GSY REVIEW | X360, PS3, PC Monday, September 5, 2011 | 9:40 AM

Gamersyde Review: Dead Island

Gamersyde Review: Dead Island

A paradisiac island, tons of zombies and a handful of survivors, that's the kind of cocktail you get with Techland's new game. After an incredibly exciting first trailer and a very disappointing Call of Juarez episode, the question was to know what type of drink Dead Island would be: vintage wine or jungle juice? Answer inside.
Update: Gameplay video added.




Go get it!

The game opens up on a bad hung over, whether you choose Sam B, Logan, Purna or Xian Mei as a hero. Contrary to Left4Dead, the four characters are not just distinctive skins, each possessing specific abilities and characteristics you can level up with experience points. Dead Island confirms its RPG - or more exactly hack & slash - heritage when you get to meet with the first group of survivors. As professional as they are cowardly, these conscientious NPCs do not hesitate to ask you to accomplish many tasks outside of their improvised bunker, throwing you directly into a crowd of infected tourists. A good opportunity to discover the combat system.



Double tap

Despite being played in the first person view, firearms are not the main weapons of interest. First reason is that they are rare. Second reason is that, more than anything else, you need your hands to survive out there, which means combat is a matter of getting close. Very few first person games have managed to render the brutality and violence of melee combat, but in Techland's case, it's a win. Though it is sometimes a bit tricky to know exactly if you are going to hit your target (especially with smaller weapons such as knives or knuckles), though sometimes you can actually miss, the end result is both immersive and brilliant. Immersive when you struggle to push back a zombie trying to eat your face. Brilliant when you kick one away before finishing him with a shovel, when you behead another with a machete or when your hammer throw is a successful bullseye.



Homemade!

Weapons are of course of paramount importance in the game. Sticks, torchlights, rows, pipes, sickles, mincing - or regular - knives, guns, molotov cocktails, you name it. Each of them has its own characteristics, which influences the amount of stamina they require, how hard they hit and how fast they break. Thankfully, there are workbenches you can use to fix your arsenal, customize or even upgrade it. Similarly to Dead Rising, schematics give you clues as to how to use the many objects you can collect to create explosives, nail bats (Gee, that one would have never crossed my mind!) or electrified machetes to name but a few. The more you progress into the game, the more important these elements get and the more tactical combat becomes. Contrary to Left4Dead, Dead Island is not about having you face hundreds of zombies at the same time; confronting 4 or 5 of them is tricky enough already. That's why it's important to learn to run away to disperse them, to take out the fast ones first as they are generally the weakest, to force the slow and resistant ones to the ground so you can finish them more easily, or to cut out the arms of the massive ones. Survival then depends on how well and quick you use your brain.



Nothing is simple

Surviving such events also means helping each other. Despite a few documents which can be found (newspapers, audio recordings), the world of Dead Island is pretty basic. No hard choices, no antagonistic factions or detailed back-story; survival is the common denominator to all the quests NPCs assign you to do. Clearing the way to a shelter, bringing back some food, medicine or gas, escort missions, putting the power back on at the lighthouse or placarding posters in the street, etc. Pure "Fedex" missions in most cases but Techland had the great idea to make up for the poor narrative by staging quests in different ways. For instance, getting behind the wheel to go get some gas at a nearby gas station seems pretty easy at first glance; however, once there, you have to face quite an "electrifying" problem. Three generators must be found: the first is very easy to access, the second requires you to pile up crates and the last one is inside a warehouse filled with zombies.



Free time

Since the passing of time is not an issue in Dead Island, exploration is more than advised to search the different areas, which allows to analyze a situation and come back later with the proper equipment. The world of Dead Island is not open world per se like Oblivion, it is more like a patchwork of a few vast areas offering varied types of environments (the beach, bungalows, a hotel, a local town, the jungle, etc). It is a real pleasure to discover new places and walking - or driving - around is a lot of fun. Navigation in the world is also made easier thanks to a kind of teleportation system between all the different safe-houses and a very efficient GPS. Everything would be perfect if it weren't for a few scratches, like the difference between the detailed outdoor landscapes and the poor interiors, like the very bad animations of the NPCs (who must have been motion captured by a monkey) or like the fact that each actor plays several roles which sounds a bit weird. Gameplay-wise, it's a bit of a shame that unlocked abilities are all passive somehow (stamina bonus or strength bonus for example) and that there is only one special attack per character. It does not prevent Techland from achieving quite a feat, delivering an original and interesting zombie game despite the number of titles in the genre.



Verdict



Techland is a studio with more ambition than money. It can be felt in the few unsuccessful attempts at creating a strong narrative. It can also be felt in some of the more emotional cutscenes, or the early steps of social tensions that could have made the game close to the Walking Dead (a comic book you should definitely check out if you haven't) had they been exploited properly. That being said, even with the abandonment of its role playing dimension, Dead Island manages to brilliantly become a first person hack & slash. Exploration, combat, looting, skills/weapons upgrades, everything in the game is well done and makes it fun to play. Because Dead Island also succeeds in keeping the player in the midst of danger (the game's difficulty is designed to make sure of that), the sense of survival is permanent, which should please the fans of the genre. Definitely a vintage wine.

Introduction
Characters
The First 10 Minutes
Landscapes
Gameplay

All comments

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Commented on 2011-09-05 09:19:50
Thank you, i wont be buying it at launch due to money, but defiantly picking it up round crimbo time
Glad it's a decent game :)
Commented on 2011-09-05 09:36:40
Can't wait for Friday then :)
Commented on 2011-09-05 10:29:40
Bought it on Green Man Gaming for $33 and activated on Steam, preloaded and ready. Will be playing it right through Tuesday and Wednesday!
Commented on 2011-09-05 11:25:23
Will get it on Friday and kill my time till GoW3 !
Commented on 2011-09-05 11:43:51 In reply to GeRaLTo
Posted by GeRaLTo
Will get it on Friday and kill my time till GoW3 !
Just make sure to not enjoy it and still finish it!
Commented on 2011-09-05 12:32:59
Man, I thought this game would get bad reviews and wouldn't be worth it. But now that I read it, I want the game. Damn you Gamersyde. So tempted to buy it.
Commented on 2011-09-05 12:36:53 In reply to digi_matrix
Posted by digi_matrix
Just make sure to not enjoy it and still finish it!
Got it...hopefully wont fall asleep this time xD

Forgot to thanks You guys for a great review. Thumbs up !
Commented on 2011-09-05 13:40:55
How is it compared to L4D?
Commented on 2011-09-05 15:56:07
Bugger, do i cancel my star fox pre order and get this? Or stick it out for abit? Dam you gamersyde I literally had very little interest until now.
Commented on 2011-09-05 16:43:56 In reply to Trebby
Posted by Trebby
How is it compared to L4D?
Quite embarrassing, if you're referring at the co-op side.
Despite this, is overall a discrete game, with a satisfying campaign.
Commented on 2011-09-05 19:19:33
Since the videos are all 60 fps, does it mean that they are from the PC version?
Commented on 2011-09-05 19:22:00 In reply to exenter
No, they are from the 360 version but they are not really 60 fps. The method we are using allows us to not amplify the tearing effects, which is sometimes what happens when capturing a game. Hence, what you see is exactly how it looks when you play the game, but the info about the number of frames per second on the video is not correct. But I can assure you that the game runs this smooth on 360.
Commented on 2011-09-05 19:41:00
I like that you don't use scores in the review. Numbers just clouds people's minds.
Commented on 2011-09-05 20:32:26
So happy this game turned out well, pre ordered immediately after seeing the first reviews and got a sweet deal on green man gaming. Very good start to the week can't wait to play this tomorrow
Commented on 2011-09-05 20:38:20 In reply to mustacio
Posted by mustacio
So happy this game turned out well
Did it turn out well? The impression I've gotten from other reviews, as well as gameplay footage I've seen, is that it's disappointingly shallow and rather tedious. Granted, the bar was set very high with one of the best game trailers I've ever seen.
Commented on 2011-09-05 20:54:26
Is there Level Scaling like Oblivion?

IF yes then there goes my hype.
Commented on 2011-09-05 20:59:18 In reply to IRAIPT0IR
No, on the contrary. There are areas where you should not go unless you've leveled up enough. That's why you can see each zombie's level above their head, so you don't run to your death. Now it's also possible the game adjusts their levels in some areas so it keeps it challenging. I have not played enough to be sure. I'll ask our reviewer when I get a chance.
Commented on 2011-09-05 21:21:52
Will we get some PC version videos? I really want to know if it's a good PC port before plunging in.
Commented on 2011-09-05 21:45:03 In reply to foda500
Koch Media sent me the PC version last Friday. Problem is it is steam powered so I have to wait the official release, which is September 9 according to Steam... Oddly enough, the game officially ships in France on September 8, so I don't know why Steam says differently. Anyhow, it means you won't see any PC footage until Saturday at best.
Commented on 2011-09-05 21:49:31
Nice write up! I'd be all over this game if I wasn't knee deep in Deus Ex. Like foda500, I'm curious about the PC port, particularly, if their budget was small.
Commented on 2011-09-05 21:58:46 In reply to Driftwood
Posted by Driftwood
No, on the contrary. There are areas where you should not go unless you've leveled up enough. That's why you can see each zombie's level above their head, so you don't run to your death. Now it's also possible the game adjusts their levels in some areas so it keeps it challenging. I have not played enough to be sure. I'll ask our reviewer when I get a chance.
Thanks man!

Is just that takes away my satisfaction on going against some low levels that beated me in the beggining and destroy them with my high level character.
Commented on 2011-09-05 23:47:38 In reply to Ronsauce
Posted by Ronsauce
Did it turn out well? The impression I've gotten from other reviews, as well as gameplay footage I've seen, is that it's disappointingly shallow and rather tedious. Granted, the bar was set very high with one of the best game trailers I've ever seen.
How did you get that impression? Every review I have read stated that despite it's flaws it is a very enjoyable game. Which review did you get that idea from? t's been getting 8 and higher reviews, which last time I checked was a good/great rating.
Commented on 2011-09-06 00:20:31 In reply to mustacio
Posted by mustacio
How did you get that impression? Every review I have read stated that despite it's flaws it is a very enjoyable game. Which review did you get that idea from? t's been getting 8 and higher reviews, which last time I checked was a good/great rating.
He likes to cherry pick certain things to fit his negative bias.
Commented on 2011-09-06 03:32:20 In reply to digi_matrix
Posted by digi_matrix
He likes to cherry pick certain things to fit his negative bias.
No more or less than anyone else.

If I don't think a game looks that good, and a review or two touch on some of the negative aspects that I'm worried about, well yeah, I'm going to take that as some kind of confirmation that I probably shouldn't spend money on the game.

Just like if someone is excited for the game and decides to cherry pick the positive things to fit his positive bias.
Commented on 2011-09-06 03:43:05 In reply to Ronsauce
Posted by Ronsauce
No more or less than anyone else.
At least you agree.
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About the game


What's up?
  • hotkirby
    hotkirby @hotkirby: I actuely like turnbased game(discpiles,mario and luigieetc). But this change seems to fit really wel, so why cry. (3 minutes ago)
  • alimokrane
    alimokrane @hotkirby: You play with the formula but you stay true to the core of what the franchise is. Something different is not copying other games. (4 minutes ago)
  • alimokrane
    alimokrane .... other games into genres they like? it's not like we have a lack of Action RPGs. I play them too but I do like my turn based too! (5 minutes ago)
  • hotkirby
    hotkirby @alimokrane:there are over 13 ff games turnbases. It seems the developers like to try something different. (5 minutes ago)
  • alimokrane
    alimokrane @hotkirby: and here we go again... I am not going to have the same argument over and over again. go play your ActionRPG, leave my FF alone! why are turn based combat haters always trying to turn ..... (6 minutes ago)
  • alimokrane
    alimokrane @Sath: You can lol what you want. You always dont know what a FF combat system is like until its explained or you play. If it's playing like an ActionRPG then it's not FF anymore (7 minutes ago)
  • hotkirby
    hotkirby @alimokrane: Yeah cuz a change form the different turn based system is soooooo bad. Looks finally like a fun game. (7 minutes ago)
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