The zombie fad is back and the undead have been quickly engulfing the gaming scene. With gamers enjoying Left4Dead, Dead Rising, Undead Nightmare, and Call of Duty’s zombies mode, it’s easy to see how saturated the market is with the living dead. Techland is looking to add to this expanding list with their newest title Dead Island.
With plenty of other zombie-killing alternatives on store shelves, can Dead Island stand out amongst the other similarly themed titles?
The strongest feature within Dead Island is immediately evident. Upon being thrown into the first fight, taking a splintered paddle across the face of a sprinting zombie begins to show how incredibly addicting the gameplay is alone. Finding and crafting new weapons to pulverize the undead inhabitants with is a pleasure that never gets old regardless of how many hours you have invested in the game so far. Each weapon type has its own feel to it. Bladed weapons provide satisfying dismemberment and penetration, whereas the resulting deft thud from blunt weaponry send enemies stumbling and crashing to the ground. The brutality of this game knows no bounds as players are able to break different limbs of enemies’ bodies. This means there is an option beyond simple dismemberment. A blunt weapon to each arm of a zombie has the chance of leaving the attacker with two broken, and useless, arms. Hilarity usually ensues. Let’s not forget about the firearms, however. While they are scarce, they are quite efficient in getting out of tight binds and can quickly tip the odds back in your favor. Just remember that this is a combat game first and a shooter second (just think in terms of Condemned).
While the action component is heavily prevalent throughout the game, Dead Island manages to squeeze in a fair amount of RPG elements into the gameplay (some more fitting than others). Weapons can be upgraded up to four times to be more powerful and reliable, character’s have individual skill trees (including 3 categories: Fury, Combat, and Survival), and your character can level up as well. The skill tree is the most important of the three seeing as it contains the biggest benefits. Sam B can gain the ability to tackle which allows him to assault enemies in new ways as well as break through locked doors. Logan can learn Boomerang. This ability makes it possible for thrown weapons to return to the player, starting with a 5% chance. It walks the line between FPS and RPG just as recent iterations of the Fallout franchise have done. Fans of action will find more than enough tension and mayhem to satisfy their needs while those who prefer RPGs will enjoy looting, leveling up, and crafting weapons.
Dead Island is a fun single player experience, but it is far better when played cooperatively with between one and three other players. Not only does the slaughter of the undead become more enjoyable as you share the entire experience with your friends (or strangers), but each character class feels more fleshed out when they are supporting each other to move through their opposition as a single, unstoppable force. Also, since the story and characters themselves are nothing noteworthy, playing with enjoyable company makes those issues feel far less noticeable. Not to mention that memorable moments (usually followed by the words “awesome” and “epic”) tend to occur much more often as the number of players present increases. This is the optimal mode to go through the game on as it only further strengthens the game’s other strong features.
Dead Island definitely found the perfect balance between paradise and apocalyptic disaster. The bright beach environments look inviting at first, but a quick survey of the area reveals the devastation the area has received. However, the game won’t keep players basking in the suns rays all the time. Buildings and sewer systems appear to help change up the scenery from time to time. Keeping the setting in mind, the zombies themselves are dressed to appropriately reflect the vacation environment. Zombies are dressed in boardshorts and two piece swim suits. It creates an interesting clash between trendy beach wear and rotting flesh.
As for the atmosphere, this is another area that the game succeeds. The slow, melodic soundtrack in the background amplifies the feeling of despair and loss at just the right time. Also, walking through tight corridors and hearing the screams and groans of unseen zombies filling the area never fails in getting the blood pumping.
Dead Island starts off with one of four playable characters waking up to deal with the horde of undead that have taken control of the fictional island Banoi located within Papua New Guinea. In typical fashion, all four characters happen to be the only ones immune to the spreading virus and, therefore, are sent on various missions to help survivors re-establish dominance over the island. It’s the standard zombie story that we’ve all seen countless time. Don’t expect to be blown away by in-depth character arcs or twisting and turning plot points either. The premise is straight-forward and, you know what, it’s all the justification that’s needed to start mauling zombies with various tools and everyday items.
The characters won’t succeed in garnering too much attachment from the player either. They are basically cookie cutter characters that are barely anything more than blank templates to channel your zombie killing fantasies through. While each person has their own backstory and proficiencies, players will most likely choose the character that best suits their play style (ex: Tank or Healer) rather than pick one they wish to learn more about and connect with while playing. The characters also fall flat due to their overuse of certain phrases when engaged in combat. “This is messed up” and “I think they got rabies or something” were heard countless times while playing as Sam B. Logan didn’t offer up much more diversity in his dialogue either.
The environments look good, but unfortunately semi-consistent screen tearing and slow texture loading can hinder the visual experience. Screen tearing seemed more of a constant issue than texture problems. While running to and from objectives, screen tearing became extremely obvious as the character’s head was moved around to take in the surrounding visuals. Texture problems arose primarily on characters being interacted with, but there were instances where the environment itself mirrored the issue.
RPGs are well-known for their weapon restrictions based on skill and player level, however, that feels out of place in Dead Island. For example, Borderlands and Dragon Age required that players reach a certain level of player progression before gaining access to higher leveled weaponry. It worked in those cases because the reward felt substantial. For the most part, this isn’t the case with Dead Island. When your character has been using a basic knife since the beginning and suddenly you pick up a new similar-looking knife with better stats that is restricted until a specific level is reached, it doesn’t feel right. The character isn’t upgrading from a basic sword to a claymore or moving on from an assault rifle to a LMG. Instead, the same butchers knives may be totally different, but players wouldn’t notice that just by picking them up. Point being, these characters should be able to effectively wield a devastating knife as well as a rusty knife. Games won’t always follow logic, but it must be said that there’s something puzzling about the quality of weapon dictating the player’s access to them.
Dead Island is a solid first-person action RPG with a lot to offer, especially to fans of the undead. Addicting combat, solid RPG elements, and wonderful atmospheric environments easily outweigh the blemishes brought on by graphical glitches and the less-than-original story and characters. Regardless of the current number of zombie games in your collection, this is one experience you should find the time to enjoy amongst the abundant amount of great titles coming out as the year draws to a close.
[Editor’s Note: Dead Island was reviewed on the PlayStation 3 platform. The game was given to us by the publisher for review purposes.]Dead Island Review,