Dead Island review

Dead Island review

Conceived in 2005, Dead Island finally makes its shambling way to shop shelves, invigorated by a promotional boost but carrying some telltale traits picked up during its six-year gestation. What began as a straight survival FPS – a wide-eyed go-anywhere, wield-anything premise – arrives looking a bit peaky. We spy Borderlands-shaped toothmarks on its loot-focused weapon customisation and fourplayer online co-op. Elsewhere, NPCs bear Oblivion-esque side missions – with none of Bethesda’s branching outcomes – while zombie types echo Left 4 Dead’s. Only Banoi Island itself remains Techland’s own, complete with all the texture, audio and animation glitches we’ve come to expect from its Chrome Engine.

Dead Island delivers death by a thousand cuts, both literal and figurative. The literal cuts are almost good fun. As zombie hordes (or, thanks to limited tech, zombie tens) shuffle closer, a series of melee blows result in chucklesome injuries. Wrenches split heads, butchers’ knives cleave legs clean off and baseball bats dislocate arms, leaving them swinging impotently from the shoulder. Hit a sprinting infected with a well-timed swipe and its head pops off in slow motion as momentum sees the body comically run on by. In a game about bashing zombies, the zombies look suitably bashed. The problems arise from the bashing.

For a game built primarily around melee combat, the swinging arc is an inexact science. Some blows clip enemies visibly out of reach, while others refuse to snag bodies filling the screen. The vital kick move, handily knocking attackers down, sees the player’s leg constantly alter its length. Sometimes we are lanky Bruce Campbell, at others a wee Sarah Michelle Gellar. The mystery of this ever-changing limb is more engaging than Techland’s yarn. Console players get the added bonus of an inconsistent auto-aim, refusing to dish out the head lops that come more easily to PC mouse-wielders. What should be laughs of vindictive satisfaction are more often snorts of genuine surprise.

The survival fiction is particularly inept. Items respawn after a short window of time, lending infinite resources to a narrative that trades on desperate struggle. On a micro level, it leads to the absurd. Characters cry about dehydration as energy drinks lie at their feet, while tricky supply runs sit at odds with the infinite quantity of canned food in the room next door. And these inconsistencies cannot be forgiven with a weary shake of the head. Ongoing trade missions can be exploited as XP mines, while weapons need never go blunt thanks to endless trading funds. Only an awkward shopping interface dissuades such underhand play – every item has to be sold one unit at a time. Selling 17 magnets in a row is a true survival horror.