In an era where zombie-eradicating video games litter the landscape like the limbs of the undead near the end of most of the said games, Dead Island had its work cut out for it right from the beginning. Not only did it have to keep from drowning in the sea of cookie cutter zombie titles, but it had to rise to the level of great names like the Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead series. Though Dead Island at time seems like it’s trying to be everything from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion to Dead Rising 2, and falls far from perfect in most of its attempts, Techland gave the gaming community a title that is for the zombie killer in all of us.
Dead Island tells the story of a zombie breakout on Banoi Island, a big resort overflowing with spring breakers young and old, boozing and drugging it up at a big island-spanning party. In classic zombie movie fashion, a plague that turns people into the undead crashes the party and reeks havoc on the island and all in its path. You play one of the survivors and it is your duty to explore the island, help out others, and ultimately get the hell off Banoi Island before you become a mob of zombies’ manburger helper. To do this, you choose one of four starting characters, all of which have a special backstory explaining why they are unfortunate enough to be on the island. Each of these characters is their own special class…ish. Everyone pretty much starts on equal footing; however, one of the fun things about Dead Island is leveling up your chosen character the way you want. Whether you like throwing knives, bladed close-quarter weapons, or heavy blunt objects, there is a character for you and a unique style to suits your way of play.
Though Dead Island takes its cue from the large toy-box that is the typical zombie landscape (you’ll encounter your typical zombie apocalypse quests of searching for food and supplies, storming buildings to rescue survivors, taking out crazed humans, etc.), Techland made sure it was not short on play options. There are a jumbled mix of RPG elements, first-person shooter mechanics, and even brawler tactics. All can be a little overwhelming at times, but can also make for a bloody good show. When leveling up your character Dead Island gives you a choice of how you want to play the game. Do you want to stand back and kill from a distance? Do you want to bash the zombies’ brains in and beat them to a bloody pulp? How about hack at them with sharp weapons and dismember them? All are doable and then some. For each character you are given three unique skill trees. As you level up from completing quests and smacking around the former living, you can invest points in the skill trees and gain special abilities and techniques that will make your zombie hunting job much more interesting. Some skills allow you to go into a rage and slaughter all very quickly, while others are more weapon based, allowing you to get more out of your chosen weapon style, be it blades, guns, blunt objects, or others. Once you start to level up a bit, you really feel invested in your character and your play style becomes truly unique.
The RPG elements aren’t all icing on the cake, however, especially your quest and inventory menus. You have a typical map, quest, inventory, character, etc. in your menu, but they aren’t the cleanest or easiest to navigate. The menus, for the most part, are simple enough to understand, but they are jumbled with so much info that it becomes a hassle to visit.
As you may have guessed from previous descriptions, Dead Island is primarily a melee focused first-person zombie killer. Guns are introduced later, and do you ever feel like a broken video game god when you get them, but I wouldn’t hold out for it since ammo is scarce. Techland wanted players to focus on getting up close and personal with the terror on Banoi Island. This alone, sets the game apart from most entries in this genre. Some may be worried that this first-person melee may fail like so many before it. It doesn’t. Dead Island presents gamers with some of the most satisfying melee combat in ages. Being able to pick up anything from boat ores, to rusty pipes, to machetes and more, and use them against your foes becomes very addicting. The adding bonus of being able to target specific limbs in order to break or slice off and render useless makes the fighting fill more personal and in control.
The combat itself is a bit clumsy due to the wonky control scheme. This, however, is not necessarily a bad thing. It isn’t so clumsy as to break gameplay; it’s just awkward enough to make you feel like a real person fighting zombies. You’re not a Ryu Hayabusa, Master Chief, or even Gordan Freeman. You’re a civilian being attacked by a swarm of zombies. This also adds a little more of a challenge to the game. Unlike most titles, mobs of more than two or three zombies could mean the death of the player. Gamers will have to fight smart and fight conservative in order to survive, but once you get used to the controls, it’ll be a breeze to plan out your attacks and mow down some non-living.
Along with the combat, the environment makes for a very instinctual and immersive playground. Dead Island’s atmosphere is some of best to date in this genre. As you move around the island you’ll be treated to the far off screams and guttural growls from the surrounding areas. You will have limited line of site thanks to reasonably placed obstacles you would find on a resort, and you will have to trust your hearing to “watch” your back. When you hear the strange noises, it’s hard to discern whether it is a cry from a bystander or the wail of a zombie that just located you. Chances are you won’t know until you are nearly face to face with them. Zombies will ambush from all sides at any time and you will have to keep them at bay with whatever you have at your disposal, so stocking up on weapons and health is always a good idea.
Probably one of the more interesting things about this game is the ability to create and upgrade your own weapons. It isn’t as developed as Dead Rising 2, but it offers plenty of enjoyment. You’ll find blueprints for special weapons throughout your stay at Banoi Island and you will have to collect items in order to use them. Some of the engineered weapons include a bat with nails through it, a flaming stick, homemade bombs, electrical blades, and so on. Again, it all comes down to how you want to play it.
If people will take one thing away from Dead Island, it is the fact that it will offer everyone their own unique zombie apocalypse with a massive area to explore. Whatever your play style, it can accommodate it, from weapon choice, to combat tactics, all the way to character development, and you can scour the whole island while doing this. It is obvious that this game doesn’t hit the mark completely with many things, and its mechanics could use some cleaning up. However, Dead Island gives you so much to explore and so many ways to play, you won’t get bored easily. If you like socking it to zombies, then step on up and take a swing with your nail-bat, boat ore, rusty pipe, or katana. Slice off some limbs, bash in some heads, and have a good time, because that is exactly what this game will give you.
Final Grade: B+