Dead Island is a first person sandbox zombie game probably best known for having a crazy awesome trailer that was in no way representative of the actual game. And it was also a buggy mess when it was first released.
Idiot that I was I bought into the hype from the trailer, pre-orderd it, and played on day one of release.
I had never seen a game so buggy in my life. Walking up to a quest giver, seeing him open his mouth, and then hearing nothing but static or a recording of the ocean remains the most unsettling experience I have ever had in a video game.
So as you can imagine after about two hours of being serenaded by the worst biggest noisecore fans, I gave up and didn't play the game again for years.
However after the release of the standalone expansion/sequel Dead Island Riptide I decided to give it another go now its finally been patched. Turns out I really bloody like it.
First, the characters. Ranked in order of usefulness.
Blade specialist. Technically hailing from China, but given the variety of Japanese and other Asian weapons you end up using with her, she's basically from the country of Asia in the continent of The East. As a blade user she can dismember and decapitate enemies, which as you've probably already guessed is by far the most fun way of killing enemies in the game, and is also probably the easiest.
Another reason to pick her is she is the only one of the four who isn't a total dick to everyone in the cut-scenes.
On the downside she probably has the most annoying pain sounds, and for some reason refuses to take off her heels for the entire game.
Blunt specialist. Imagine asking a white 80 year old farmer what a typical African American male looks like, now imagine him about 20% worse than that. Now you have an accurate picture of the blunt specialist. Voiced by Hermes Conrad from Futurama under the stage name Phil LaMarr, the blunt specialist is a rapper who wears bling, baggy clothing and hits things with sticks. The developers managed to resist the urge to give him spears to chuck, but even then you can create some close approximations with weapon modifications.
You can't sever limbs with blunt weapons but you can instead break bones, which causes the limb to hang uselessly in a way that can make the zombies look entertainingly uncommitted to trying to kill you.
You have a much larger set of options for weapon modifications as a blunt user, but most of these boil down to “still not as good/fun as a blade weapon”.
Thrown weapon specialist. His character trait is being every generic white male protagonist ever, and his specialisation basically makes him a rubbish version of the proper blade specialist. Everyone can throw weapons in Dead Island, even the zombies, and all you get for choosing this character is some skill trees that add more damage and give you a small chance of instantly getting your weapon back.
In practice this means you have to spend every fight hoping you don't run out of weapons, otherwise you have to go pull them out of the zombies that are trying to kill you and throw them again. And then you have to spend an extra 30 seconds collecting all of your weapons again at the end of a fight.
Gun specialist. The first and only Australian aboriginal character I think of in a game, maybe they were hoping this would cancel out the blunt specialist, it doesn't. The gun specialist is a waste of time in terms of gameplay. First of all, regardless of which character you choose, you're probably going to use guns a bit to safely explode things from a distance, however apart from that guns are basically just a way to ruin the games main saving grace, i.e. the melee combat engine. The gun play is still well done and satisfying, but nowhere near as fun as the melee, especially once you start encountering enemies that move fast or only take gun damage in very small areas.
Another important factor if you're considering using the gun specialist is the fact that you don't really get any guns until you are in the second act of the game.
So unless you fancy spending the first 2 hours of the game (if you're fast) batting off zombies you have no special abilities against, in the hope that later on you will be the master of a mechanic that isn't as fun as all the others ones, the gun specialist is not for you. Also even when you do get guns, they're normally only pistols that are sod all good against crowds of more than 3 zombies. So really you have to wait automatic for weapons in the third act for guns to get worthwhile.
And the of course there are the zombies, Dead Island has a fun variety of these. However it also does that weird thing where the game interface will always call them zombies, but the actual people in the game seem to have been brought up in a world where zombies are a radical new concept, and so often just call them “freaks”.
“Walkers”, basically your standard zombie. They shuffle around like you would expect them to, and lurch a bit faster when they see you. They're pretty much what you expect. The only potential new thing is occasionally one of them has a weapon that they'll throw at you, these are difficult to dodge and do alarmingly high amounts of damage.
“Infected”, same as walkers except they run very fast. When they see you they'll pause for a few seconds to have a bit of a scream, and then run at you still yelling. You can hear them in the distance, which is scary at first. But after a while you realise the scream is less like that of an undead abomination, and more like that of someone who's lost their keys on a busy
One of the most fun things about these guys are the fact the game seems to factor their momentum when they're running at you. Seeing one, standing still, waiting until it's run within slicing distance, and then effortlessly decapitating it the second before it hits makes you feel nothing less than a cast iron badass.
“Thugs”, bigger version of walkers. They can knock you off your feet with a single swing, so the strategy you will inevitably find yourself using with these is waiting for his attack animation to end and then breaking or cutting off his arms. Don't bother with the legs because they are apparently secondary torsos, so de-legging a zombie instantly kills it but only once you've worn all of its health points down.
“Suiciders”, slow moving gas tanks. When you walk near them they start shaking and then explode. This really isn't a threat as you can easily move away in time, or just pop them with a gun or thrown weapon. The only other thing worth saying about them is they make a sound like an asthmatic doing a Macho Man Randy Savage impression in a cathedral.
“Rams”, giant charging zombies. Probably the toughest guys in the game, when they see you they charge at you and do massive damage if they hit. If you are standing near them they will kick you for massive damage, and they only take damage on the head or back. The only real way to kill these guys is either running them over (they're bigger than most cars but somehow this works), or waiting for them to finish charging, after which they have a frustrated fit for about 10 seconds, during which you can hit them safely.
For some reason all of them are wearing straitjackets that somehow still fit perfectly after their transformation. Leaving aside for the moment the total mystery of why they are all in straitjackets and identical, I really can't stress enough how ridiculously out of place theses things look, most of the game is spend around holiday resorts or towns, none of which have anything that even vaguely resembles a mental hospital. So the rams just look like they were modded in from another game.
“Floaters”, fat zombies that vomit acid. Usually rise up out of water in certain places, they're pretty easy to kill as long as you stay behind them and avoid the vomit. There is very little to say about these guys.
“Butchers”, fast zombies that can dodge. As everyone knows, the true secret to mastering hand-to-hand combat is to have no hands to begin with. The butchers know this and so just have jutting arm bones and no hands. These guys are pretty dangerous as they can dodge a lot of your attacks and run too fast to avoid once they've seen you.
One last thing to mention is that I got pretty fed up of referring to the zombies as guys in those descriptions. All except for walker and infected zombies are male only, and not only that, they are also completely identical, apart from the thug which has one or two guy variants. Would it really have been that difficult to add a tiny bit more variety? They spent plenty of time on maps that are way bigger than they really need to be, would it really have been that hard to add more than one special zombie model? A female variant would be the easiest possible thing to do, all that needs to be done is expand the chest a bit and add/lengthen the zombies hair. They probably could have done that in two minutes, and the zombies variety would have been instantly doubled.
Maps and Items
The maps in Dead Island are -as I've already mentioned- really bloody big. The maps include: A beach-side resort, a town, a sewer system beneath the town, a jungle, a jungle lab, a prison. As well as some smaller levels including: a town hall, a supermarket, a hotel and another jungle area.
So you've certainly got plenty to explore, thankfully there is also quite a good fast travel system.
The items in the game are usually found by searching containers, you search a container by tapping “f” and then grab the item by tapping “f” again. In case you haven't noticed the searching part of this is a pointless waste of time, admittedly it only takes an extra ½ second to do this but it still seems really unnecessary.
The items in the containers re-spawn after you leave and re-enter an area, and it usually changes every time so there in some reward in re-exploring an area, although all most of these items are used for is making weapon mods or occasional recurring fetch quests.
Much is made in game of the main characters immunity to the zombie virus, however the far more important apparent immunity they have is to type two diabetes, as throughout the game the main way to regain health is to to eat your way through a mountain of snack bars and energy drinks. This is actually quite a good method once you get used to it, and the only real problem you're likely to encounter with it is occasional animation issues if you eat multiple things too quickly.
Graphics and Gameplay
The graphics in the game are at the “okay I guess” end of “sort of good”. The lighting is good but the textures and meshes do seem a little muddy and rushed. The upside of this is the game runs very smoothly, which is vital for a melee combat oriented game. And the main setting is a tropical jungle, which is quite a hard thing to make look bad. As long as the leaves are recognisable and roughly the right colour, it all looks good while you're busy killing things.
The quests in the game as almost always fetch quests, which I don't really mind as really all the quests need to be in this game is an excuse to fight more zombies. However after a while the sheer bone-idleness of the quest givers does start to get grating. You can't help but question the logic of a situation in which a large tattooed lifeguard is pleading with a small Asian woman in heels to go risk her life and fetch him some juice.
There is an overarching storyline, but it's basically “get off the island”, the characters and details involved really aren't worth paying attention to.
And finally the combat engine. This is what really make the game worth your time. The crosshairs allow you to target and remove/break individual limbs. The weapons feel appropriately weighty, so a katana will feel light and fast, whereas an axe or sledgehammer will feel slow and heavy in a way that really makes you appreciate the force of when they hit.
There really isn't much more to say about it. It's just a typical first person combat engine, but really, really well done. If the game was just one character in a single room, against an endless horde of zombies I would still recommend this game, because the combat is really the driving force behind everything in the game.
In short Dead Island is like someone made one of those indie games that only focuses on doing one thing really well, and then imported it into a mediocre but triple A sized game. The best way to play this game is while listening to a podcast or half paying attention to a TV show, that way you don't need to pretend to care about the plot that isn't really there.
In one line: If you want a good first person melee combat game this game is for you, otherwise you'll probably find it a bit boring and repetitive.