The Average Gamer

Dead Island Review (Xbox 360)

Arrgghhh! Zombies! They’re everywhere! No, seriously, they are. If popular culture were a shopping mall, you would need a large machete and a chainsaw to get past all the zombie games and movies shambling their way around the food court. In this increasingly overpopulated genre, can Dead Island, a brand new title from the makers of Call of Juarez, really stand out from the zombie crowd?


Dead Island announces its arrival with a powerful opening cinematic, seen from the same first person perspective that you are locked into throughout the game. The Dead Island of this alcohol fuelled, hedonistic opening sequence is certainly not the subtle, melancholic mood piece hinted at by the earlier controversial ‘family’ trailer. This intro piece not only gives a teaser of events that are to come, but also helps define the broad, brash and confident approach to zombie slaying that is Dead Island’s speciality.

Character Selection

On starting the game proper, the character selection screen gives you four options to choose from – two male and two female characters, all with certain skills that they can bring to the game. Providing you are happy for your character to come from the ‘Big Book of Horror Movie Stereotypes’ you are pretty spoiled for choice. Personally I chose Sam B, a burned out hip-hop star, who has been reduced to personal appearances at luxury hotel resorts to pay the bills. Thankfully Sam is also a bit tasty with his fists and improvised blunt weapons, as I discovered when entering combat for the first time.

Zombie Slaying

Having played many games featuring zombies in the past, I thought I was well prepared to tackle the undead hordes in Dead Island. However the combat system in this game is about as far as you can get from a Resident Evil or Left4Dead title, being nearly all about brutal and often claustrophobic melee combat. Sure, there are guns in the game, but it is a very long time before you get your hands on one, and even then, they are best used sparingly, with ammo being one of the scarcest resources on the island of Banoi.

Fighting a horde of zombies in Dead Island is at times disorientating, as screams come from the distance and you are descended on from unexpected angles. The analogue control scheme, which I would highly recommend, ramps up the tension further. It allows you to aim at certain parts of the zombies’ bodies and direct your attacks accordingly, using the right stick in a style reminiscent of Fight Night. During this melee combat, bones will break, heads and limbs will become detached and still the zombies will come at you. At times during the game, I found myself flicking the right control stick as if my life depended on it, which is a great testament to the level of immersion that had been created.

A Zombie RPG?

Whilst the gameplay in Dead Island is very combat heavy, this game is really an RPG at heart, and as such the story plays out through a succession of quests and optional side quests. The main plot takes you through three sections of Banoi Island, interacting with a huge variety of NPCs along the way, and engaging in quests which take in all aspects of survival in the wake of a zombie outbreak.

The island itself is huge, and there are a plenty of hidden areas and side quests to find, if you take the road less travelled and make time to really explore your surroundings. On entering certain buildings, I would hear a desperate message being broadcast, or see signs of events that had gone before. These audio and visual clues would often then become part of a quest further down the line, helping reinforce the feeling of being part of a very real game world.

The only real breaks in this immersion came on the few occasions when the game glitched on me, such as when the keeper of the lighthouse introduced himself for the second time in a row, seemingly oblivious to our previous meeting. With objects always respawning upon re-entering an area, there is also an opportunity to detach yourself from the game world, and get caught up in item farming, but that is not something I found myself needing or wanting to do.

Often the storyline and dialogue in Dead Island is cheesy and even faintly ridiculous, but I really didn’t see this as a failing of the game at all. To my mind, this actually helps the game to sit perfectly into the Friday Night Horror category that it represents so well. No matter how many times you have screamed at someone in a movie not to go into the dark underground car park alone, it is actually great fun to be the one doing it, knowing that something will be lurking around the corner.

If It Ain’t Broke….

With so much of the combat in Dead Island based around melee weapons, it is initially disconcerting to find that these weapons don’t actually last that long. Despite being made of solid steel, even that sturdy looking wrench is going to need to be fixed up regularly. Repairing weapons costs money, which makes no sense at all, particularly in light of the zombie apocalypse that is occurring all around, but I guess it helps the game to tick along, so what the hey.

At the start of the game, money is a bit short on the ground, but scavenging will help keep your pockets full enough to get by. At times it may actually be better just to toss or sell a badly damaged weapon, as the cost of repair can be so high. Stick with it though, and by the middle of the game you should be flush enough to be putting your cash towards upgrading and modifying your increasingly impressive armoury.

The weapon upgrading and modding system certainly doffs its cap to Dead Rising 2, but the two games are not really comparable beyond this concept. The weapon modifying system in Dead Island is very structured, with mods only available once they have been earned, usually as a quest reward. My weapon of choice for much of the game was a two handed hammer, modified with various electrical bits and bobs, which produced fantastic shock damage on critical hits. Without wishing to give away any spoilers, I will just say that this weapon was very hard earned, and I made sure it was repaired and by my side for the remainder of the game.


Dead Island can be played entirely in single player mode, with only occasional help, or hindrance, from the odd NPC, but I really feel that this would be missing out on what can be a fantastic co-op experience. Up to four players are able to  jump into the same game world, taking on the zombie hordes together, with the game ramping up the difficulty level accordingly. Leaving my game with open public spaces, I often found players jumping in and out, with their help generally being appreciated, particularly if they had a headset. Joining another player’s game proved very easy, with a subtle message popping up now and again, to advise that someone was nearby and tackling the same section of the game. Hooking up with them was then as simple as pressing left on the D-Pad. There were certain sections of the game that I would not have wanted to tackle single handed, and the drop-in nature of the co-op lent itself perfectly to seeking help on these particular missions.

In Summary

Dead Island is a brutal, melee focussed take on the zombie genre, which offers up to four players the chance to play through a 20+ hour adventure, with the option for further exploration and experimentation. Whilst the game is occasionally rough around the edges, the world that has been created is incredibly immersive, thanks largely to the highly visceral combat system and the feeling of being part of a much larger, if slightly cheesy, story. If you have even the slightest interest in the zombie genre, or are looking for a great co-op experience, I would highly recommend taking a trip to Dead Island.

Dead Island is out now on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

* Techland have announced a Day One patch for Dead Island, addressing some  technical issues with the game. Whilst this has now gone live on PS3, the patch was not available for testing on 360 at the time of writing. If you are experiencing problems, try the Deep Silver’s Dead Island Support site.

Curious about the verdict? Read our review policy.