Dead Island review
Killing Zombies is Timeless
I know what you're probably thinking; "Oh great, another zombie game". Over the course of your gaming life, I'm sure you've stumbled across quite a few. But to be brutally honest, Dead Island came out at a perfect time. Resident Evil 5 lacked the zombies that everyone loved, so that definitely caused a drought that helped make Left 4 Dead the successful game that it was (is). And then the only zombie release, prior to Dead Island (from what I can gather), was Dead Rising 2 back in September 2010. Released just a year later, fans anticipated this release with open arms and bulging wallets and it doesn't matter if you release 10 brand spanking new zombie games tomorrow because they'll still be purchased by a lot of the gaming industry. Why? Because there's just something very therapeutic about chopping a zombie's head clean off with a machete! Even if the game hadn't been as good as it was, it'd still be quite difficult to judge it as an outsider. If it's the type of game you were looking to buy, you'd be split between two similar thoughts; "it's a zombie game, how can I go wrong?", and "oh, it's just another zombie game". And if you liked the look of the game but still couldn't decide because of thought B, Dead Island really isn't as repetitive as other zombie games... not all of the time at least. It's another game that's probably saved because of the enjoyable multiplayer system.
Unless you'd played Call of Juarez (which I hadn't) beforehand - or a few lower budget games over the years - you mightn't have heard of developers Techland. The same can be said about publishers Deep Silver - neither are names that'd often come up in highly geeky gaming conversation. As happy as I am to see unfamiliar companies do well in the gaming industry, these guys aren't one of the few that bypassed the 'generic zombie story' syndrome most have suffered with in the past. And oh boy is it generic! The game takes place on the fictional island of Banoi off the coast of Papua New Guinea (a country that only gained its independence from Australia in 1975, which would explain the accents throughout the game). Anyway, the game opens up with a cutscene that gives you a taste of the four main characters in the game, and their different views on the night before 'the outbreak', if you will. The island has one of these high profile parties where it seems that anyone who is anyone is invited - which draws your four unrelated characters together. You've got Sam B, the rapper at the party, Logan, the American football star (who you view the cutscene as, in a drunken state), Chinese government spy Xian Mei and retired police officer Purna. So there we go, a nice gender balance of 2/2, already indicating that this game has a market for both. Throughout the cutscene, Logan is beat up by Purna for being a drunken asshole, and dragged back to his hotel room.
On your way there, you see a body lying on the bathroom floor with people talking in the distance about her state. This is indeed one of the first casualties of the infection. When you awake the following morning, whatever your character, your job is to find the way out of the vacant hotel and decipher some information about what's going on and why you're alone in a place that was so lively just a few hours earlier. After taking a turn towards the exit, you encounter your first zombie, and all you can do is run. Well, run or die if you enjoy the occasional death! Once you get out, you'll bump into a guy named Sinamoi who explains to you what has happened and why you were zombie bait just minutes before. Sinamoi believes that the four survivors... survived overnight because they are immune to the infection, and alas; this is where you're given the task of doing everything for every Regular John on the island. After running a few 'errands' and ridding the Lifeguard Tower of the zombies, it isn't long before the group realise there isn't many supplies on the island of Banoi and it's then your turn to reach the nearby city of Moresby, to find more survivors and food/water. Throughout the former areas of the game, you'll be contacted from a guy located in a prison off the island who believes the four survivors can help his wife who has been taken by the infection. He believes (here we go, generic as I said) the characters who are immune can create an antidote that can cure the infection and bring everything back to normal - sounds a bit like I Am Legend, doesn't it? No... it just sounds like everything zombie/creature-related if you ask me. Anyway, that's the story dealt with and it's about as exciting and compelling as I have described it to you. In other words; not very.
"Wasn't I just doing shots at this pool last night?"
Where the plot falters, the gameplay really rallies on... for the most part. As aforementioned, you can pick one of four characters (or five for a completely different storyline if you have the Game of the Year edition) and each one has their own ability - Sam B is great with melee weapons, Purna with firearms, Xian's stamina is fantastic and Logan... is a guy with a mohawk who fights better when drunk. Each character carries different abilities when they've levelled up. Ability trees are sectioned into three areas - Fury, which is your character's ability to enable their super-powered strength that's super effective against a horde of zombies; Combat, which will increase the durability of blunt and edges weapons, increase your firearm damage and so on; and Survival, which increases your character's health bar, resistance to damage, fire etc. Overall it's nice to have the ability tree as it adds an RPG element to the game but for the most part, they don't seem to help you out that much. Increasing your health bar or resistance to damage seems pointless to me. Throughout the game as you level up, your health bar will increase, but so too does the zombies' melee power. So... what's the point? If you have a small health bar, zombies will only take a certain percentage per attack, but they'll take just as much off of your health when your bar is significantly bigger. It makes no odds.
The game really hits hard with the weapons you encounter throughout the game. For the first act of the game (the game is divided into 4, in 4 different locations), you'll use melee - blunt or edged - weapons only. This is a great time to get used to your weapons because at least here, zombies are scarce and don't come in overwhelming numbers. The weapons you come across range from crowbars, baseball bats, spades, shovels, machetes, a range of knives, cleavers, hammers, axes along with many many others. The durability of your weapon is located in the top right hand corner of your screen and you'll notice how quickly it decreases when you attack. This here adds the main survival element to the whole game. Yeah, there's heaps of weapons out there, but use them wisely because they won't last very long otherwise buddy! There are workbenches throughout each map so it's possible to repair and upgrade your weapons, but both can be quite expensive if you're careless. Upgrading the weapon increases its power and durability but again, upgrades are quite expensive at the beginning when money is tight so choose your weapons wisely. You can also find mods throughout the game which can add elements to your weapon that will give you the upper hand in a fight. Adding fire to your axe, shock elements to your machete or nails in your baseball bat, all upgraded mods are enjoyable to use. Using such mods as the shock elements will greatly establish your enjoyability of the game as you spectate a zombie's 'death by electrocution' caused by your hands.
When a weapon is blunt, most are still useable. You will come across paddles at the beginning that'll just break and you'll be left with your fists but most stay in your inventory until you've either dropped them, sold them or repaired them for future use. However, their use really deteriorates with its durability as an attack is so insignificant with a damaged weapon. You should also be conscious of how difficult the game can get when you hit the city. On the island of Banoi, you're used to zombies in fewer numbers which'll raise questions of "where's the difficulty?" at times. But once you're in the city, it's a massive difference and you will die a lot. Yes, you will, because this game is so bloody unforgivable. My biggest problem with the game is its inconsistency, most apparent in Moresby (Act II). You might come across a horde of enemies that you'll have absolutely no problem with dispatching. But then you'll turn the corner, encounter the same number of enemies and get absolutely annihilated on all sides until you've died and lost a heap of cash. This can happen often so beware - there was a point last week when I must've died 10 times in a couple of minutes because of the game's inconsistencies - this was where the health bar issue really shines.
Oh silly me, where are my manners? I haven't even introduced any of the zombies to you! From what I can count on my fingers right now, there are 7 main enemy types that you'll encounter as you progress. The most predominant at the beginning are enemies known as Walkers, and they are exactly what it says on the tin. They walk. However, they're powerful and carry quite a punch on them. Certain enemies actually carry blades as well so approach with caution. Of the bunch though, they're the easiest enemies to deal with. The second enemy you'll encounter not much longer will be Infected, and these my friend, are the bastards of the game. They're okay in small numbers and especially okay when you know where they're coming from but that much isn't always clear. You hear them before you see them most of the time and they're lightning quick. So even if you're sprinting away from an area, they're maintaining your pace. The main difference is they don't have a stamina bar to obey! These enemies can be quite awarding too though. When they sprint, it gives them so much momentum that it's possible - if done correctly - to kill them in one shot. And there's probably nothing more beautiful in the game than slicing their heads of with a machete without taking a hit. Another couple of enemies you'll experience on the island of Banoi are Thugs and Suiciders. Thugs are slower than Walkers, but they're enormous and very difficult to deal with when you've only got melee weapons. Taking a hit from these guys can take an excruciating amount of your health and sends you flying off your feet onto your ass quicker than you can say "thugs are pricks, man". Killing them is so fun with edged weapons though. You can take off both of their arms, and then they're left trying to take you out with headbutts. Once you've taken both arms, you can then take the head which is really enjoyable and a real "high 5!" moment with friends you might be playing with at the time.
Suiciders are a real hassle and leave you checking behind your back a lot more - when you approach their grotesque bodies, their swelled torsos start to expand momentarily before blowing up and killing anything nearby - including you, so be careful. They're actually very tiresome after a while, because regardless of how much health you have, they'll kill you in one shot if you're within their explosion radius. That's fine, make me be more strategic, but when they're right behind you or right at a corner you're about to turn, then they're a real pain in the dick. As you progress through more acts, you'll find Floaters (there's not a lot to be said about them, they're basically Boomers from Left 4 Dead; no more nor less), Ram and Butchers. Ram are absolutely huuuge and require a lot of blows to defeat, but again, they become very tiresome. Their sequence is very easy to make out; get angry for a few seconds, kick you if you're within kicking range, then charge at you at a fast-ish pace. Easily dodgeable of course, but still very annoying because a Ram battle takes quite a while if you're willing to take him on. The novelty wears off quickly with these guys, no doubt. The last and best enemy is the Butcher, which looks like Predator with sharpened blades/wood (?) instead of forearms. These guys are as fast as Infected, but they're more intelligent with their attacks. They can block and have more strategy involved than any of the other enemies and take quite a while to kill. They can also make you look very very silly if you're using a poor melee weapon so you've been warned!
"Mom!? Who did this to you!?"
Act II comes at just about the right time because you will get bored of the island quite quickly unless you're playing with the funniest friends ever. And while the area comes at the right time, so does the new terrain and the graphics really shine in at least 3 of the 4 main areas. Banoi really is a beautiful island and it's hard to believe you're killing zombies on it. If you take a moment to just look at your surroundings and the sky, it's really beautiful. Enemies are done very well too (besides Floaters, they're lame and unoriginal), especially Suiciders. They're really disgusting but also have that 'caution' look about them that tells you to steer clear. Once you've left Banoi, you'll reach Moresby where the weather changes from sunny to drizzly - this area is more like Ireland, in fact. Only... we don't have zombies of course. Anyway, the addition of rain is a nice touch because it's always sunny in Banoi - weather doesn't change. The unfamiliar terrain in Jungle (Act III) is also a nice touch that comes at the right time. However, both the Jungle and Moresby suffer the same fate - both are huge and have few cars. In fact, it'd almost be impossible to drive in Moresby with all the nearby wreckages. That'd be okay if the side quests didn't ask you to go from Point A at the most western part of the map to Point B at the eastern most area. But alas, this is a game with quite a few flaws and side quests become more of a hassle than they're worth.
Cutscenes also look really nice but add no depth to the game or its story. In fact, none of the four characters are very memorable and that's no compliment to a game that is quite lengthy when you take everything into account. The little dialogue that they have is insignificant or generic. Sam B, the rapper, says about everything you'd expect him to say. These four people are drawn together by a zombie outbreak, but you learn very little about any of them but their abilities. I'd have liked to have finished the game and had some sort of attachment to the characters but not even in the slightest. It's very like Left 4 Dead in this sense. Sure, you enjoyed playing as specific characters in that, but you knew nothing about them other than their repetitive dialogue and their skin colour. In fact, voice-overs are pretty crap as a whole. There are maybe a couple of characters in the game that you feel some sort of emotion to towards the latter stages, and even that much is a push. The game's audio is enjoyable in terms of zombie noises, but besides that the music/audio plays a very bit-part role in the game.
Dead Island will win no 'most beautiful character' awards, that's for sure
The game's saviour is no doubt it's co-op multiplayer. If I had to play this game alone, I think I'd pull my hair out. But it's nice to be able to play with 3 others, and it has a jump in/jump out system. In fact, the co-op was done really well. If you want to turn off slots to join and want to play alone? You can do that. If you want to have private slots for friends? You can do that. If you want to kick someone from a game or drop out? You can do that. You wanna trade weapons with others? You can't do that... just kidding, you can! It has everything you wanted the multiplayer to have and if you were thinking of purchasing the game, I'd get the Game of the Year edition because of the Bloodbath Arena DLC. Basically, this is Horde in Gears of War if you're familiar with it. On four playable maps, you go through waves of zombies with friends that has a real enjoyability factor to it. Despite there only being four areas to choose from, it has so much replayable value to the game.
You've probably read through the review and had mixed feelings. It is a bit of an inconsistent review because I've told you how great one area is, then slated another. Well, Dead Island is a very inconsistent game so it suits it! One minute you could be enjoying yourself, murdering zombies at will and then other times you could be having the angriest gaming hour of your life. It really is that fickle. You'll come across as a person with bipolar disorder because you'll be saying "I love this game" and "I hate this game" in the same breath. Overall the game's story is as underwhelming as can be. This much is definitely true if you play with a person who's finished the game already. They'll fly through your quests and you won't know where you are in the story. The game is a sandbox game as I'm sure you've noted, so you've got heaps of side quests to do for others. But honestly? The game would probably be better if it wasn't a sandbox game because going from one half of the map to the other to get one pointless item for some lazy, cowardly survivor is quite tedious as I'm sure you can assume. If you don't play online, I would give this one a miss, but if you do, it's a game I'd definitely get. And if you do play online, do yourself a favour and get the Bloodbath DLC or the Game of the Year edition. At least then it adds so much more replayability, with a separate storyline for another character as well as a horde mode that's both challenging and very fun as a whole.
OVERALL RATING: 7/10
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