Dead Island Screenshot

Been putting some time into Dead Island, so I figured I'd throw out some random impressions for those who are curious.

To start with, there is no doubt that this game is buggy.

It's not terrible (and from what I gather, it doesn't seem to be on-par with the number of unhappy reports that plagued Fallout: New Vegas) but there are quite a few issues that crop up. To be fair, most of them are pretty minor… things like picking up a certain weapon and having that weapon's icon replaced with a giant red pixel, or trying to track down a minor quest item and having the map direct you to the center of a swimming pool with nothing in it.

On the other hand, Daniel Weissenberger is much further in the game than I am, and from what he's suggested, the game starts to fall apart in more serious ways as the player gets closer to completion.

That makes a fair bit of sense since not very many people ever finish games, and if the developers made sure to polish the first few hours as much as possible, that would buy them some time to come back and finish the endgame later. I can't say that I've seen any of the problems that Dan has reported (glitched quests that can't be completed, an escort mission that respawns players in a location surrounded by enemies, and so on.) However, I did hit a save glitch that basically erased an hour's worth of playtime… I regained lost ground pretty quickly, but the fact remains that such issues should never occur.

So is the game all bad? Should you stay far away? No, not at all… while it might be wise to wait another week or two for the inevitable patches to come, when the game works it's a fantastic experience.

The island of Banoi is a massive location, and players are free to roam at-will. At the moment I'm still in the beach resort area, but from what I gather there are several other large chunks of real estate to be discovered. No one can say that this is a small game. Having lived briefly on an island myself, I was impressed with the way the landscape was modeled and much of the territory felt "correct," if that makes sense.

Dead Island Screenshot

Also, as a fan of zombies in general, I've always been disappointed that no game has ever really captured the sense of being a survivor surrounded by the undead, having to scavenge for materials, canvassing abandoned buildings, or banding together with survivors. Some games have certainly captured elements of this classic zombie formula, but none have nailed it. While there are a few things I would change about Dead Island, I think it comes closer than any other game I've played to what I would imagine a "real" zombie apocalypse would be like.

It may seem tedious or perhaps a little less than exciting, but picking your way through an empty hotel lobby and searching bags for usable items helps establish a desperate atmosphere. Even better, it's great to enter an unknown area in search of supplies only to hear survivors screaming for help from a nearby bungalow. Happening upon people in dire circumstances (who are definitely worse off than yourself) and helping them out is quite satisfying, and again reinforces the feeling of banding together in times of need.

I've also really enjoyed the way the game takes some normal locations and turns them into puzzles of a sort, without completely destroying the believability of the situation. For example, I came across a fortified cabin with a non-infected person asking my help to get inside. After a bit of searching, I figured out how to get over the wall and unlocked the doors from within. In another area, power lines were down and created a deadly pool of electrified water. Although it was definitely a contrived situation put there to make the player work a little bit, it wasn't outside the realm of possibility and didn't gag me with over-the-top gamey-ness.

As far as the story goes, it's still early days but I've been quite satisfied with what I've gotten so far. As expected, the bulk of quests have been about fetching materials that are required to help send out a distress signal, finding lost relatives, or gathering food and survival supplies for survivors holed up in one of the island's few "safe" areas. It's not Shakespeare, but it's very appropriate for the subject material and provides me with more than enough motivation to get out there and decapitate some undead. By way of comparison, if Borderlands (which some people have said Dead Island is similar to) had made even a third of the effort that Dead Island does in terms of story, maybe I'd have ended up with a better opinion of it.

Dead Island Screenshot

A couple other quick notes:

It's really unfortunate that one of the game's developers exercised some exceedingly poor judgment and used the "feminist whore" title that was discovered buried in the code, but it's really not reflective of Dead Island in general. In fact, it's pretty ironic, but before hearing about this issue I was actually discussing with some friends how positive the portrayals of the game's two female characters were. For example, I can't say that I've seen anything sexist or stereotypical about my own character (the Asian female blade user) and the fact that the game stars three non-white characters (out of four) is definitely something worth noting.

Using money in the game is probably the one thing I've seen so far that just makes no sense whatsoever.

Since weapons degrade rather quickly through use, players must seek out workbenches and repair them. Rather than requiring metal, wires, sharpening stones or other things that someone would assume would be needed to repair a weapon, it just takes… money.

Ironically, the game throws a mountain of collectibles at the player, but those are used only to create special custom weapons (a bomb made out of deodorant, a bat studded with nails, etc.) but when it comes to patching up a cracked hammer or restoring the edge on a well-used machete, all it takes is cash. As the game goes on, a lot of cash. It doesn't make any sense and having to constantly play banker becomes a drag—as the zombies level up with your character, it takes tougher and tougher weapons in order to keep taking them down. Higher-level weapons require more cash to repair, and before you know it, all that money you didn't know what to do at the start of the game turns into $3 and a pile of weapons that you can't afford to fix.

I think I'm done ranting for the moment, but I would like to close out by saying that despite all of the complaints that can legitimately be leveled against Dead Island, I'm quite eager to get back to it. It's a great project stuffed full of great ideas, and I'm definitely enjoying my time on Banoi—when I'm not losing save progress, or when the game isn't bugging out on me, that is.

Brad Gallaway
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Preston Sotelo
12 years ago

I’m glad to see a zombie game that is legitimately trying to have a plot besides the usual head-smashing action. Although in truth, I feel that most zombie games aren’t really trying to go for too much more than that in the first place. However, I appreciate that this game is really trying to differentiate itself from the myriad of similar titles on game store shelves and attempting to provide well-fleshed out story & characters that you care about and want to keep alive. Though Dead Island is understandably labeled as being “rough around the edges” or “unpolished” I really… Read more »

12 years ago

im almost finished with the game and, despite some seriously broken instances, i’ve mostly enjoyed Dead Island. unlike most games we’re being over-charged for, this game actually has a ton of potential. i completely agree with Weissenberger about how the game starts to fall apart the closer you get to the end (ironically, when the plot actually starts to take off). spoiler warning: i don’t want anyone to have the same hair-pulling experience i did, so i’ll just give you guys a heads up during a certain mission that nearly caused me to stop playing altogether. when you’re escorting/protecting the… Read more »

Daniel Weissenberger
Daniel Weissenberger
12 years ago

It’s one of the game’s ‘tradeoffs’ that blades degrade much faster than blunt weapons, but the balance is skewed, because they’re not so much stronger than the blunt weapons you’ll find that it makes a difference.

It’s not until really late in the game that you’ll find fantastically good bladed weapons – until then, the only real advantage they offer is beheading the infected easily.