With a four-player co-op option and masses of drooling zombies to slaughter, Dead Island initially appears to be nothing more than a Left 4 Dead rip-off. But while it's clear Valve's survival horror has been a huge influence, Dead Island also tips its hat to modern Western RPGs such as Oblivion and Borderlands.
The flimsy storyline revolves around four individuals who find themselves stranded on the holiday resort island of Banoi in the middle of a hideous zombie outbreak. You choose one of these characters and using blunt weapons, blades and firearms, you fight your way through this tropical nightmare in the hope of finding some way to escape the holiday hell.
RPG elements run through the game, with the player levelling up and delving into tech trees to gain an advantage over the slack-jawed hordes.
These abominations come in various guises, including shuffling Walkers, fast-paced Infected, hulking, straitjacket-wearing Rams and horribly mutated Suiciders, who induce moments of blind panic whenever they appear.
Luckily, the player has access to a wide range of weapons to deal with these horrors, which either lie scattered about the island, or can be created at workbenches - similar to those in Capcom's Dead Rising series. Creating or repairing them is an expensive business, though, so concentrating on a few at a time is definitely the way to go. There's also a Borderlands-style thrill when stumbling across a powerful colour-coded item or when attaching an electrical modification to a weapon.
While guns are available, it's the melee weapons which pack the most punch - allowing the player to lop heads, arms and legs off at will or bash skulls into the ground. It's not the most refined system in the world, but it is deeply satisfying to kick a zombie into a wall and then pummel them with your choice of weapon.
Quests are dished out regularly by the island's survivors - who seem to be incapable of doing anything for themselves - but unfortunately they are repetitive fetch quests which usually involve finding lost items or powering up creaking power generators.
It's also incredibly annoying that respawning zombies level up with the player, which means even a trip back over old ground is never an easy task. This element also works against solo play - especially after the opening act - as it's easy to become overwhelmed by foes, resulting in constant and frustrating deaths.
That's not Dead Island's only fault - clumsy character models, broken quests, graphical glitches and poor texture pop-in show the game could have done with a bit more polish. There are also some bewildering missions, such as finding water for one survivor who is dying of thirst, when soft drinks lie only an arm's reach away.
But for all its faults and rough edges, Dead Island is still a hugely enjoyable experience, especially when played with a few friends. It might not win any awards for originality, but those willing to put up with its flaws are in for a bloody good time.
360 version tested