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The Tech Deck

Dead story, single player in ‘Dead Island’

Title: 'Dead Island'
Platform reviewed on: Xbox 360
Developer: Techland
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: September 6, 2011

It's a truism of post-apocalyptic zombie lore: Stay in a group, or your brain will be eaten.

That same can be said when playing Techland's action-adventure role playing game, Dead Island. Placing you in a first-person perspective against the shuffling (and sometimes sprinting) dead, you assume the role of one of four survivors on the fictional island getaway of Banoi. For some reason, you don't turn when you're bitten, meaning you have value to the other humans who don't have an insatiable desire for gray matter.

If you play alone, Dead Island will quickly become a frustrating slog through admittedly gorgeous vistas overrun with zombies. An arsenal of interesting weaponry will be at your disposal, a la another favorite of the console zombie gamer, Dead Rising. Indeed, there are many ways out there to pick up a controller and slaughter hordes of the undead. In such a crowded marketplace, a new title has to do something that sets it apart.

Unfortunately, 'Dead Island' does nothing that hasn't been done before, and much better, by other games in the genre.

Svetlana wants champagne. Because what would a post-apocalyptic RPG be without banal fetch quests?

If narrative is your thing, you'd be better off playing Telltale Games' brilliant 'Walking Dead' adaptation. 'Dead Island' tries to touch on the human cost of a zombie apocalypse, but its efforts fall flat when characters are introduced and discarded with just as quickly. You'll meet several groups of people worth saving throughout the 20+ hours you'll spend on Banoi. But the game rushes to a dissatisfying end that any gamer not a zombie to poor storytelling will see coming a mile away.

I'm going to assume this guy is my enemy, because he's pointing a gun at me. But honestly I lost interest in the plot 15 hours ago.

The weaponry in 'Dead Island' is diverse and satisfying, but doesn't do anything we haven't seen before. You can modify machetes, katanas and even brass knuckles at work benches scattered throughout the open world, as well as repair your arsenal that deteriorates with every successful, sloshy strike. You'll find one decent weapon as you level up (that's right, expect to earn XP for killing those brainless biting bastards) and stick with it, if you play anything like me, rendering the discovery of new weapons less exciting than it should be. As I said, Dead Rising's done this before, and to much greater comedic effect, so there's not much here you likely already haven't seen already.

If you don't keep that machete in good working order, it won't cut through brains like a hot knife through butter.

Enemy variation is another department in which 'Dead Island' woefully falls behind its competitors. Valve's brilliant 'Left 4 Dead' series, which remains the gold standard for zombie slaying in this humble gamer's opinion, forces you to switch your play style on the fly as tanks, witches and hunters swarm you mercilessly. 'Dead Island' attempts to borrow from this formula, throwing several classes at you. But the walkers vary only in their speed from the infected, who will sprint at you with a Wilhelm scream that will tingle your spine. Rams are the chargers of 'Dead Island,' straitjacketed monstrosities that bowl you over with their sprinting. Thugs will swing their arms wildly at you, meaning you should keep your distance when engaging.

But none of these enemy types ever really change how you approach a situation. The difficulty in 'Dead Island' comes not from the type of enemies thrown at you, but their aggressiveness. That's too bad, because the game shows flashes of brilliance in early portions when you're rolling up to abandoned gas stations swarming with baddies and you have to use your head to clear them out, with combustible gas cans, electrified fences and other environmental hazards. The final act of 'Dead Island' takes place in a maximum security prison on the island that takes away player choice and turns the game into a corridor shooter/brawler, much to its detriment.

Finally, playing alone is simply not fun in 'Dead Island.' This is a game meant to be played in co-op, which makes Microsoft's decision to release it for free as part of its 'Games with Gold' promotion frustrating. If you don't have friends who are still interested in this now three-year-old title, I can't recommend even a free playthrough. There is no offline co-op, either, so you'll have to find a friend online or with a LAN cable who wants to join your game.

These facial expressions pretty much sum up how much fun you'll have playing 'Dead Island' alone.

Though closer to a B-movie than a Romero classic, somehow 'Dead Island' earned enough of a following to warrant a true sequel coming to this generation of consoles. Let's hope they get that offline co-op thing shored up. Let's also hope the developers realize the need to make some noise in a genre filled with a horde-like number of competitors.

Verdict: 2/5 stars

The Tech Deck