Dead Island Xbox 360 Review

First, a disclaimer. I played Dead Island on my own like a nobby no-friends, apart from one session. This was probably wrong as Dead Island is obviously skewed towards multiplayer. This revelation shocked me (not really, I’m joking for narrative effect in case you get all arsey) when I happened upon a cutscene where my character suddenly found himself hanging out with three other people. It was so out of the blue. No build up. Here was my meathead wisecracking dick of a character, previously a zombie bludgeoning-metaphor for onanism joined in an instant by three others. Where did they come from? Had they been stealthing him up good like an orgy of badly dressed Solid Snakes? Who knows.

Doesn’t matter. I’m not going to rip into the game for stuff like that. That’d be facetious. I’ve enjoyed games with jarring bits of continuity before, so that isn’t my problem with Dead Island.

It all starts off quite intriguingly. After a ‘smack my bitch up’ inspired opening of a drunk gooning about the Tropical Island, your character wakes up in his/her hotel room to find everything unnervingly quiet. He/she has a wander around the lifeless hotel (looting through other peoples bags for money and bits of duct tape, as you do), where lo and behold, they find blood stains strewn about the place. Your character doesn’t seem too perturbed though. They’re often too busy expressing merriment at finding a magnet (how do they work?) in some poor chap’s luggage. You eventually get herded into some zombies though and get knocked out. Oh calamity! Is this the end?

Fortunately not. Turns out you’re immune from the infection. Plus the lifeguard’s just bailed you out.

The lifeguard’s called Sinemoi, by the way. Good grief, he might be the most terrifying NPC in a game ever made. He looks like he’s been constructed from some particularly ennui-stricken plasticine. The bastard chimera of Russell Crowe and some laminate, he gives you your initial tasks in a terrifying gravel-voiced monotone. He calls you ‘mate,’ but I’d imagine it’s in the same way someone would call you mate in prison.

Now that that’s done you’re off on your zombie-kicking path, and it’s quite fun in a not-as-good-as-Condemned kind of way. Naturally firearms are scant on a tropical resort, so you’ll be bashing brains in and kicking the horde with whatever you can find. Dead Island sort of gets this right. There’s a satisfying clunk when you cudgel your foes with an oar or a broomstick. It’s even better when you find a sharp edged weapon and can start lopping limbs off with gay abandon. Dead Island is definitely at its best when you’re facing off against one of the upper tier zombies, systematically breaking its arms or legs and laughing hysterically as the hulking great brute tries to ineffectually headbutt you.

Your weapons start to degrade far too quickly though, and you’ll be left hammering down on the kick button relentlessly to save on the costs of repairing them, as well as your stamina. Thankfully though, the zombie horde have an unexpected sense of fair play, as the thousands that doubtless litter the island decide to only come at you in groups of up to ten, so rather than be overwhelmed and terrified by an innumerable horde you can merrily canter your way past.

You’re in fetch quest heck. Sinemoi and the other survivors seem quite intent to capitalise upon your immunity, and you’ll find yourself running ragged around the island like Kevin Costner’s Postman Pat. It’s at this point in the game that Dead Island starts wobbling. For all intents and purposes, it’s an RPG. You level up (and the zombies level up with you, rendering any levelling virtually negligible save for some unlocked abilities) as you bound around the place, and there are opportunities to score extra xp everywhere.

Usually when you get a task in a decent RPG you’re like ‘hooray, something to do,’ but the sheer volume of tedious errands here becomes overwhelming, and I’m not just talking about the sidequests. You’ll meet people around the island that want booze or food because they’re too lazy to get it themselves, so it’s a relentless back and forth all over (sometimes in a car, and all the cars are 4x4s for some reason). Then you’ll run into other survivors that want help too, and Christ they won’t shut up about it. ‘Fetch my tools! Find my necklace! Bring me water! Find me a phone.’ This happens numerous times. Oh, do you like escort missions? You’ve got some of them here, too. If the Island was interesting to explore, fair enough, but arsing around similar-looking bungalows and beaches quickly loses its charm, no matter how picturesque it all undoubtedly is.

Dead Island also hits shocking new lows as far as acting is concerned. My favourite bit players were Sinemoi himself, the lad outside the lighthouse who constantly says ‘where the hell did I put dat’ and the cockney lady who’s after water, like a whiny dehydrated Peggy Mitchell. God it’s bad. If it was camping it up then it’d be great, but for all intents and purposes, it’s trying to be a bit serious. You’ll come across NPCs that are crying over the fact they’ve just bashed their family’s zombified heads in, which is all very harrowing until your character chimes in with something like ‘hyuck, looks like someone’s having a bad day.’

Dead Island isn’t scary in the least, by the way. How can anything be scary when the only penalty for dying is a quick restart and some lost money? You’ll die, shrug it off and respawn a few seconds later. Obviously it’s a system designed for multiplayer, but couldn’t they have done something else with the single player to add even a little bit of tension? It’s like the vita-chambers in Bioshock, destroying any feeling of trepidation that could be had. It tries to up the fear factor by throwing new environments at you like sewers and ravaged buildings littered with human stew, but it never hits F.E.A.R or Dead Space levels of ‘oh shit’ dread. Even Fallout 3 managed to elicit a sense of anxiety in some areas.

What Dead Island does manage to elicit though is the odd ‘oooooh’ at how pretty is. It’s a nice looking game, and fair play, setting an RPG on a tropical resort rather than in space or in an age of dragons and virgins is a neat twist. The weather effects are well done, as the sky occasionally fills with moody grey clouds, casting the screen with a dull hue, just as the sun fills it with lovely bloom.

That’s your lot though, really. Fetch quest, escort mission, drive around a bit, loot, bash brain in, occasionally shoot, repeat ad nauseum. Buying this for the single player would be futile. There’s really not a lot to this. It’s like a Limp Bizkit double concept album, with moments of dumb fun interspersed with lots of filler instrumental tracks of Fred Durst playing a lute while he chats with Ben Stiller or something.

Ask yourself. Would you have given a solitary shit about Dead Island if it wasn’t for that overwrought trailer (which it has absolutely nothing in common with)? Of course you wouldn’t. You’d have shrugged and gone back to Borderlands, I’d wager. It’s so painfully average. The shame of it is that beneath the flensed pieces of skin and rot, there’s the meat of a good game somewhere, and developers Techland had some ambition. But I can’t give gold stars for ambition, now can I?

It’s not good enough, frankly. The fun zombie-bashing can’t sustain itself, and the plot, characters and setting aren’t good or memorable enough to justify wading through the 20 odd hours it’ll take to finish. It feels rushed, and no amount of tedious sidequests will hide that. It scrapes through in some ways with its multiplayer, but then again isn’t everything more fun in multiplayer? The reason this game generally falls flat is because it’s so determinedly a multiplayer game, and I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a mite fed up with single player campaigns being shafted in favour of larks with friends.

You’ve probably made your mind up about Dead Island though, and that’s fine. If you’re determined to enjoy it you will, but you probably won’t be bothering with it a few weeks from now. If you think zombies aren’t tediously overused and clichéd you fire away, but just remember you’re completely complicit when you complain about something being overhyped.

N.B. Problems are apparently getting patched on day one. None of the issues highlighted in the review had anything to do with any of the bugs.

5 out of 10
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