From a technical standpoint, Dead Island is a miserable game that should have never seen the light of day. The bugs are numerous and well known, though there are other problems that have not been touched on: It is the most uninspired, borrowed piece of garbage in recent memory, with no feature or innovation it can safely claim as its own. It adds nothing to the collective experience that hasn’t been seen already. You have played this game before, many times. And better versions of it, at that.
Yet I cannot put it down. I still come back to it.
As unoriginal as it is, it lifts a lot of great stuff. It is from a design aspect that the game’s beauty manages to awash all these criticisms, at least in the minds of those seeming to enjoy it – bugs and ruined save files aside. The game manages to accomplish something no zombie game has achieved or even attempted:
This is how a zombie outbreak should feel.
Zombie games have existed for quite a number of years, yet none have really tried to capture a quasi-accurate atmosphere and experience to the situation (though it’s not like a factual comparison would ever exist). Zombies have typically served as obstacles or enemies of which to kill, but the consequences upon society and the human psyche are typically glossed over – the human element, the sociological aspect, is abundantly absent.
Compare it to something like Left 4 Dead: You are being mobbed by hundreds of zombies, but there’s not really a survival element. You have four civilians surprisingly well trained in a number of fire arms, blasting and slugging their way through environments. Survival is essentially about how many hits you take and how many health packs the game doles out.
It's about how well you can play the game. That's all.
Left 4 Dead is also quite linear. It is in Dead Island’s exploration and mundane tasks that it accomplishes a sense of this “reality” as you roam an open world for whatever you can scrounge together for weapons. Shotguns and machine guns aren’t just given to you, and you often have to interact with people and work with them to accomplish things. Let’s face it: If shit ever does hit the fan, it’s going to be more about finding gas, food, and help, rather than Red Herbs, V-JOLT, and MO Disks.
Dead Rising makes a fairly good attempt at this, but Dead Rising a little more comical and over the top. Granted, Dead Island has it absurdities, but they’re few in between compared to Dead Rising. Though to clarify: This is not a knock on Dead Rising (although the sequel can choke on a brick), or any of the aforementioned games. I love all of them.
There’s always this sense of doom and dread in Dead Island, and you’re somewhat always in dire straits: Weapons continue to break, causing you to sometimes franticly search for new ones as a horde approaches. Health can be sometimes a problem, as well as money. Your resources are limited, though not to a Resident Evil level – but close enough. You are not some super soldier, even with the abilities you can upgrade: You will still run into things that’ll kick your ass, and you will still die.
It’s always interesting to see how the people around you react, which is the hallmark of the great zombie films. A lot of people knock the sidequests where you have to fetch nonessential things like a necklace, or a teddy bear – they seem out of place and not in keeping with that serious tone. However, people act in illogical ways during traumatic times. I can remember a while back on the evening news, they had on a woman who had just survived an earthquake. She was asked during the interview: What was going through your mind?
Her main concern was her jewelry, at home. If all of her belongings were alright. That was the immediate concern: “Do I still have all my shit?” Not: “I’m going to die,” or “Are my children still three dimensional?”
You can see some of these characters have completely lost it. You see how people cope and react, unlike most of the game’s contemporaries. It’s not perfect, and it’s rather shallow and skin deep as the game doesn’t really go out of its way to establish this or make any commentary on it – but it is there.
Dead Island shouldn’t work. Especially given its technical failures (that’ll hopefully be resolved in the upcoming patches). But I, and a lot of people, can’t put it down. It might just be that this is the closest any one has come to really nailing the atmosphere and experience of this rigor mortis filled apocalypse.