Rough around the edges
I have to admit I am big fan of all things Zombie, so the general idea behind dead Island immediately appealed to me, deserted on a holiday island that has been hit by a Zombie Virus ? Sign me up ! I have spent almost 200 hours in Left 4 Dead, so I am no stranger to facing hordes of undead.
The game looks good, although it could have been released a few years ago, the engine seems outdateded but what it does, it does good. It is not as much the textures or visual style that is interesting (it's not) but the game oozes atmosphere. Making a zombie set on a sunny and beautiful island is both innovative and utterly haunting, the first steps I took on the picture, nothing but the unsettling screams of seagulls and the lurking zombies around me, that was quiet the experience. The game offers lots of variety when it comes to environments, more t than Left 4 Dead or Dead Rising for example, there is the beach resort, the jungle, the sewers, the big hotel, whenever I became bored or used to a region, the game send a new one my way. The animation of the zombies is great and especially the damage model gruesome and rewarding if you are into that kind of thing. The bloom effect really makes the natural surroundings shine, but you need a system that can carry that load. The cutscenes and intro (and outro) are pretty bad and below industry standard, so, it becomes the more apparent that the viral buzz generator that had been the Dead Island trailer was not produced by Techland itself, as they clearly have to learn a lot about cutscenes.
Speaking of cutscenes, the story is more or less non-existent. Trapped on the island, you have to get off, of course, not without helping each and every person than steps in your way who all need someone rescued, something found or something delivered, you know the gist if you played any RPG or quest-based games. Most of the quests are repetitive and of average interest, some are more interesting but those are usually the main quest and if you are a completist and want to do the sidequests, you might let go of the occasional sigh when you have to do the same thing again and again. Of course, you can expect all Zombie clichees to be in the game, the military is involved, people are turning against each other, someone's relative turns etc., been there done that, nothing new but as long as it delivers a nice framework for the killing. It is a shame that a game with so many (albeit superficial) moral issues never lets the player make any decision whatsoever and there is some potential for doing something like that. I am not saying the system needs to be as robust as Dragon Age, but just give me some choices, who to help, which path to go down. The ending is dull and very non-climatic, so that is a disappointment.
The gameplay is fun and rewarding, which mainly comes down to the fact that it is such visceral fun to slaughter Zombies all over the place. There are many types of Zombies and that mixes things up a little. There are many weapons you can find, and the loot is random, so you get that classic loot hunting feeling and are always on the lookout for the better loot or weapon mod.
The controls of the game are quite clunky and don't work that well, especially when firearms make an appearance and people who are experienced FPS players will groan in pain regarding the terrible execution of this part of the game. I don't mind fighting a few humans here and there, but it watered down the whole thrilling experience of being on a zombie-infested island for me. It is not only the controls that are unpolished, but the menu and interface as well. For a game that relies heavily on looting and items, the inventory management is a tedious chore and I hated going back to my inventory and sorting through my weapons and that is a sign of bad design because in other games like this, I always look forward to browsing through the loot and changing my equipment etc. The weapon mods ( aka Dead Rising) are interesting but not as freeform and exciting as you might think, the modifications are no random drops but always quest rewards or to be found at specific locations so this part of the game is underwhelming, using a modified weapon is fun though.
Talking of bad design, the game has many glitches and bugs, some minor and some pretty annoying. For example (and that is only one of many), respawning does not work. When you die in the game you respawn somewhere else and one time, I respawned at a location I actually had to get to for a quest and died on my way, so the game just skipped a whole lot of game for me but putting me right into where I had to go. There are many of these bugs and especially when you die as a result of them, it becomes very frustrating.
All in all, the game is a good game that is rough around the edges, but the setting and zombie fighting is so much fun, you still keep going and I enjoyed the most part of it, while I had to be patient and merciful for others. The controls, interface and first and foremost the lack of story prevented this from getting a higher rating. I would not replay this game any time soon, just because I could not take the bugs and glitches again, but I enjoyed the ride.