There's loads wrong with Dead Island. It's as riddled with holes as the festering flesh of its primary antagonists. Every element of the game you can conceive of is infected with issues that would ordinarily be terminal. By all rights it should fall flat like a faceplanting undead shuffler. But just like those persistent, putrefied corpses, Dead Island keeps trundling on, somehow remaining shambolically entertaining throughout.
Take the marquee feature - four player co-op. It's drop-in, drop-out and as usual enriches the experience enormously, but because this is an action RPG in the Borderlands vein rather than a straightforward FPS the equipment you're able to use and your effectiveness against enemies is based on what level you're at. The problem being, unless you all started the game together, that level might not be the same as your co-op buddies. You aren't rewarded with extra XP for taking the time to kick higher level enemies to death, which means you can end up permanently hobbled as the group's glass-jawed weakest link.
The most ridiculous collision between the RPG elements and common sense involves the guns, which can only be used if you're of a certain level. Playable character Purna has to be the worst 'firearms expert' in the history of the universe, given that she's incapable of firing a pistol until she's snapped a few hundred hatstands over zombie skulls. It's even more hilarious when you've specifically picked the 'firearms training' perk in the skill tree and she still reacts to a handgun like Dracula would to a side order of garlic bread.
Yet in spite of the barely-thought-out balancing, the variety of weaponry and sense of meaty connection means the act of zombie clobbering is always satisfying. There's also almost no penalty for death and respawns are nearly instantaneous, so you can simply hack away until you progress.
Efficiency comes from being imaginative - why spend an age stomping a zombie to pulp when you can hoof it off the side of a cliff instead? Why plump for a regular machete when, with the right components and liberal application of duct tape, you can create a scythe that provokes a brilliant electrified jig every time you score a critical hit? Also, if you can get your hands on a pick-up truck and find enough room for a run up you can gleefully flatten even the hardest bad guys for instant XP.
The world Techland has created is yet another combination of hilariously ropey and unexpectedly impressive. Dead Island's rarely a pretty game - there are PS2 titles that would bully it in the playground - but the environments it offers up are enormous, liberating sandboxes. The fact that it's a world rather than a series of levels means the contrast between the constant threat outdoors and the sense of protection that the various sanctuaries offer is more pronounced than any zombie game before it.
It's the same schizophrenic blend of excellent and awful in the main quest - the plot and dialogue could have been written by a malfunctioning random word generator, but the objectives that are dished out are varied and entertaining. Missions where you're up against gun-toting punks are immediately less appealing - there are other games that do man murdering so much better - but, barring an often torturous final drive to the end credits, they're deployed with restraint and often offer a refreshing break from hoofing the shambling brain-munchers around.