In the debate about the rights and wrongs of DLC, one aspect rarely discussed is how downloadable expansions can enable a developer to build on flawed potential and polish up a rough diamond. Few diamonds came rougher than Dead Island last year, a game groaning with promise but ultimately weighed down by lacklustre presentation and lacking the inspiration to keep its over-20-hour playing time fresh.
As the first narrative add-on for the game, following the XP grind of Bloodbath Arena, Ryder White's campaign should have been a chance for Techland to elevate its surprise hit into something truly special. Sadly, it seems either that the studio really doesn't understand what worked first time around, or that it's gone out of its way to sabotage its own game. Think of any element of Dead Island that you enjoyed, and chances are it's been removed or broken in this DLC.
You liked the co-op, right? Playing with three friends, working together to complete the quests or just teaming up to beat down the zombie horde, was a feature that helped to soothe the sting of the game's clumsier aspects. So, naturally, that's completely disappeared; Ryder White's story is single-player only.
What's the point of adding a survival mode to a survival horror game? I've been playing Dead Island's new Bloodbath Arena mode all night and still can't work out the answer to that one.
Available for free if you have the pre-order code, or for 800 MS Points, this 1GB download adds a new location to the game's fast travel map. Head over there and you discover a military bunker where urgent evacuation has given way to paranoid boredom. The few remaining soldiers amuse themselves by heading through four different doors to self-contained zombie-infested areas. The goal once you're in an arena is simple: last as long as you can without dying, while enemies come at you in ever-more-deadly waves.
Trouble is, that's not vastly different to what happens in the actual game. Survival modes rely on overwhelming odds, but Dead Island's wheezing engine still struggles with more than 10 zombies in play at a time. While the context may be slightly different, the enemy types are the same (the size of the download is presumably down to the maps themselves) and they attack in the same patterns. There's nothing here to catch you off-guard, which leaves the whole survival aspect rather limp.
Remember the Dead Island teaser trailer? Of course you do. It "went viral" as marketing people with spreadsheets like to say. That means everybody saw it, posted it on Facebook, emailed it to their friends and said, "Hey, what's this Dead Island game all about?"
Played in reverse, we saw how a pretty young girl's fatal plunge from a hotel window was not the result of exorbitant room service fees but a zombie outbreak at a tropical resort. The mystery was almost unbearable. What was this game? Where had it come from? Was it a shooter? An adventure? The trailer wasn't saying. It was simply slick, artful, intriguing and loaded with promise. Remember it? Good. Now forget it, because Dead Island the game is nothing like the trailer.
It is, in fact, almost the complete opposite. Much like the moaning corpses that you're destined to spend a lot of time hacking to pieces, Dead Island is a shambling, lurching thing, falling to bits in important areas and frankly a bit whiffy up close. It's also strangely compelling, provided you're a forgiving sort who doesn't flinch at wonky coding and weird design decisions.