Zombie games are popular, like em or hate em, that’s a fact. Even still, many gamers have been crying out for a 4 player coop open world zombie action RPG. It’s the kind of game no one has even really tried to attempt up to this point. Now we have one in the form of TechLand’s Dead Island, a tropical theme 4 player coop open world zombie action RPG (I think I just coined a genre) where you pick one of four heroes who are immune to a zombie virus and trying to escape the island alive.
After an opening cut scene, Dead island lets you pick one of 4 characters: Sam B, Xian, Logan or Purna, each one has their own job roles and skill trees a la World of WarCraft. I went with Sam B, the washed up rapper who is basically a tank, blunt weapons expert, and began my adventure waking up in the hotel with zombies every where and a guy barking directions over an intercom and through some stuff, happening. It felt like a heavily scripted version of the opening scene of Left 4 Dead 2, only with less fire and not as good.
After the prologue, the game starts to draw very heavily from Fallout as the quest structure is nearly identical. You have a main quest, then you have a bunch of people around you asking for help in side quest. This game is all about killing zombies, finding and crafting new weapons, and leveling up. The basics of Dead Island completely pulled from games like Fallout 3 and Borderlands, but that was kind of the point. However, quest objectives can be vague and it can be frustrating trying to figure what the game exactly wants you to do. Ever worse I ran into a number of instances where the game completely broke and I had to reset my game just to complete a quest. What will end up happening as a result is that you will get caught in a conundrum where you have to figure out whether the game broke, or you are just doing something wrong.
Dead Island’s biggest flaw is it’s execution of online, and since that is what many people will be buying the game for, it’s a big problem. The game scales to your level and difficulty, which is great for single player, but if someone who is not anywhere near you level comes into your game, everything will either get impossibly hard, or insultingly easy. To add injury to it all, the game by default lets random players drop in and out, and if you get a trouble maker in your game there is no way to kick them out. So if you have plans to play this game online, do it with people you know and who have headsets.
I may seem to be needlessly beating up Dead Island, but don’t let get it twisted, It is a fun game. Zombie killing is a very rewarding experience as always and the combat is just plain fun once you start unlocking your skills and get cool weapons. The game however completely lacks polish, visually, it has a fantastic art direction marred by poor technical execution, and the AI of friendly NPC’s is down right awful, both hurting the over all experience (I had friendly human walk on a corpse still on fire setting himself on fire and forced me to restart the mission, twice). Those problems, like all the others I described, are common in games like Dead Island… so, I have a hard time not recommending it. While Dead Island’s complete lack of polish is off putting to a perfectionist like me, I know fan of open world Action RPG’s are willing to look past those flaws. After all, both Fallout 3 and Borderlands suffer from the exact same issue and people seem to love those games too. I also have to give Techland credit for giving gamers the zombie game everyone has been asking for, it just turned out to be a really tough experience to deliver, especially with the same level of quality and polish you get in Left 4 Dead 1 and 2.