Publisher: Deep Silver
Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC
Release Date: September 6, 2011
Price: $59.99 – Buy now!
Zombies and video games are like peas in a pod. You will rarely have to look more than a few months in the future or in the past and not find a game that has zombies in it in some form or another. But what about a zombie game that is actually open world? Sure we’ve seen zombies that attacked in malls and had the semblance of freedom, and we’ve also seen games that had players follow a linear path through preset stages.
But Dead Island is something quite different than anything we’ve seen before. The game was dark for many years until it was brought to a hyper frenzy thanks to the emotionally packed CGI trailer that announced that the game would be released in September. Now that it is time for Dead Island to hit shelves, does it’s four player co-op and open world zombie survival on a tropical island create a zombie survivalist’s dream?
It seemed like a normal day on the island of Banoi. People were partying and having a wonderful time on their vacation to the tropical island. But their wonderful time was not going to last long, as a sudden zombie outbreak has occurred and they have quickly overrun the island, killing and devouring everyone in their hungry paths.
Players must take on the role of one of the four survivors which somehow have immunity to the zombie infection and with this immunity; you must not only try and escape the island with your life but also find out what the world has started this outbreak in the first place. Along the way there are numerous survivors which you can encounter, many which can help point you in the right direction of both freedom and knowledge.
The survivors’ names are Purna an ex-police officer turned bodyguard, Logan Carter a man who used to be a star football player until his career was ended in a car crash, Sam B a one-hit wonder rapper and Xian Mei, a Chinese Special Forces operative sent to spy on wealthy people visiting the island. While the player’s backgrounds may not play heavily into the story itself, their skills, which I will address later, do.
The player must make their way through the main story and travel between various locations, ranging from the beach resort, to the middle of a downtown area and even into a jungle. The main story is separated from side quests in the quest journal and is easy to avoid doing if you so please, which you will often find yourself doing.
There is a sense of adventure to every mission you are given and the side quests are not only wide-ranging in variety but can also be extremely emotional. There are your standard fetch quests of course, but alongside these are those that pull on your heart strings because the man just asked you to murder his zombified friend or deliver a memento to their loved ones because they won’t be making it back.
While the story does a great job of showing that the survivors are truly surviving against the odds and has plenty of emotion thrown in, it also can be quite confusing at times, and at other times completely random. There are many times that certain storyline related quests will pop up or happen without much explanation whatsoever and when there is a bit of explanation they make little sense.
The island of Banoi is a beautiful place. The first place players are dropped is right on the beach where you can stand and stare at the wonderful looking ocean, only to see the blood of a half eaten woman laying just a few feet away. The zombies in the game are absolutely amazing to see and are well varied. There are plenty of character models for each zombie in each area, plus enemies will usually show damage that they receive either with limbs becoming exceptionally damaged or even broken from blunt weapons or a badly burnt body from being set on fire.
While the zombies are great looking and the overall world of the island of Banoi is spectacular, there is a heavy feeling that the game is missing some polish. There is a very large amount of texture pop in which can be extremely noticeable, especially with some weapons looking absolutely terrible until the textures pop. Cutscenes also have a problem with pop-up and distance, as a few cutscenes failed to render anything in the background for the entire scene which immediately takes away from the experience.
There is something to be said when you are walking through a city street or deserted looking cabana only to hear the moan of a nearby zombie and start to panic slightly. Dead Island has absolutely wonderful sounding zombies and you will often be keeping not only your eyes open as you make your way through the world but also your ears. The snarl of a nearby zombie or scream of an infected can quickly escalate any situation into a fight or flight for your life.
The characters themselves are well voiced and there should be no complaints here. A number of the characters have Australian sounding accents, which will either come as an amusement to the player or something to simply pass off. I however did run the accent past one of our Australian editors and it apparently is rather spot-on.
At its very core, Dead Island is an open world survival game where players must make their way from place to place and finish missions for other survivors while doing battle against any undead that they come across. They will do this primarily through melee combat and occasional ranged combat and accumulate experience points along the way that can be used to customize their characters skills.
Past that however is an amazing experience. As I mentioned before, the quests are extremely diverse and this expands past the side quests as well. This keeps not only the main quests interesting but also helps keep the player interested in seeing what they will need to do for every survivor they come across. Plus side quests don’t always come from random survivors in safe areas, you can occasionally stumble upon trapped survivors about to be eaten by a zombie horde or hear a radio transmission about a survivor somewhere in the world that can be tracked down.
This is another highlight of Dead Island, the massive explorable island. If the player decides to simply forgo doing any quests and feels like venturing around the island than they are more than welcome to do so at any given time with zero time restrictions keeping them locked in place. There are collectibles to discover as well as weapon modifications off the beaten trail but there is also plenty to see and do, so much so that those simply running from mission to mission will miss quite a lot of content.
Of course while you are exploring you are going to be accosted by quite a large number of zombies. Fighting against the undead is mostly focused entirely on melee combat which provides quite a visceral experience thanks to the way that the game’s zombies react to receiving damage. There is quite a large variety in weapons that can be used, ranging from a broken plank or a paddle to a sledgehammer or cleaver and then some. Swinging these weapons around is tiresome however and players can grow tired, as shown by their stamina gauge, which will leave them unable to use their weapon for a short period of time.
The weapons are broken into two categories, edged weapons and blunt weapons. Blunt weapons are great for knocking enemies down and breaking their limbs as well as shattering skulls while edged weapons can neatly slice off an arm of a zombie or even chop their head right off of their body in one chop. Slicing a zombie’s arms off and watching it attempt to still bite you with its head is quite a unique experience, especially as you kick it down a flight of stairs.
Now while combat is mostly melee focused, players will be doing some ranged fighting as well. Melee weapons can be thrown at enemies to help stall them or, in the case of an exploding enemy, to safely kill it from a distance. Also players will stumble upon guns of various kinds as they play through the game. Guns are quite scarce on the island, though become less so when you encounter human survivors which have turned into looters and thieves.
Guns are unfortunately quite weak despite how rare they are. While human survivors can be dropped in a single headshot, zombies will be able to shrug off five or six rounds and still continue forward without blinking. When compared to even a mid-rate melee weapon their damage is quite low and begs the question as to why a player would carry a lot of guns at all. This is unfortunately poor balance as something as rare as a gun should be more powerful, especially with most zombie lore saying a headshot is an instant kill.
Guns aside, melee combat does have a few small problems of its own. Your attacks are interruptible which, while understandable, can make it difficult at times to do battle against the zombies. A quicker zombie (less rotted) can easily make it very difficult to even swing your weapon once when they get on top of you, making it so difficult that poor timing can easily result in your death.
Player death is something that will actually happen quite often as facing down the undead is something that is not an easy task in Dead Island. A lone shuffling zombie may not pose much of a threat but a group of three or more can quickly become a dangerous situation. Though falling to the zombie threat isn’t too horrible of an experience as you will usually only lose a chunk of your money and a re-spawn nearby. The spawn system is a bit poor however; there were a number of times that I was spawned right next to the zombie mob that just ended my life. Other times it was 30 meters away in a different direction.
Money is a powerful thing, even in a zombie apocalypse. Beyond buying weapons from other survivors, money is also used to repair your found weaponry. Both money and weapons can be found all over the island in a large number of containers which makes Dead Island a loot lover’s dream. As you fight with weapons they degrade over time and will cost money to repair and become effective again, but you can also make some weapon modifications as well.
As you venture through the island you may find some blueprints that will make use of pieces of wire, batteries and all kinds of knick-knacks found around the island. These blueprints can turn even the simplest of weapons into a deadly masterpiece made specifically for killing zombies with lightning, fire, poison and anything else. The modification items have infinite inventory spots which is useful, however weapon/medkit carrying space is limited so choose wisely.
As I mentioned before, each character has skills that are exclusive to them. As players earn XP from completing quests and killing zombies they will level up and allow them a skill point to place in one of three skill trees. These trees are either Rage Mode, General Combat or Survival and are varied between each character and usually focus on their specialty. For example I played as Xian Mei and her abilities focused on edged weapons and making them more powerful and deadly, as well as a quick and powerful knife wielding rage mode.
Now while killing zombie after zombie by yourself is fun, doing it with a group is always better. While the game unfortunately does not have local co-op, which is a disappointment, it does feature quite a seamless multiplayer mode. Players can either choose to search for an open game of someone with the same or less progression in the story as them or join a friend. The game will even pop up a little notification in the right corner if you are nearby another player in the story and at the tap of a button you can join their game for co-op zombie killing.
That isn’t to say that Dead Island isn’t without its faults however. Allied AI is unfortunately quite stupid. There are a few quests which involve escorting characters to a certain destination. However these allies seem to usually follow a set path, caring little for their own safety or even attempting to fight against zombies attacking them. Plus they care little for your own actions, often running right past a number of zombies attacking you and getting killed on their own. Plus they tend to walk right into thrown Molotov fires, so watch it.
Also there seems to occasionally be a problem with invisible walls at places. Playing as Xian Mei, she is one of the smallest characters, however I often experienced myself becoming stuck trying to walk through a door or a small roofed area. This was resolved by crouching through but looking at a standard sized opening large enough to fit a large person through and becoming stuck isn’t a good thing.
Dead Island is an expansive game that deserves a look no matter what type of gamer you may be. The game could be sprinted through in around 10 hours but players doing so would be doing themselves a huge disservice by skipping content. Exploring and completing side missions can easily place length at over forty hours of single player gaming, and that doesn’t even count the time you will spend with friends and simply walking around murdering zombies with your fancy new electric machete or flaming tonfa.
Dead Island may not be a perfect game, as its story, while emotional, is a bland and unexplained for the most part and it has a number of annoying bugs and texture pop, it is a fun game. Facing down the undead has never been more enjoyable and challenging. Sure it may be frustrating at times when you die multiple times, but the challenge is all part of the fun. Join up with your friends or with random players and face down the horrors on the once beautiful island of Banoi and you will find yourself losing hours simply chopping and smashing the undead.
I give Dead Island