Review – Dead Island
Fetch quests on Zombie Island? Why doesn’t this suck?
In recent years zombies in gaming have become so commonplace that even hating them has become a cliche. Games at every level, from full retail releases to Xbox Live Indie and iOS titles, are riddled with the brain-addicted fuckers to such a degree that they’ve become an actual zombie epidemic. So when Dead Island finally started to emerge – long after being originally announced back at E3 2006 – there were plenty of us who were happy to let it pass us by. But we’re still clambering out of this summer drought and there was something about Dead Island‘s mixed reception that made us want to try it out. After all, we love our lemons here and Dead Island looked especially citrusy. Mmmm lemons.
From the opening sequence, a first-person drunken affair that echoes The Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ video, to your first look at the luxury resort island of Banoi, the game makes a great first impression that evokes memories of Dead Rising. There’s something a little cinematic and epic about it. A confident start. After picking one of the four fairly interchangeable protagonists, and looting all the suitcases you can on your way out of your hotel, it is time for you to start making friends with the other survivors and getting a little less friendly with the deader inhabitants of the island.
The game plays out in a similar way to Borderlands. That is to say that there is a main line of quests that takes you through the chapters of the game but you can also recieve and complete numerous side quests for extra money and experience points. The side quests themselves are the usual mixture of combat and fetch missions that give you a chance to explore the island and massacre the inhabitants.
Exploration is made easy thanks to decent driving mechanics and a handful of quick travel points but the island of Banoi is, at least at first, a very nice place to discover. The blue skies and idyllic beaches give the game a bright and breezy feel that is literally a world apart from the the usual greys and browns that make up the survival horror genre palette and the story is well told and interesting enough to keep you playing.
Of course, the main thing about Banoi is the small issue of the dead rising from their graves to feast on the living but thankfully you have the skills and equipment to wade your way through them. There are plenty of weapons out there for you to discover from blunt instruments, blades and firearms. Combat is especially enjoyable with the analog combat option turned on. This allows you to use the right analog stick to swing your weapon, allowing you to target limbs and necks and it makes you feel a little bit closer to the action than the default digital combat option. Either way, slicing off heads and breaking arms looks and feels great with the undead falling apart in a realistic manner while being a tough enemy to deal with. One of Dead Island‘s greatest triumphs is taking a mass enemy but making each one a challenge. Even the game’s most basic zombies will give you a tough time if you’re not careful.
Dead Island is a game that is totally up front with what it has to offer. Primarily a melee combat game where you face off against different types of zombie in a plush tropical setting, weapons disintegrate (or just become incredibly weak over time) and can be upgraded/repaired with money and simply modified with nails, fire etc. You’ll crack zombie bones, sever zombie limbs and stomp zombie skulls with incredible satisfaction and so long as you choose the analogue controls combat wont get too repetitive; missions however, may. To keep things interesting you keep an ever watchful eye out for new weapons, mods, the materials require to mod and money but the missions are basic in their tasks, escort, rescue, fetch are the order of the game but it’s the exploring you do during these that keeps you going.
Complaints have been made over graphical quality but honestly I don’t see the problem, not that you’ll have much time to admire the scenery seeing as you’re gonna be more interested in admiring the real-time flesh wounds you’re making on the already rotting masses. The audio from the game is pretty spot-on, nothing really stands out but it just feels like how it should feel, and serves to create just the right amount of tension.
Multiplayer offers great drop in/out play but as far as I’ve see, prevents you entering a game where the story is further ahead than you’ve progressed, understandable why. The whole of the world is divided into several very large sections and although there is loading time between these large sections it is very impressive to see the insta-loading whilst fast travelling inside these sections.
Don’t expect the most varied or the deepest game possible, do expect great ambiance and what I hope to never imagine, an accurate zombie apocalypse experience that will keep you coming back for more. Don’t forget – aim for the head.
Secondary Score: 8/10
After several hours of maiming zombies and exploring beaches and chalets, Dead Island starts to overstay its welcome but thankfully the game’s second act sees you traveling into town which offers a change of scenery and pace as the loses its Just Cause 2 look and feel and basically turns into Resident Evil 5. At first it’s a bit of a shame with the weather taking a turn for the grey and the luxury setting being traded for an already poverty-stricken urban environment. With that in mind though, too much of the resort would kill this game and so the change of setting is probably a good one. Different settings that I shan’t spoil for you are introduced later on as well, some of which that take the game into more predictable survival horror territory, but the overall effect of having all these diverse locations is similar to what I experienced with Dead Rising. That is to say that the game feels incredibly substantial and complete. There’s a huge chunk of game here, even if you chose to not get bogged down in side quests.
With its lush graphics, decent (enough) voice acting and quality storytelling, Dead Island is definitely a game that is already easily recommended but one of its main features is online four-player co-op. Although I’d recommend experiencing the story by yourself (more scares and a bigger challenge that way), it’s also quite nice to wander around with your buddies (or the small portion of random online players that aren’t cunts) and the netcode on offer seems solid throughout. If you do get a bit stuck in your campaign, the flexible drop-in/drop-out co-op allows you to bring in help if you need it. Also, once you’ve beaten the story, co-op play does offer a different experience for your later playthroughs.
Personally, I never ‘got’ Left 4 Dead. It seemed like a shit Half-Life mod and seemed to make all my XBL friends angry but Dead Island echoes the invention and polish that Dead Rising had. A slower-paced affair that’s packed with scares and a challenge but also a game world that is fun to be in. Sure, it is overly long and maybe a little samey in parts but it’s an epic title with lots to see and do and that’s all I ever really want from my games.