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Dead Island Review

See PixlBit's Review Policies

On 11/14/2011 at 08:00 PM by Jesse Miller

This game craves brains because it clearly has none.

Fanatical zombie fans need only apply. Otherwise get your zombie fix from the far superior Left4Dead, Dead Rising, Dead Nation, Resident Evil, or any other zombie series.

Dead Island is a game in the midst of an identity crisis.  It’s not sure if it wants to be Dead Rising 2 with its customizable weapons and biting humor, Left 4 Dead with its multiplayer focused gameplay, or Borderlands with its RPG elements and zombies that bleed numbers.  Dead Island wants to be all of these things and in trying to do so fails to do anything well, the result of which is an overly flawed experience that just months ago looked so promising.

It may not be fair, but Dead Island has garnered quite a bit of criticism for not being anything like the amazing trailer that put the title on almost every gamer’s radar early this year.  Usually I would make the separation between trailer and finished product since one has nothing to do with the other, but in this instance I can’t do that.  That backwards streaming trailer showed a zombie game that would focus on the horror and tragedy that would befall humanity in the zombie apocalypse.  It looked like a thoroughly human story of loss and hardship ironically juxtaposed against serene island vistas – perhaps we were finally getting a thoughtful zombie game that could readily stand up next to Romero’s classic films.

What we actually ended up getting instead was more zombie schlock – and not even good zombie schlock at that.  Dead Island’s problems are many and surface before you even start playing the game in earnest.  The game starts with an opening cinematic that introduces you to your playable characters through the eyes of a stumbling drunk at a party.  As many may know from experience, slobbering drunk is not the best state of mind in which to make a good impression, and this rubs off on the playable characters as they all come off rude and completely unlikable (with one possible exception here).  So when it came to make a decision as to which character I wanted to play as I found myself wishing that there was a create-a-character function since I wanted all of my choices to die horrible, excruciating deaths.

And it’s not just the player characters that are horrible examples of humanity.  There isn’t one likeable character on the whole damn island.  It’s true that a zombie apocalypse can bring out the worst in people, but trials and tribulations of this nature can also bring out the best in people as well.  No one expects an NPC to be the hero, but I would at least like a good reason to want to save the people around me.  Instead I had to continually repress my desire to light every safe house on fire.

Interacting with others also brings some glaring technical and design issues to light.  Characters are rigid and extraordinarily creepy looking.  Most won’t even look at you when speaking with you and they all have the same blank look on their face.  It’s as if everyone was at a Botox injection party just before the outbreak and is incapable of expressing any emotions whatsoever.  This simple presentation issue trickles down into every aspect of the character: the dialogue is terrible, voice acting even worse and on top of that they all look the same.

And I can’t talk about the NPCs without bringing up the ladies.  The men in the game have a nice variety of looks, but almost every single woman on the island is wearing a bikini, which is actually quite odd since the zombie outbreak actually begins the night before.  None of the ladies changed into something more sensible for the evening?  Expectantly they all have the bodies of a twenty-something stripper, but the face of a geriatric.

Allow me to apply the brakes before I continue.  After all, getting hung up on appearances and characterization in a zombie game is pointless if the zombie killing is fun, right?  Of course it would be, that is, if zombie killing was actually that fun in Dead Island.

The basic mechanics of zombie killing are simple enough.  You control your character from a first person perspective.  You can equip a variety of weapons that can either be either found laying around the island or created by the player (we’ll get to that later).  To kill a zombie you can swing said instrument of death and you can kick.  Swinging your weapon drains your stamina, but strangely enough, kicking is apparently not strenuous at all and can be done as much as you like with no stamina loss.

It’s important that you as a player are familiar with operating an armored tank, because your character will control like one.  The simple task of moving side to side will often feel like a chore and combat is anything but precise.  A successful strike against an enemy may as well be determined by a roll of the dice, considering how wildly inaccurate the collision detection is.  There would be times when I swore I had to have hit a zombie, yet hadn’t, and other times when I would completely whiff yet I would strike a critical hit.

Weapons degrade after a period of time, offering a supposed element of strategy, but if you’re anything like me you’ll largely be passé about not having a weapon and instead start beating down zombies with your fists since it’s just about as effective and your fists don’t break down.

Running around beating up zombies with your bare hands would seem suicidal if there was any real danger present.  It’s obvious from the constant pop-in that the game has a hard time generating all of the landscape on the island and can’t be bothered to show more than 5-6 zombies on screen at a time, which is a serious zombie faux pas.  What makes zombies scary isn’t the fact that they’re undead (okay that helps) it’s the fact that there are so many of them.  The realization that there is nothing you can do to stem the tide of death slowly rolling over you is where the real fear in the zombie genre originates.  Taking that away makes the game stupidly easy and not scary at all.  Most encounters would wind up with me kicking the zombie(s) down and then standing over them pummeling with my fists or a series of kicks. While the zombie types do become more ferocious as the game progresses, they never pose any real threat that can’t be dealt with one swing of a nail studded bat.

Weapon creation is a concept that has been directly lifted from Dead Rising 2 and works well for the most part.  Before you can build a weapon you’ll need to find the schematic for that particular layout, because after all only a genius would be able to figure out that you can add nails to a bat and come out with nail-bat.  The schematics only serve as a limiting factor and the developers should allow the player’s imagination be the only barrier to creating weapons. 

The RPG elements in Dead Island only serve to hold it back.  Having level caps on weapons - an RPG staple - doesn’t make sense since the higher level weapons are only sturdier, more damaging versions of the lower level ones.  You’re telling me that I can’t use this sturdy pipe, but I can use the rusty one?  It’s frustrating and there isn’t any real reason for it except for the sake of having it in there.

Being an open world, Dead Island is filled with quests of the side variety.  Now, I’m all for side quests, but Dead Island botches the concept by having practically all of them originate in a few select locations.  Once you get to a safe house you’ll see a ton of exclamation points on your map indicating a side quest that can be undertaken.  You’ll walk around, talking to everyone, gathering quests and filling up your quest log and further losing focus on any singular objective.  Having ten quests in your log is daunting, and since you can only have one quest active at any time, it can be difficult to try to go out and accomplish multiple quests at a time.  I found myself doing one at a time, oftentimes returning to an area I was just at.  By the time you finish a batch of quests, don’t be surprised if you can’t remember what the main goal was – it’s easily muddied like that.

Luckily, getting around the island isn’t all that difficult and there are vehicles that can be used to expedite your travel and also serve as a handy zombie killing machine.  Driving around Banoi was the most fun I had in the entire game, but being a tropical island meant that roads were mostly narrow and winding.  Still, it’s more than satisfying to run over packs of zombies in a pickup truck.

Multiplayer also rears its head in this tropical paradise and it doesn’t do much service to those playing it.  It can be fun to kill zombies with a friend, to be sure, but joining a game with strangers is more difficult than it should be and when you do end up joining, the enemies are leveled with the highest ranked player in the party, which isn’t an issue if you happen to be that guy, but late adopters to Dead Island are going to find it difficult to break into the game as a result.

What it all comes down to is focus. Techland wanted Dead Island to be so many different things that the game that resulted was a Frankenstein monster of different concepts that aren’t developed enough to serve as a strength, instead becoming dead weight that ultimately holds the game back.  A tighter focus would have ended up in a less expansive game, but it would have been one worth playing.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Julian Titus Senior Editor

11/14/2011 at 08:51 PM

Don't hold back, Jesse. Tell us how you really feel. :P

This was a fun read.

Jon Lewis Staff Writer

11/15/2011 at 03:29 AM

Hmm, did you play this game w/ co-op? I hear Co-op greatly improves the gameplay experience. This game has had some pretty polarizing reviews, some love it, some hate it. Good review none-the-less

Jason Ross Senior Editor

11/15/2011 at 03:37 AM

Co-op can greatly improve the gameplay experience of almost anything, except Ratchet & Clank All4One... So, yeah.


11/16/2011 at 08:22 PM

First let me preface this with a disclaimer: I'm not a zombie fanatic. I like Resident Evil and Dead Nation, but never got into either the Dead Rising or Left 4 Dead series. That said...

I've been playing nothing but Dead Island for almost 2 months now, so I couldn't disagree more with your opinion of this game... well, maybe I could. I do agree with you on a few of the things on the presentation end, mainy the fact that I loathed most of the NPC's (helpless, annoying douchebags, one and all). But none of the presentation isses ever got in the way of my fun. I could spend pages of time writing about where our opinions differ, but i'll try to keep what I have to say down to a couple of key points that are more about the facts.

First is the fact that, while you were playing this game for review, the version 1.3 patch became available on consoles (this is according to your 1up blog last Monday where you stated you were playing the game; the patch released the next day). This addresses a couple of points you make; namely the level gap issue (individuals can now choose to have zombies scale to their level, not the host's) and kicks now cost stamina. I realize these are only two issues out of many that you have a problem with, but it seems pretty irresponsible of you to put out this review when these two points were addressed, for all practical purposes, a full week before its publication.


a quick side note:

This game is 2 months old now, but since there are many people out there who haven't played it I can understand why PixlBit would want to post a review, even at this late date. However, you could have made a distinction with this review by including the differences between the game at launch and the game after the 1.3 patch, not to mention possibly even making that the focus of the review. You, and the other staff at PixlBit, missed an opportunity here.


Second, I have to wonder just how much of the game you actually played when you say that "almost every single woman on the island is wearing a bikini." The resort is only the first area of the game; you make no mention of the city or the jungle (where the women are dressed appropriately for the location) or the prison (where there are no women, period). Furthermore, you say that most zombie encounters involved you kicking them to the ground and then finishing them with a series of punches/kicks. This tells me one or more of three things:

1. You didn't get very far into the game. That strategy MIGHT work ok through most of the resort, but it becomes less effective once you hit the city. And regardless of the mileage you can get by using that technique, it's not very fun. Which brings me to...

2. You missed out on a lot of fun. Either you didn't take the time to seek out some good mods (which really isn't "seeking out" as most, if not all, of the best mods are either in places you'll be for quests/missions or given as rewards), or you chose not to use them. If you're telling me you'd rather kick and punch a zombie into submission instead of swatting them dozens of yards down the jungle path with a tesla sledgehammer, or slice them with a toxic machete and watch them helplessly puke their guts out... well, i don't know what to say about that except "your loss."

3. You weren't playing to your character's strengths. This touches on your dismissal of the rpg elements; you didn't even mention the skilltrees. Which again suggests you didn't get very far in the game because if you get only halfway down the combat tree of any character (which can be done as early as level 9 if you focus only on that branch from the start; more realistically it will likely happen somewhere between level 10-16,and level 20 at the latest) you get the headstomp ability. Once a zombie is on the ground it can be killed instantly with a headstomp instead of "pummeling them with my fists or a series of kicks." Incidentally, using headstomp also grants a few bonus xp (for the headsmash), so why would you choose to not use it? Likewise, why would you choose to use your fists instead of weapons based on your character's proficiency? There are plenty of workbenches scattered around with which you can repair, upgrade, and mod your weapons, and money isn't hard to come by after the first couple of hours. If you'd spent a proper amount of time with the game for review purposes, you would have found out that beating on a zombie with your fists is NOT as effective (or fun) as using a weapon, especially one geared toward your character's skills (and, even more especially, one that's been modded). I'm sorry to keep repeating myself, but again i'm having a hard time believing you even made it past the resort area.

Also, concerning your problem with level capped weapons - this is a loot game. Weapons don't level up with you, so being on the lookout for (and finding) a newer, better weapon to use is part of the fun. And if you find one that's a level too high for you at that moment (I've only come across one weapon, in over 400hrs of playtime, that was 2 levels higher than my current state) well so what, you have something else to look forward to when you gain that level. I just don't understand your complaint there.

You're a good writer, Jesse, and I usually enjoy your work. I respect your opinions, even if i don't agree with them. My problem isn't that you didn't like this game, my problem is that it seems pretty clear to me that you didn't experience enough of this game to qualify yourself to review it. That makes this a bad review. The fact that you excluded version 1.3 information, even though it was available in plenty of time before publication, supports this. The fact that the review gives no indication of gameplay experience past the first zone, but instead suggests the play experience of someone who hasn't even progressed past said zone, supports this. As someone who has an intimate knowledge of Dead Island, this review comes across to me as a quick and dirty effort to put some filler content on the site. I'm sorry, but it feels like you (and PixlBit) failed a test here.

Jesse Miller Staff Writer

11/17/2011 at 12:07 AM

Heed, I appreciate the feedback but I must tell you that patch 1.3 had not been released at the time of the playing and reviewing of this game. The review may have been posted afterwards, but the review had been completed before that point.

I feel my complaints towards the game are completely valid and that even in the light of the patch my main gripe - that the game lacks focus and doesn't do any one thing particularly well - stays true. If you disagree with that, that's fine. Reviews are completely subjective so keep that in mind. If you enjoyed Dead Island and think my points are invalid, more power to you. There are other reviews out there that feel the same way you do about the game, as are there ones that are more in line with what I think.


11/17/2011 at 01:16 AM

I'm glad to see you're very honest with your reviews, Jesse. I know that a lot of people can find quite a bit of enjoyment in this game but in the end I felt it was so overhyped thanks to a CG trailer that had nothing to do with the gameplay.


11/17/2011 at 03:15 AM

Fair enough, Jesse. As I said, my timeline was based on the fact that you posted a blog on 1up last Monday mentioning you were in the process of playing the game for review, and it gives the impression that you were still in the process of playing the game at that time. Quote for example:

"Anyways, if the game keeps this up I’m going to have a blast chewing it up in my review. Expect to see that early next week."

Therefore I think it was reasonable for me to assume you would have still been playing it the next day, when the patch came up. You made it sound like it was still a work in progress. If that's not the case then I stand corrected, and I retract my accusation of irresponsibility on your part (I still say, since the review is already this late to the party, that it was a missed opportunity to do a review with a decent emphasis on the changes from the patch). But it still doesn't account for what I consider to be the bigger part of my response.

Let's be clear here... I never suggested your points were invalid because I enjoy the game and you did not. I simply suggested that you wrote a review based on less-than-adeqate play experience. For example, "one swing of a nail studded bat" does not deal with the threat posed by thugs, floaters, rams, or butchers. Yet you say that this technique easily dispatches the tougher enemies. Aside from a good critical on a walker, the only enemies you can reliably take down with one shot are the Infected. First, their ferocity and aggressiveness are balanced out with lower hitpoints, so unless you are swarmed by two or more at a time they're not exactly what I'd call tough when compared to the others I mentioned above. Second, they show up early in the game. So if you're referring to them as the tougher enemies that can be taken out with one swing it sounds like you didn't even get halfway through the game.

This is only reinforced by the notion that you can make it through the game with your fists and feet serving as your main weapons. I'm not saying it's impossible but it's extremely unlikely to happen, which leaves two options as the most reasonable conclusions:

1. You ignored using weapons for whatever reason. Maybe you didn't want to spend money repairing/upgrading/modding weapons. Maybe it was just to see if you could persevere with that strategy. At any rate, it would take a helluva long time to beat the game that way, if at all. With your busy schedule, I doubt you had the time for that kind of nonsense. Which brings us once again to...

2. You didn't get very far into the game.

I'm sorry to keep harping on this, but you chose to only address my comments on the 1.3 patch. I understand that reviewers work on deadlines, but I don't think it's unreasonable for us readers to expect reviewers to at least see a game through to it's conclusion once before publishing their opinions. And I just get a strong impression that you did not do that. If that is in fact the case, you're doing a disservice to the many people at Techland who worked hard to bring us this game.

Nick DiMola Director

11/21/2011 at 09:35 PM

Hey Heed, I wanted to reply to some of your questions and concerns on behalf of Jesse. For one, you are correct, Jesse did not play through the entire game, nor was he expected to. The bottom line is that Jesse grew bored of the game after playing for a good chunk of time and drove his review around those points.

However, we did do our readers a disservice in not disclosing this fact up front. The fact of the matter is, it's unreasonable to expect completion of each and every game before a review is done. Not because there's not enough time or because we have some obligation to someone, but because not every game is worth completing. Sometimes a game is just so intolerably boring to the reviewer that they can't push further into the game. Going further isn't going to make the score any better for the game, so we encourage our reviewers to quit and move on if they don't feel further play time is going to be beneficial to evaluating the game.

All of this being said, I would say we complete the vast majority of games we review. In this instance, Jesse just wasn't feeling it and moved on. We wanted to play/review the game because we missed it and were genuinely interested in it. Because we're preparing our Game of the Year awards, we thought Dead Island, based on critical reception thus far, might be eligible for inclusion.

If you have any questions on this, please let me know. I'd love to answer any of your questions in regards to this point.


12/01/2011 at 07:11 PM

I gotta say, I was able to make it through half of this game with the most basic of weapons. Simply jump-kick the zombies, which nearly 100% of the time knocks them down to the ground. then, proceed to go to town on them with spammed curb-stomps. This will work for the basic zombie types.

the other more formiddable zombies - just hit'em with molotovs. Strategy plays very, very little into this game overall.

Rob Ottone Staff Alumnus

12/05/2011 at 06:28 PM

As a newbie, I must say I respectfully disagree.

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