Guest Author - James Shea
A zombie-based FPS using RPG elements similar to games like Diablo or Borderlands, "Dead Island" can't quite make up its mind what it wants to be.
Dead Island is a game taking place in the standard zombie outbreak scenario, taking place in (or near) Australia. The details are largely irrelevant - it's a zombie game, kill zombies and rescue survivors. However, the presentation is...well, it's not "unique", but it's a mix and match of different genres that sort of hasn't been done before. In essence, it's an FPS RPG, and while that in itself isn't new, bringing it to the zombie genre is kind of new (although Zombie FPS games and Zombie RPGs have existed).
In gameplay terms, Dead Island is a cross between Borderlands and Dead Rising. The former refers to how the game uses its RPG stats; there are four characters to pick, each with their own stats and special abilities. Characters level up by killing enemies and doing quests, and each character has a stat tree that unlocks new abilities and traits. Throughout the game you pick up new weapons with different effects. While most zombie games include scavenged weapons as a mechanic, DI takes it a step further by making them essentially "magic items". Different weapons have different traits that affect durability, speed, damage, and so on, and weapons can be upgraded at workbenches.
The "Dead Rising" aspect of the game comes from the weapon construction system. Throughout the game, players will find miscellaneous objects scattered around - things like duct tape, batteries, nails, etcetera. These items, combined with the proper blueprints, allows for the development of modified weapons. A neat inclusion of the RPG element is the fact that the base weapon's stats affect the end weapon, so it's better to pick a high-quality weapon to modify instead of just picking up a random one. There's no experimentation, though, which reduces the potential a lot, and even finding the right items is just a matter of "loot drops" (it's not like Dead Rising, where you get items from places that make reasonable sense).
Dead Island's main problem is that it's just remarkably lackluster. It's not offensively bad, per se, but everything it does has been done better somewhere else. "Scavenging" just consists of opening bags or boxes (which have highly visible "you can use this" markers), not actually looking for items. In addition, the game's realistic atmosphere clashes heavily with the cartoony RPG aspects; there's detailed gore modeled on the game's zombies, but it's hard to care when they pop up with "+25 EXP" every time you hit them. The game certainly has some pretty vistas, but "decent looks" don't make a game playable.
Overall, Dead Island might be worth picking up if you haven't played any of the other much better examples of the Zombie genre. It's got 4-player co-op (indeed, the game's story and cutscenes assume you're playing with a full party even if you're not), but even that might not be enough to really save it. Dead Island just doesn't have a lot to offer, conceptually or technically.
We purchased this game with our own funds from Steam.