Dead Island Hands On

Have you heard of this one? You may have heard of its pretty stylish teaser trailer, which certainly got a lot of attention. The actual game may only share two things — a resort island and zombies — with that first glimpse, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t curious to check out Dead Island when the opportunity arose. And check it out I did, spending a good hour roaming sunny beaches incongruously splattered with blood.

Here’s what interests me about Dead Island: it combines the open, explorable world of something like Fallout with the survival horror elements of Resident Evil. So while both open world games and zombie games have been done to death, the combination has resulted in something fresh. Of course, things might get stale pretty quickly for all I know, but from what I saw, Dead Island has potential.

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But why continue to assault you with verbose paragraphs when I can simply throw my thoughts at you in wonderful bullet point form? Here’s what stood out to me during my one hour of play:

The opening scenes weren’t as dramatic and polished as I would have liked. Perhaps I’m being unfair, but after the wonderfully tense intro sequences of games like BioShock and any of the recent Call of Duty titles, I felt like there was a missed opportunity here. My character has just woken up to find their immediate surroundings are infested with zombies. More could be made of this!

Get through the prologue, however, and you’re treated to the island — and the game itself — opening up into something more akin to Fallout. This is a very good thing. From what I saw, there’s a lot of island to cover, and side quests or hidden areas abound. You can easily lose yourself in the beautiful scenery… and then lose your life as zombies descend on you.

The voice acting runs from painfully bad to hilariously bad. This was particularly noticeable whenever my character decided to comment on the situation at hand. “I can’t believe I’m doing this!” she’d scream, as she killed her 50th zombie.

Oh, and hearing lots of (sometimes faithful, sometimes butchered) Australian accents wasn’t my idea of fun.

You will die a fair amount. This game, refreshingly, doesn’t hold your hand and make you feel like a superhuman being. If you charge up to a dozen zombies with a broomstick in your hand, you will die, as I found out. In keeping with the game’s open world, the combat is nicely free-form, in that fleeing is always an option. After being shunted down linear corridor after linear corridor fighting pre-canned battles in other games, I quite liked that.

Cars are fun. They add a bit of action gameplay to what is otherwise very much a survival horror game of weapon conservation. Travelling to a lighthouse in a pickup truck felt good, as did mowing down various zombies who had previously caused me to run in terror.

Weapons are still very satisfying, of course — you can tell a lot of development time was spent getting them just right. I like the idea of picking up whatever is to hand and using it against your foes, even if all I managed to pick up was an abundance of paddles, broomsticks and knives.

Adding to the feeling of fragility is a weapon’s breaking point: use it too much and it’ll be useless until repaired. Take it to a workshop and you can also upgrade it. I hope to make a broomstick filled with nails and brimming with electricity. Will the full game let me do this? I sure hope so.

There are rough edges, of course, as is generally the case in giant open-world games. It’s the fine detail that tends to get lost in the shuffle. Specifically, I can’t say I really cared about the humans I interacted with — they felt more like glorified quest markers at this stage in the game. Maybe they’ll grow on a player once the plot reveals itself, but it’s not something I’m expecting to have happen.

Overall, though, Dead Island felt surprisingly tight and compelling. I wouldn’t say it struck me as being the greatest open world game ever, nor as the best zombie game ever — Fallout 3 and Left 4 Dead both come to mind as stronger examples in their respective genres. But as I said before, it’s the combination of those two elements that has me very interested. Here is a game that encourages you to explore a beautiful resort, but will make you scared to look around every other corner. And that intrigues me.

+ Zombies + open world = a compelling combination.
- Poor voice acting, unconvincing characters.
"The sum seems greater than the parts."
- Dead Island
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Comments Comments (4)

Posted by PunisherNZL
On Thursday 25 Aug 2011 2:37 PM
thanks for the great review, i was really keen on this game but now im starting to think twice about it... maby a try before i buy would be a good idea.
Posted by cortez72
On Thursday 25 Aug 2011 3:01 PM
I am so suprised the concept hasn't been used more, free roam + zombies, you'd think the combination was a no brainer! (see what I did there.)

Still hanging out for the GTIV style zombie game in which you battle across a landscape to freedom/answers/rescue people etc. As is the case in most modern zombie movies. I think Dead Rising 2 is close to that idea, is it not?
Posted by guitar93
On Sunday 28 Aug 2011 12:31 PM
Really want to get the Limited Edition of this game. Might hire it out first. Seems cool. Always into Zombie games. Whats up with the first picture? Mental Patient Zombie?
Posted by Kegz
On Wednesday 7 Sep 2011 1:27 PM
I hadn't realised that this was an open world game (out of the loop, I know, I've been busy but that's why I have you NZG) so it's looking a lot cooler than I originally thought.
Looking forward to the full review. When's release?