Feature review: Dead Island

After getting married, my wife and I went to a tropical resort on honeymoon. While she happily soaked up the sun I repeatedly found my mind wondering how I would handle a zombie outbreak at this particular hotel. This is absolute fact; also, I need to stop playing so many games. Fortunately Techland had been wondering the same thing and so I got to put my beach resort, zombie apocalypse fantasy to the test in Dead Island.

Techland has been taking notes from games like Borderlands and Left 4 Dead, and the result is a gore-riddled, four-player co-op zombie apocalypse set on the sunny island of Banoi. While it’s safe to say that the game is undeniably good fun, it’s definitely not without some problems.


You’re given a choice of four characters before being let loose onto the blood-soaked sands. Techland wants you to play this game with other people, and if you start a single-player game you’ll receive onscreen prompts telling you when another player of similar level is nearby; hitting the “J” key will make you join them. Be aware that players can drop in on your game without invite unless you disable the feature in the main menu. This drop-in-drop-out feature works relatively well and you’ll have little trouble finding a partner. The party I played the vast majority of the game with varied from two to three of us. Drop-in-drop-pout was the norm during these sessions as we experienced disconnects nearly every time we played. That being said, the game will provide many watercooler moments and if you and your partners don’t shout a collective “ooooh!” at some point, then it’s likely you’ve lost some basic gamer mentality somewhere along the line.

Those wanting a single-player experience need not fret about this emphasis on multiplayer: you can quite happily do a solo run of the game and also have fun. This is largely thanks to the combat and undeniable satisfaction inherent in obliterating Techland’s zombies. Whether they’re bikini-clad, shambling Walkers or sprinting Infected, each of the six zombie types are a hell of a lot of fun to kill; I’m convinced this game has damaged my psyche in irreparable ways.

Weapons are weighty but there’s a tendency to steer players towards utilising melee attacks despite one of the characters (Purna) specialising in guns. You’ll never be short of weapons: axes, grenades, pipes, handguns, clubs, machetes; you name it, Dead Island lets you use it. Throughout the game you’ll find blueprints that allow you to modify your weapons: got a unique fireman’s axe that you pilfered from the wall of the hotel? Duct tape some wires and a battery to it to make it an electrically charged fireman’s axe. Nothing says “You’re not getting my brains you undead bastard!” quite like a 5,000 volt axe blade embedded into your attacker’s undead head.

The campaign is split across four different acts with each act set in a new location on the island. Don’t expect a Pulitzer Prize winning plotline however. While Dead Island claims to be open-world, it actually isn’t as you will encounter loading screens and you cannot walk from one side of the island to the other. Still, the area that each act is set in (with the exception of act IV) is massive and you’re free to wonder about as you see fit. Unfortunately you will be sent into lengthy indoor areas at times, which is a shame because the outdoor locales are where Dead Island shines the most.

Missions are given to you by NPC survivors but unfortunately mission variety begins to slip as you progress. You will be sent on numerous fetch quests (“we’re out of food and petrol. Waaah!”) and you’ll have to deal with a handful of escort missions that are infuriating thanks to terrible AI and dodgy path finding. Furthermore, while getting killed results in a financial loss and instant respawn, having an escorted NPC die results in you having to restart the mission. And they will die… often… because they are monumentally retarded.

Despite there being four different characters to choose from, they’re largely aesthetic choices thanks to overlaps in skill effects and all characters being able to use any weapon. None of them have unique missions; it’s all the same game regardless of which character you pick.

While you do get special weapons, other than having different coloured text in their names they’re very rarely that different to ordinary weapons. Modifying your weapons will add effects like electric or poison damage, but the overall damage increase doesn’t feel as if it’s doing anything, and maybe one in every three-hundred hits will actually activate the weapon’s modifier. Not that weapons are actually needed once you’ve unlocked Sam B’s tackle and curb-stomp skills; those (coupled with the over-powered kick) make him a veritable wrecking ball.

Dead Island is not without some game-breaking bugs as well. Clipping issues made restarting two different missions a necessity, and the game’s clunky menu and inventory system have some irritating glitches. Upon exiting a workbench (where you repair, upgrade and modify weapons) my character would occasionally activate whatever weapon he was carrying. This wasn’t a train smash until I started making grenades and Molotov cocktails. Strapping two deodorant cans together with duct tape suddenly became a life or death gamble.

Despite these glaringly obvious flaws, Dead Island gets a lot of things right. Its combat is intense and the throngs of zombies provide delectable cannon fodder for your (albeit slightly disappointing) modified weaponry. If you can look past the bugs and occasional design oddities, there’s an extremely enjoyable experience to be found in Dead Island. If you’ve got some friends to share that experience with, then you’re in for even more of a treat.