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Dead Island (PC) artwork

Dead Island (PC) review

"Taken in moderate doses...Dead Island is a pretty good zombie game."

Dead Island asset

My entry into Dead Island was both wonderful and terrible. I found myself surrounded by lush environs in the middle of a gorgeous paradise. Unlike most island getaways, though, I was not surrounded by the pervasive din of a perpetual beach party, nor the troublesome noise of human civilization outside of the resort. Rather, what greeted me was the soughing of the wind and the soft whisper of oceanic waves. Beneath those was a much more disquieting sound: the absence of society. That alone put me on edge and kept me scanning my surroundings, with my eye especially on the scores of dead bodies in the vicinity. Regardless of my vigilance, though, the living dead rose and managed to catch me unawares. At first it was only a sole ghoul who assailed me, but soon more arrived en masse with arms outstretched and rotting jaws ajar in hungry anticipation.

Tooth and nail, kayak oar and rusty meat cleaver, I fought off the undead. I saw arms break and dangle uselessly at zombies' sides, witnessed heads explode in a flash of meaty gore, and lopped off limbs like they were pre-cut. I bathed in the blood of the infected, thankful that my character was immune to the virus that plagued them, and I reveled in many victories. "To hell with the main quest," I thought. I just wanted to butcher some zombies! At first, I thought I had found my paradise. However, with each cracked skull and severed arm, I felt Dead Island's charm slip away...

Dead Island asset

Still, I loved the first ten or so hours of the campaign. I ran about the island, inspecting various bungalows in order to locate other survivors or special loot, leaving a trail of body parts as I went. I engaged in a variety of quests, from your typical fetch missions to more complex and personal matters, like mercy killing an NPC's infected loved one. Using money and experience gained from combat and side quests, I upgraded my weapons and chose from a fair number of perks. Although carrying an extra-durable machete while possessing a twenty percent stamina bonus may sound like I was on the road to being a badass, the truth is that stat customization and upgrading in Dead Island does not an unbeatable zombie-slayer make. Rather, each boosted stat or strengthened weapon served only to facilitate a longer survival. Honestly, this is what I enjoyed about Dead Island the most. Unlike many other "loot-quest" RPGs, this one wasn't so much about developing your avatar into a powerful warrior as much as it was about honing your survival skills.

Honing them was necessary, too. For as I advanced through the campaign, the zombies mutated. Soon the standard shambling corpses--called "walkers"--were joined by running zombies called "infected," super-strong monstrosities referred to as "thugs," and walking, explosive bags of pus named "suiciders." My favorites were tank-like creatures called "Rams," which were hulking, straightjacketed beasts that sprinted toward their targets. The birth of enemy diversity meant that clicking the hell out of the left mouse button wasn't going to cut it anymore. I had to be aware of the kinds of creatures I was up against and take out the bigger nuisances (read: infected) first. With effort, I learned to overcome the increased workload and survive.

...until I arrived at the slums. There my enjoyment took a dip.

Dead Island asset

The game was on the easy side when I started it. The developers might have known this and realized that they needed to step up the difficulty rating eventually. They did so in the slums, which were an immense, complex network of streets and alleys, some of which were choked with obstructions. The area's design was the least of my worries, though. Mission markers were now trickier to get to because of impediments that frequently required me to reroute. On top of that, zombie hordes were more massive and aggressive than before. Worst of all, the game began to spam the running 'infected' ghouls at this point, which hampered the experience more than anything I've mentioned thus far.

Before long, I grew to hate the infected. At times it seemed like I couldn't take five steps without hearing two or three of them screaming from afar, signifying that they were approaching. By the third act, I regularly found myself surrounded by more of them than I could possibly handle alone. As a result, I died a lot.

At times, simply completing a quest became a daunting affair. Dealing with larger and more frequent groups of zombies became repetitive, and having to trudge through miles of them was exhausting. Worse, some mission objectives required me to return to areas I'd already explored. For instance, I grew weary of returning to the police station in the slums and making my way through its long, winding hallways. Quests that felt like they should have been quick and simple eventually grew into drawn out tasks.

Dead Island asset

This isn't to say that the last half of Dead Island's campaign was completely insufferable. There were still plenty of exciting moments to be had, engaging in firefights against mercenaries or looters, rescuing trapped survivors, or traversing claustrophobic locations while zombies lurched out of every crevice. I loved upgrading my character and discovering advanced weaponry to replace my obsolete arsenal. One of my favorites was a hefty axe that sent my opponents flying through the air, usually in several pieces. They'd usually end their flights with a gushy SPLAT! against a nearby wall.

Ultimately, I dig Dead Island. Its simple, cathartic mechanics, oodles of action, and blend of RPG and survival elements make it enjoyable. Unfortunately it's far from perfect, mostly thanks to its overlong campaign and repetitive nature. The game can be laborious at certain points, mostly because its simplicity can grow wearisome. Taken in moderate doses, though, Dead Island is still a pretty good zombie game.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (October 17, 2013)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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