on 2 June 2012
In their review IGN nailed it: "Occasionally a flawed game can be so charming and get enough of the big stuff right that it rises above wonky presentation issues and rough edges." I couldnt agree more with this statement.
Welome to the Island of Banoi. You are one of four people who decided to make this island the next destination in his/her vacationing. After a rough night of partying you awake in your hotelroom and find that the entire hotel is overrun by zombies. Frantically, you try to escape, following a voice that directs you through the intercom; only to be seriously injured when the elevator you are in falls. Lucky for you a local lifeguard finds you and brings you back to good health. And from then on you along with the three other characters you could have chosen try to help other survivors get off this island. A task which proves to be just as tricky as it is bloody. And then without much further ado you are thrust into the beautiful and lush world of Dead Island and are free to do as you please.
Right from the beginning the game asks you to chose between 4 different characters with different attributes: a blunt weapons guy (the character I picked), a guy who is really good at throwing weapons, a woman who is an expert with firearms and another woman whose main attribute is edged weapons. This is where the first problem begins. Although you have four different characters to chose from only two are actually worth using: the blunt weapons guy and the edged weapons woman. Since zombies dont take much damage from bullet shots and the rate of human enemy encounters to zombie encounters is roughly 1:200 she is not worth using, and as for the throwing weapons guy, since you only have a limited arsenal I never really saw the use of throwing my weapons away. To add to their uselessness every character can use every weapon and every character can also throw weapons. So why use the other two characters? No reason at all unless you want to go for certain achievements and/or coordinate playing this game with three other friends and youd like a group of four individual characters.
The game itself plays like a mix of Borderlands, Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead and maybe a little Oblivion. You are thrust into the world of Banoi and are free to roam about it doing whatever you please. You will always have your weapon out, and combat plays out very much like it does in games like Oblivion and Skyrim, add to that the chaotic elements of games like Dead Rising and you are sure to never be bored (unless you fight humans where the game becomes a subpar shooter). Speaking of combat lets go to your arsenal. Weapons in Dead Island encompass everything you might imagine yourself you would use to defend yourself, a canoe paddle, an axe, machete, baseball bat, sledgehammer, and many more. The great thing about this is that you can further upgrade and combine weapons. For example, towards the end of the game I got this fantastic Sledgehammer and decided I was going to upgrade it by combining it with a large battery, barbed wire, normal wire, a belt, duct tape and a couple more things to have a so called "Tesla Sledgehammer". This was a fantastic weapon that would not only break all the zombies bones but in many a case also electrocute them causing extra damage. There are hundreds of combinations to try out; assuming you can find the blueprints for them which are scattered throughout the island. As you fight more and more enemies you start noticing differences between them. First there are the normal walkers. These are your standard enemies that just stand around and eventually come at you slowly. Then there are the infected which you can hear from far away; these enemies will come running straight at you, are relatively easy to kill but deal quite a bit of damage. Certain "boss" zombies also appear later in the game and this is where the game borrowed heavily from Left 4 Dead. The floater is a really fat slow zombie that pukes on you (Boomer), the thug will deal massive damage if you get too close and take long to kill (tank), the rammer will run right up at your and kick you in the face sending you hurling through the air (charger). These are just a few of the many enemy types you will come across.
Combat is definitely the biggest part of the game. Dead Island gives you a huge selection of weapons to do your killing and thankfully it remains fun throughout. Sure, combat is very repetitive, but seeing a zombies head get smashed in by my sledgehammer in slow motion is something morbidly fun which definitely strikes the chaotic in me (and several others too). As you level up you gain points to spend on acquiring and developing different abilities. For example, I decided to ditch developing my lockpicking skills in favor of gaining the "Ram ability" an ability that knock enemies to the ground when i sprint at them. This makes it very easy for me to aim at the head as the zombies slowly try to get on their feet again. Here the game borrows heavily from Borderlands, giving you a skill tree that has three branches and every skill has multiple "levels" which you can spend experience on to further develop one particular trait of your character. Speaking of gaining levels, one great thing about Dead Island is that unlike Borderlands, zombies level with you. Meaning, at the start of the game every zombie wil be at level one (the same you are), but as you gain experience and get to level two, so will the zombies. This makes sure you will never be able to completely "overpower" any section of Banoi. No, this ensures that every zombie you encounter will be just as challenging to defeat as it previously was. This also means that there are no areas of the game where enemies will be too strong for you. Its a very welcome idea which definitely helps keep the game interesting and fair.
As I said earlier, you are one of four survivors, yet, when you play by yourself you never get this feeling of being in a group because none of the other survivors follow you around (although they apparently do because every villager refers to me as "you guys" and in every cutscene all four are present). Instead the game tries to shift your focus to the coop mode. This is apparent because everytime you start a new game the game will ask you whether you want to be visible to other players. This means that while you are playing the game it will notify you that some other player, anywhere in the world is at roughly the same spot you are and asks you whether (with the press of one button) you would like to join them. For those that are interested in playing this game cooperatively this poses a very easy and fun way to play with other random people. What is also good is that the more people play the harder the zombies become to kill. But this is basically where my knowledge of the coop mode ends because I decided to play this game alone and whenever someone would join my game I would simply drop out to continue playing alone. The only gripe I have about this multiplayer mode is that once turned on you cannot turn it off.
The isle of Banoi is a very beautiful one. Its in no way the next Crysis and doesnt even come close to that game either but nevertheless this game is very pretty. Especially the Resort area, with the beach, the bungalows, the pool areas and even the hotel are simply amazingly done and remind me of the times I have been to similar resorts only that in this case zombies are everywhere. Seeing a nice pool with a dash of red coming from the floating bodies really helps set the mood fantastically. The later areas, The City of Moresby, The Jungle and the Sewers (just to name some) are all equally well done but in the case of the City and the sewers I wasnt quite as drawn into the world due to these places being rather boring and stale (especially the Sewers). Nevertheless, All the places you visit have clearly recieved a lot of attention to look realistic, and as far as possible, look good. The game in general boasts some very nice visuals. Zombies looks frightening, look great to smash up and move as you would imagine they would. In general, the game boasts some very nice visuals. The same however cannot be said for cutscenes and character movement. NPC generally have expressionless faces, look dull, move very awkwardly and dont get me started on the voice acting which is so over the top that in some cases (especially in the case of the black main character) could almost be seen as racist. These small gripes aside, the game has a great presentation.
The entire game revolves around you completing quests to gain experience, cash and/or weapons. There are three categories here: main quests, side quests and continuous quests. These are all rather self explanatory but nevertheless I would like to say a word or two about the sidequests. Im still not quite sure as to whether these are mostly stupid quests or good ones. In certain cases you are given a quest that is rather emotional, like in this one instance when i was asked by a crying man to please go to his house and "release" his infected wife and son so that they may rest in peace. Sure it is easy to simply dismiss this quest as a "simple zombie killing" quest but I couldnt help but feel sorry for the man. Such quests frequently pop up and really help you connect with the world and really make you feel the struggle of the people. Other quests are more practical, like getting a toolbox for an engineer so that he can bolster the safe zones defenses. Its also great to see this game protray how every survivor deals with the outbreak in his/her special way. Most hudle together in groups and try to survive, but some have decided to take advantage of the situation and steal and plunder and I even came across a bungalow that had been barricaded only to find people inside who have given up hope and simply decided to party away their troubles, have sex and drink till they get eaten. However, for every quests that makes perfect sense to do (like those that I have mentioned) there is at least one other quests which is completely random, like retrieving the teddybear for a woman. Sadly there are more of those quests than I would like. Then again I guess its hard to demand every quests to be great. Quests are typically very easy since your map will always tell you in which direction to go and how far or close you are to the target destination. So all in all, the quests here are essentially handled the same way as they were in Borderlands.
I got Dead Island about a week ago during the steam sale where i grabbed it for 12. As such I obviously wasnt disturbed by the countless of issues the game apparently had on launch. The game I have now finished playing (after 23 hours) is not without its flaws, bad voice acting, stupid quests, the occasional glitch (like getting completely stuck when trying to repair your weapon) all work against the game, and it definitely wont become the next standard neither for graphics, gameplay or anything for that matter. Regardless though, the game is simply fun. I cannot describe how much fun I had with this game, tearing through waves of zombies with my weapons felt fun and I couldnt stop myself from finishing every quest i came across. This game has sucked me in more than I can describe it. And for every second of frustration with the games weaknesses I was presented with an hour of sheer joy to let my inner chaotic run free on the island of Banoi. If you are the kind of person who likes games that dont take themeselves too seriously, can stomach all the carnage that is presented here on screen, and loves anything related to zombies (Zombieland anyone?) please, you owe to yourself to at least try this game.