The heralded, groundbreaking zombie genre game (like you’ve never experienced it before!) is here. You’ve seen the dramatic trailer, you’ve read my take on the PlayStation Home infection, and you are desperately seeking out a place to rent ‘Dead Island’. Here are my initial impressions.
RedBox got stock of ‘Dead Island’ into the rental machines late last week, so I swung by and scooped up a copy. As of this writing, I’ve spent two hours futzing around with the menus and the first few main missions, as well as a few side quests. There’s some good and there’s some bad, and there’s some really bad. The most surprising thing to me is that this full-price game can get away with such horrible graphics and visual errors. Character animation is awkward at best, and the textures and backgrounds are painfully rendered. The PlayStation Home’s graphical representation wasn’t too far from what you get in the final product. But let’s not start there. I want to talk about the few things that I have truly enjoyed over my first two hours playing on my own.
The story is terrible, the voice acting is flat, and the level of emotional engagement that the first trailer promised is completely missing. However, the first time you hit the beach and fight some zombies, it’s truly intense and exciting – and not only because I had no idea how to operate the controls of this game. I previously complained about the lack of firearms in the demo, and wondered how bashing zombie heads with only melee weapons was going to work out. So far, it has been pretty decent. I’m not sure I’d enjoy it for 20-30 hours, but I’m sold for now. Of course, Deep Silver and Techland put in a plot device character named “Wayne,” so they scored some points with me there.
When you get a new quest, you’re handed a little, bloody piece of notebook paper that gives a brief summary of the mission, what difficulty level it is, and what you’ll get as reward. Visually, I thought that was very creative. Finally, there’s something that I’ve not-so-much enjoyed, but am relieved about. I had read that you can’t turn off’ co-op mode, so random strangers could just jump into your game if they were nearby your character. While I have heard that the true way to enjoy this game is to play it co-op, I’m really happy that I don’t have to fend off folks who think it would be more fun to attack my group than the undead.
Unfortunately, that’s where my likes end. My dislikes range from super nitpicky to “Was this game finished when they released it?” In general, I get the feeling that this game was very much still a work in progress. Deep Silver and Techland even pushed a “first day patch” that supposedly fixed up to 37 bugs, depending on the story you read. The graphical errors alone seem above and beyond the norm. Why does my hand pass through a door EVERY time I open one? Craziness. The weapons degrade quickly, which is really inconvenient when you have several walkers that need bashing.
On the plus side, the weapons are mostly crappy weapons, so I can always pick up another broken broom handle five feet from where I used up my last one. The radar is a bit inconsistent and I’m not yet sure if that is mission-related or developer choice-related. Sometimes you see what I presume are survivors located on the radar, but not the zombies, unless your mission is to clear out all the zombies, and then maybe you’ll see them. I don’t mind the “realistic” approach Deep Silver and Techland are going for, but the varying displays have been mildly confusing in the beginning. Gaining new missions is a little tedious and feels forced a lot of the time.
For the most part, I liked how ‘Borderlands’ handled new missions. Sure, there was a lot of talking to people, but it felt in context and varied. Your first real “time to get new missions” in ‘Dead Island’ comes shortly after the start of the game, where you end up with a bunch of survivors all holed up in one spot. You basically just walk around and talk to each one. You learn that someone left a precious necklace in the hotel room and wants you to get it for them. Or someone needs you to find a missing family member, etc. The main story missions seem straightforward enough, but so far have been underwhelming.
I haven’t tried playing co-op yet, mostly because all of my online friends are very hesitant about even renting this game. Hopefully they’ll come around, and I’ll get a chance to punch some zombies with pals.
To sum up my initial thoughts:
- First zombie fight is intense/exciting
- NPC named “Wayne”
- Melee combat kinda fun
- New quest notebook paper display
- No random strangers popping into your game
- Story and voice acting blow
- Character animation and visual errors are painful
- Weapons degrade quickly
- Side mission acquisition feels forced
At this point, I would be willing to give this game a couple more hours of single-player play. But if it doesn’t get any more interesting, I’ll return the rental. I’m very interested to see how co-op changes the gameplay, because everything is better with your friends, right? If I had to make a decision of whether or not to buy ‘Dead Island’ based on what I’ve seen so far – No, definitely not.