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Critical Reception: Techland's  Dead Island

Critical Reception: Techland's Dead Island

September 7, 2011 | By Danny Cowan

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Techland's Dead Island, which reviewers describe as "a schlocky, open-world action role-playing game that favours grisly melee combat above all things." Dead Island currently earns a score of 72 out of 100 at

IGN's Greg Miller scores Dead Island at 8 out of 10. "Plenty of people are going to compare it to Dead Rising (as you can create weapons) and Left 4 Dead (as the action is first-person and good for four players online)," he notes, "but when I finally got past the game's obtuse opening and less than stellar cutscenes, I found a world rife with quests, interesting environments, and a character progression system that had me begging for more hours in the day."

"Dead Island's strength is in the world it creates," Miller says. "I crept into and through each environment I came to, from beaches to sewers to jail cells. I listened for the screams of the infected or the roar of a damage sponge known as a 'Thug.' From that perspective, I was on the island; not my character."

Miller adds: "You rarely feel safe in Dead Island, and that's how a zombie game should be. You have a limited stamina bar, so you can't run or swing your weapon forever. Med kits were few and far between in my experience, so scavenging for energy drinks and fruit -- which have to be used at that moment and can't be stored -- became part of the experience."

The game has its share of faults, however. "Dead Island is rough around the edges and that's sure to turn a lot of people off," Miller admits. "First-person melee combat doesn't feel natural right away. Sometimes textures take their time loading in, I'd describe every cutscene as 'stiff,' and the visual flaws like hands going through doors and weird mini-game meters made me laugh."

"Still, presentation doesn't make a game, experiences do. And they are packed into Dead Island," Miller says. "Here on the other side of a 25-hour playthrough -- where I skipped a lot of side quests after Act 1 -- I'm anxious to get back into Dead Island, and despite the game's flaws, that's not something I say often."

Jane Douglas at GameSpot gives Dead Island a 7 out of 10. "Much like its once-idyllic location, Dead Island isn't as it first appears," Douglas writes. "It's got zombies in it, but it's not a survival horror game. It's played in a first-person perspective and has shooting, but it's not a first-person shooter.

"And whatever that slow-motion trailer would have you believe, it's not a stirring emotional experience. Dead Island is a schlocky, open-world action role-playing game that favours grisly melee combat above all things."

Dead Island is more of an RPG than one might expect. "Its RPG nature is clear in the prominence of quests, doled out by harrowed survivors in the makeshift shelters that form quest hubs," Douglas explains.

"Similarly prominent are RPG staples such as talent trees and numbers, always the numbers: levels, weapon stats, damage, and experience point scores popping out of enemies as you hack away. There are also satisfyingly vicious weapons to be improvised, upgraded, and creatively modded, and a robust online system supports the four-player co-op in which the game is best enjoyed."

"Its failings are many but minor, for the most part," Douglas continues. "The quality of visuals is uneven. Ditto the voice acting. The characters are weak, and the story is a flimsy hook on which to hang the action. Combat is unrefined, and never more so than in the humdrum sections that pit you against shooting human enemies barely smarter than their undead equivalents."

"All the flaws and missteps amount to a game that is frequently ropey but, thanks to its ambition and scale, nearly always entertaining," Douglas says. "There's nothing perfect about what Dead Island does, but it does so much, and does it well enough to give you a good time."

Edge Magazine rates Dead Island at 3 out of 10. "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," Edge's writer notes. "What began as a straight survival FPS -- a wide-eyed go-anywhere, wield-anything premise -- arrives looking a bit peaky."

"For a game built primarily around melee combat, the swinging arc is an inexact science," Edge's reviewer writes. "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."

In addition: "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."

Edge's writer also warns of "a checklist of flaws," including "Lazy asset recycling, ugly character models (every female has porn-star proportions and the bikini to prove it), loose driving and inconsistent world logic (some doors [are] breakable, some not)."

"The world doesn't have the charm to warrant forgiveness, and progress-halting bugs prevent it anyway," Edge concludes. "With regular AI freezes and vanishing items, a mistimed autosave can prove fatal. Ultimately it all invites the refashioning of another line from Romero. When there's no more room in development hell, the dead losses will walk the Earth."

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