough money to take that special someone on a getaway to the tropical island of your dreams? How about signing into Xbox Live and strolling around the beaches of Banoi, off the coast of Papua New Guinea, and bashing in the heads of countless zombies together? If that doesn't sound like their idea of fun… it's time to get a new "someone".
Dead Island is a very well-conceptualized game. Zombie apocalypse? Good. Open world? Good. Difficulty? Yep. Upgradable melee weapons and guns? Good. Play through the entire game with friends? Good. Overall execution? Ehh…
My main gripe is that it is infested with bugs and technical mishaps. The inventory, mapping, bartering, and online co-op trading systems are all frustrating to use. When selecting weapons to put in your radial menu, you can easily get tripped up by replacing weapons you want with weapons you don't want. Or you end up replacing the weapon you have equipped with a weapon you simply want to pick up and add to your stash. When you are trying to direct yourself to missions, it will not always automatically set the waypoint for you, so you'll have to manually find the icon on the map and do it yourself.
Finding health is equally annoying. While it makes sense that you have to make do with snacks and energy drinks sparsely scattered around the island, using them as an alternative to costly health packs can become tedious. Each snack and energy drink only replenishes one bar of health at a time, so if you max out your health bar like I did on my first playthrough, it'll take a minute or two to restore it fully and economically. That's, of course, counting on the fact that you find a cache of snacks large enough to let you do that.
Even after you have gone through all the frugal trouble of finding an alternative health source, you'll still come across minor zombies who can take away half your health bar in seconds. I appreciate the challenge of a rubber-band A.I. leveling design, but it's just poorly thought out. Having a level cap of 50 is good, but that doesn't mean much when I'm level 32 and regular zombies are doing more damage to me then I am to them. If I get into a bout of slap-fighting with a reanimated corpse, I expect to win damnit! Especially when I max out my survivalists skills… I'm just saying…
The re-spawning in this game is a joke, too. One night I came home ready to resign myself to a delightful evening of beer-drinking and zombie-bashing only to load my game and find that I had been spawned in the middle of a building right next to an overpowering group of enemies. The building was nowhere near the safe house I ended my game on, nor was there a map that I could look at in order to escape the zombie-infested area, because even after visiting indoor areas of the game, like the hotel, you don’t generate a map of them. So it was either fight my way out or play a little Russian roulette, Techland-style, and see where they decide my "last checkpoint" was.
It has seriously messed with my sanity. Every time I die or reload my game I feel like I'm going through that nightmarish tunnel in the original Willy Wonka movie. My eyes glaze over, I see the image of a crazed man in a purple coat, and begin humming to myself…
There's no damn way of knowing,
to which checkpoint you'll be going.
Your brain, with a gun,
you'll think of blowing.
As that loading screens a-going.
The story is essentially a B-movie with B-movie characters. Only one of the four playable characters is free of fairly obvious stereotyping: Purna, the gun-toting Aborigine ex-cop. I liked where Techland was going with a unique female heroine as one of my options, but they didn't explore any of the character backstories enough, which was a huge missed opportunity. I've never played a game where I've progressively cared less and less about the plot. In fact, the characters were so underdeveloped that I’m going to spend as much effort discussing them as they spent developing them…
If you don't plan on playing this game co-op, the flimsy storyline and frustration of glitches will prevent you from experiencing the best features of Dead Island. I spent most of my time playing with fellow GR comrade Kuulei_N, and it was one of the best co-op experiences I've ever had. As for all you hermits out there, rest assured, Techland has not forgotten you.
There is a feature that alerts you to other Xbox Live players that are near you in the game and you have the ability to join them in their campaign. It's a neat feature; in a zombie apocalypse, you might have to rely on the help of strangers. It's not the game's fault, but the only downside is that you don't know who you're gaming with until you’re in the match. Here's to hoping it's not a troll..
The presence of so many technical issues may hurt future titles from Techland and overshadow the fact that Dead island is actually a fun game to play. It's the kind of game where it becomes good if you don't stop and think about its lack of polish at every turn. But really, it's an enjoyable romp through zombie land, as long as you have friends to back you up.