Dead Island

Will this survival horror have you racing to fire up your console in the run up to Halloween?

Despite having been in production for half a decade, the first time most people were made aware of Polish game developer Techland's first-person survival horror title was earlier this year when a dazzling trailer exploded across the internet. Entirely pre-rendered and featuring no in-game footage whatsoever, the trailer was a superb mini-movie that hooked gamers around the world and ended up generating a bit of controversy (about both the lack of in-game footage and the dramatisation of the death of a child) before nabbing an advertising award at this year's Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

But, while the trailer did its job of raising people's awareness of Dead Island to insane levels, it also did the same to people's expectations. And surely no game could possibly deliver on the trailer's promise... or could it?

Smack my zombie up
Of course not. And things definitely don't get off to a good start with the game's tiresomely 'laddish' intro movie, which has more in common with the video for The Prodigy's Smack My Bitch Up than the award-winning trailer that the world went nuts for. Things hardly get any better when the game itself gets underway as your character (one of four available) awakes in a deserted hotel and tries to figure out what's been happening. As training sequences go, it's pretty painless, if uninspired, stuff. Graphically it all look very pleasing, with sturdy character models and atmospheric locales, but the controls themselves feel oddly cumbersome and sluggish.

It's not exactly what you'd call a strong start. But then something miraculous happens. Within the space of the first half an hour of gameplay it all starts clicking into place. Once you're through the laborious opening sequence and get down to some real missions in the open world locations, experimenting with melee weapons and facing off against hordes of angry zombies, you get drawn further and further into the action. It becomes the kind of experience that you always hoped Dead Rising would offer, but never achieved. Sure, Capcom's game might have the larger number of onscreen enemies, but Dead Island truly feels like being in a world overrun by the living dead. And having it take place on a tropical island (complete with beaches, hotel, town and jungle areas to open up and explore) makes it all feel much fresher than yet another zombie siege in a shopping mall.

Nothing is off limits
As you (and your friends if you opt for one of the co-op multiplayer modes) run through the story smashing in the heads of zombies, the game also reveals some entertaining RPG leanings. Each of the four characters has a specific skill tree that grants new abilities as you level-up throughout the game, positively encouraging your to go off the beaten track into more zombie-ridden death traps in the hope of uncovering new weapons or simply boosting your stats. And speaking of weapons, literally anything goes in Dead Island. From hat stands to wrenches, guns to machetes, nothing is off limits. And as the game progresses you'll spend plenty of time and money adapting them into even deadlier weapons (few things are as good at taking down the undead, it seems, as an electrified machete).

Unfortunately, some of the game's hard work at winning you over after the intro movie is occasionally undone by equally cack-handed cutscenes. Problems here range from atrocious storytelling to even more casual sexism, and then there's the fact that no matter what gender the character you choose to play, others always refer to you as a male! This and some glitchy graphics make the game feel a bit rushed and unfinished at times. Other issues have also been raised elsewhere on the 'net - most worryingly reports of game saves being deleted. However, in a month of playing this never happened to this reviewer, so it's unfair of me to comment.

So no, Dead Island isn't perfect. And it falls someway short of the promise of the trailer. But at the same time, if your idea of fun is running around a sun-baked holiday resort smashing zombies in the head with an oar, then it's an absolute blast. And with Halloween fast approaching, there's never been a better time to give the game a spin.

Xbox 360 (version tested)/PS3/PC, Deep Silver, £50 approx, On sale now