Review: Dead Island

After I saw the mesmerizing reverse slow-motion trailer for Dead Island I knew that I wanted to give the zombie action/adventure game some of my attention. I hoped that this would be a zombie game to remember; better than last year’s Dead Rising 2 which I didn’t fully enjoy. Unfortunately as I played through the game I couldn’t help but feel a little bit disappointed as to how the game had come together.

The premise of Dead Island is that you and your group of cohorts are immune to a zombie virus outbreak that has ravaged the pacific holiday island of Banoi, and you need to help get off the island as quickly as possible while helping the few remaining survivors. As you go along, you run into loads of zombies that naturally try and bite your head off and you smash them to pieces with a variety of weapons.

Story-wise a lot of the things that occur in Dead Island seem to be an excuse to move from place to place and kill zombies along the way. There are twists and turns plus a variety of characters make their appearances, but it’s definitely not a stellar or particularly memorable plot - it’s best to focus on the killing, the weapons and the gore.

Initially you must choose a character that has a particular weapon specialty. I played a bit with each of the characters and it doesn’t seem to play that much of a part in the overall game. Having four characters is designed for co-op, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t play single player (which is what I did mostly), and none of the characters have particularly great backgrounds or voice acting for that matter.

There was a particular oddity I picked up on as I progressed through the game as a lone solider, that is, without the available 4-player co-op: while actually gaming there is no sight of the other three members of your group, however they magically appear in the important cutscenes. Presumably this is due to the cutscenes being pre-rendered but it feels extremely out of place.

You move through four acts for a total of 18 chapters, and each act has a different location to accompany it. The most visually stunning and my favorite of them is the first “Resort” destination, which is laden with beautiful beaches, pools, palm trees and a nice island feel to it. The others weren’t as good (second best was the jungle), and at times I wished that more of the game’s events could have been located at the resort.

The game is quest based, with a main quest that needs to be completed along with side quests that you can attempt if you wish to extend your time on Banoi. As with a lot of quest-based games, the sidequests can feel derivative as you have to go and deliver this, kill these zombies, save such-and-such; I started off doing all sidequests I encountered but eventually gave up for this very reason.

When you’re not completing a quest you are free to roam the open-ended sandbox-style island and explore all it has to offer. Thanks to cars and quick travel maps you can reach places a lot more quickly as the areas on offer seem quite large, and scattered around are weapons, items and more sidequests. Free roam is something I’ve always enjoyed in a game and in Dead Island this is true, except I just wish the sidequests were a bit more exciting.

Still following the quest-based game model, there is a level system whereby each zombie killed and quest completed gives you experience (XP) that goes to your levelling up. With each level up you can unlock more abilities and gain more health to make your survival on the island that little bit easier. Choosing your upgrades can be hard, and you certainly won’t be unlocking all upgrades by the games end: I reached level 31 by the end and I didn’t even perform a third of the upgrades.

Then there are the weapons, and there are lots of them spread throughout the island and given away as quest rewards. Similar to the way Borderlands had a color-coded weapon system, Dead Island uses colors to indicate the rarity (I believe) of the weapons that you have. You can use loads of things to attack zombies with, ranging from your sturdy pipe and shovel right up to spiked bats, maces and katanas. Close-range weapons eventually break from bashing in too many zombie skulls and need repairing (at a cost); they also can be upgraded if you desire, and created from the random parts you find lying around.

The sheer number of weapons is one of the best parts of Dead Island. I preferred to use sharp weapons but it’s still awfully satisfying to see a zombies head fly off from a sledgehammer hit. You can also use guns, which come into the game at a later stage, although this style combat just doesn’t feel as satisfying as good old close-range weapons.

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