Anyone remembering the sleek, moving and well produced teaser trailer for Dead Island that surfaced about a six months ago may be in for a shock when they pick up this title. Unlike the glossy, cinematic trailer, the game has a distinct whiff of B movie schlock about it.

Much like the undead antagonists it portrays Dead Island is unsteady on its feet with bits falling off and more than a bit of moaning, mainly from the player. The game begins with a character class selection familiar to anyone who’s ever played an RPG, giving you the option to be one of four characters each with there own expertise: sharp weapons, blunt weapons, guns and throwing weapons.

…flailing madly with any weapon…

As interesting as this may sound, the selection seems to be entirely arbitrary with every class forced into flailing madly with any weapon they can find in the game’s early stages. The gun expertise of Purna, for example, is completely redundant as no character can use a gun until they reach Level 10 in their development and, even then, ammunition is so rare you won’t be using the gun for long anyway.

Melee combat takes a little getting used to, but once you get your timing right the action becomes more fun, if a little hampered by the game’s inconsistent collision detection. Other glitches in the game, range from the mildly amusing, being addressed as ‘he’ no matter your character gender, to the infuriating, accidentally dropping a cherished weapon only to find it’s totally vanished through the floor. All this makes you wish that maybe Dead Island could have spent a few more weeks in development to iron out a few niggles and then it could have been a real blockbuster.

…the game excels in giving players the option to upgrade…

With the emphasis on melee combat, the game excels in giving players the options to upgrade and customise their arsenal as well as tune their character to suit style of play. The weapon upgrade system and character ability tree are both easy to use with just the right amount of options so you don’t get lost in an endless menu list.                  

Graphically the game is mostly superb, capturing the island paradise of Banoi with its swaying palm trees and lapping water nicely offsets the bloodletting and violence. It’s occasionally let down by some unrealistic character models (everyone is eye wateringly skinny and toned) and blood effects that went out with the PS2, but on the whole it’s a nice looking game. The zombies themselves look suitably grotesque with each model distinctive enough to avoid boring repetitiveness.

…Infected come running at you from out of the undergrowth…

Unlike other zombie games like Dead Rising where dozens of undead nasties can be on screen, Dead Island only allows for around ten at a time but cleverly gets around this by levelling up your foes alongside you so they will never become simple cannon fodder and always be a credible threat. Believe me, when six Level 12 Infected come running at you from out of the undergrowth you really won’t have time to complain there aren’t nine more off in the distance.    

When you’ve been summarily eaten by a large group of the shuffling brain munchers for the millionth time, it’s a good reminder that the game’s biggest strength comes through cooperative play. If you’re online you can team up with people who are at about the same point in the story for some zombie bashing. Problems do occur when paired with a high level team mate as the enemy’s strength will match the highest person on the team, not so good if you’re a Level 8 and your opponents are now four levels above you. But get a good team together and the differing character abilities seem to make sense with some players able to support from long distance throwing attacks or pistols while others can wade in up close with blades and clubs.

So it’s not without its flaws, and there are quite a few, but it’s a strangely enjoyable game even so.

Available now on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 from Amazon.co.uk

3 Stars      

Images courtesy of Dead Island

 

 

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