Dead Island – Dividing The Critics

Dead Island has sold out pretty much everywhere. At a time when brand new intellectual properties have dried up – and taking on two over-populated genres, the first-person genre and the zombie/survival horror genre, it’s great to see something do so well – moreso that a small 50-man Polish team can knock out a blockbuster that has, so far, generated more sales than most top-end franchises.

That said, the critics have been unable to reach any consensus on this game. You have the likes of IGN who gave it an eight (and it’s rare I agree with IGN, so I expect news of hell freezing over in the next 48 hours), to the likes of Eurogamer who gave it a six, GB (Game Bomb) who gave it a four out of five and then back to Edge who gave it a three out of ten.

No-one can seem to agree if this is a surprise smash hit or people being taken for mugs. I suspect, the truth, lays somewhere in the middle.

Dead Island is a rough game – I do get the impression some corners were indeed cut to get it out on time. There are some entertaining and some annoying bugs, glitches and continuity errors. The game is open world, and suffers at times for being a little TOO big – and that’s an odd criticism to level at a game, but I suppose on the other hand, it loads up smoothly for the most part and there is no discernible slowdown in the larger areas so I guess this is personal preference.

Where Dead Island succeeds though is that it’s an absolute blast – it takes Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead, two of the biggest new zombie horror titles of the last few years, and immediately sets about correcting the complaints that users have had. Dead Rising had a strict time limit, restricting you from poking around and just generally having fun – Dead Island doesn’t have it, encouraging and even rewarding the curious, the exploratory nature of some people, and setting in some perky little Easter Eggs and bonuses for those smart enough to put the time in.

Likewise, it sideswipes Left 4 Dead. The four player co-op is there – the fairly cliche characters are there, but the game allows individual freedoms. People can choose to take two, three or four different paths through a building, covering all the bases and exits and taking out whatever zombies, punks or nasties lay in wait inside. Left 4 Dead plays out like a movie with a very strict sense of how things are done – Dead Island positively embarrasses it by giving players the freedom to approach some things in entirely new and interesting ways.

That said, whilst most critics panned it – slating its buggy nature (whilst the same people kissed off Bethesda when they put out the ridiculously broken New Vegas, with bugs that are STILL not fixed let us not forget) and its lack of originality.

But at the end of the day, it’s us – the consumers – who will be the ultimate judge. And we appear to be loving it – there is no shortage of people around for co-op, and many stores are still struggling to meet demand. And most of us have said the same things – yes, it’s rough. Yes, it has issues. But it’s so much FUN! Remember that critics? That happy feeling you get when something tickles your fancy, that warm and refreshing feeling in the back of your head when something feels right?

And those 50 people at Techland must be praised. With a smaller team to the norm, and with a lesser budget, they’ve put out a title that is very likely to be up there with the best sellers of the year – and for most gamers, a top ten contender (although it’s doubtful it will win any critics choice awards).

It’s a lovely reminder that for all the complaints in the industry, games like this can be made – and be GOOD.

Plus multiple brownie points for having a rap theme tune that doesn’t make me want to beat Kanye West into a bloody pulp… and that people are clamouring for as an official track release as well.

Lightning has struck this game. It’s hard to tell if it will be a lasting franchise or a bit of a one-hit wonder, but whatever happens, Dead Island is a surprise that is both pleasant and pleasing.

And a real kick in the teeth for many of the industries biggest development houses. Oh what fun to see a small team with a manageable budget make a big hit commercial game!

What was that about needing lots of money to make games that sell at a loss? I think the questions are going to be asked – why can Techland manage this and… well… others can’t?

Surely grounds for some investigative journalism?

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