Dead Island feels like a frankengame cobbled together from scavenged parts. It’s an open-world, co-operative first-person role-playing game set on an island overrun by zombies. Many of the parts developer Techland stitched together don’t work like new, and the result is a shambling monster of a game that doesn’t make a great first impression.
The affair begins in media somno—your character wakes up in a hotel with the infection already underway. The first tour through the ruins of a resort hotel trashed by the zombie apocalypse feels hemmed-in and unfun. There are tons of suitcases to loot for cash, à la Fallout 3, but you can only run from the undead. Until you hit the beach and meet other survivors, you don’t actually start the business of separating zombie heads from zombie shoulders.
And soon after that, Dead Island warms up. The game world opens into a sprawling tropical resort so big that it takes a battered truck to get from place to place. After gaining a level or two, players begin to understand the differences between the game’s four playable characters. Sydney cop Purna, for example, can gain a skill that helps craft more ammunition—which comes as a true blessing, since the first gun you’ll encounter comes loaded with a single bullet.
Dead Island is best played with others, but the game seems more content with hooking you up with strangers than empowering you to play with friends. Still, once you’ve managed to cajole the game into putting you and a buddy on the game’s beach, there’s plenty of fun to be had running quests, crafting weapons, scouring the island for loot, and of course, dismembering hordes of the walking dead. The game’s combat isn’t as satisfying and over-the-top as Dead Rising, or as tight and fast as Left 4 Dead, but it will do.
Narratively, Dead Island is unambitious. There’s no attempt at satire, commentary, or quirk. The plot, mostly communicated through quest-givers, is straight-faced as a straight-to-cable horror flick, but like the rest of the game, it’s serviceable. Sometimes getting the dead to walk and giving players the tools to stop them is all it takes. All those ragged edges, byproducts of a sloppy sewing job, get lost in the blood.