After nearly becoming vaporware in a five-year development cycle, Deep Silver has finally delivered Dead Island to satisfy the needs of zombie fans everywhere. But zombie games are a dime a dozen these days. Is Dead Island original enough to warrant spending that dime?
Set on the island of Banoi, four strangers immune to the zombie virus are brought together by fate to survive an undead outbreak that has swept the entire populace. The introduction to the game does little to provide much back story, and most of the exposition is provided in the character select screen. Players can choose to stomp zombies as Logan; former athlete and throwing expert; Purna, former cop and firearms expert; Xian, the daughter of a martial arts champion and sharp weapons expert; or Sam B, hip hop artist and blunt weapons expert.
From the start, you’re left to fend for yourself against a limitless supply of zombies. You can use just about any found object as a weapon like paddles, crowbars, kitchen knives, and discarded pipes. But as the zombie hordes increase, so do your killing needs, and you’re forced to upgrade to some more serious undead slaying hardware like katanas and morning stars. It is a serious zombie experience as opposed to the more arcade-y zombie titles of the past.
Hacking, slashing and clubbing your way through enemies wears your gear down fairly quickly. But weapons can be repaired by using cash at any of the many workbenches found throughout Banoi. There, you can also upgrade the base stats to your weapons. If that’s not enough, you can modify any found object with elemental attacks using diagrams and ingredients found in your scavenging.
If decapitating the undead with ancient weaponry doesn’t have your mouth watering, then we don’t know what to do for you. The combat is satisfying. In fact, the combat is down right superb for a first person perspective game. Weapons all feel appropriately weighted and the impact they deliver on their targets is right on the money. And quite frankly, watching a zombie burn from its clothes down to its bones by using a Molotov cocktail is disturbingly rewarding. We could do that all day.
Experience points earned can be spent on one of three different talent trees unlocking new abilities and skills. Each character has a unique set of talent trees making Dead Island a game worth replaying to see how the other half lives.
The story is progressed by chatting with surviving NPCs and accomplishing quests for them. The voice acting…. is terrible. And the character models are equally bad. The story is also laughable at its absurdity, even for a zombie game. Whether it is intentional or not, the story and voice acting reminds us of the original Resident Evil, making them the two biggest setbacks to Dead Island.
The atmosphere is second to none. The environmental design is easily the most impressive we’ve ever seen in a video game, ever. The resort, looks and feels like a legitimate tropical luxury getaway. But Dead Island doesn’t start and stop at the beach. Banoi’s believability is only improved upon by having Caribbean-esque slums further inland. And even further inland from that is one of the most beautiful digital jungles we’ve had the pleasure to stroll through. The interior atmosphere design is equally good. Nothing in the game feels copied and pasted which is an achievement of its own for an island of its size. There are a few bushes whose rigidity feels out of place, and leaves remain static as you walk through them, but aside from those very minor complaints… wow… just wow.
Of course, every game has a dark side, and Dead Island is no different. Most of the launch day glitches have been addressed, but there are a few design flaws that just don’t fit a game of this caliber. The menu system is poorly designed and tough to manage on both console and PC. Annoyingly, some items picked up on the field are automatically equipped, tossing one of your favorite weapons back into your inventory. And when you go to attack a zombie charging at you, you might accidentally take a huge belt of whiskey instead of taking a swing at one of your enemies.
And while you may have a backpack full of an infinite supply of spare wires, deoderant, batteries and more for crafting, you instantly consume all candy and energy drinks to restore health. There is no option to toss a few cans and bars into your backpack for later. Found weapons are oddly named, and it is difficult to tell whether a “weak” object is stronger than a “flimsy” one. A much more traditional naming scheme would have been preferred.
The game feels like Diablo cross bred with Fallout: New Vegas, but mixed with zombies on a tropical island. Dead Island is equally satisfying as a single player experience and as a cooperative one. Stomping zombies with friends is funny and cracking jokes with one another breaks the tension. The single player experience leaves you feeling slightly vulnerable as you hear the screams of the undead from any number of uncertain directions. We can’t say one way to play is better than the other.
We can say, however, turning off the enemy stats and health information adds to the immersion tenfold. It cleans up the interface and delivers a more realistic zombie slaying experience.
Deep Silver has outdone themselves with this entry. We’re even happier with this title considering it’s one of the few great releases this year that isn’t a sequel. Dead Island is a modern day masterpiece and it is certainly one of the best surprises of 2011. It’s just a little rough around the edges, but it cannot be stressed how absolutely fun this game is. Curious elder geeks everywhere shouldn’t hesitate to purchase. It’s easy to pick up and play for either 15 minutes or 15 hours. With multiple play styles and the ability to partner up with three other friends, Dead Island has dozens, if not hundreds of hours of replay in store for lucky owners.
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Name: Dead Island
Available on: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Developed by: Techland
Published by: Deep Silver
Release date: September 6, 2011
EG Score: 4 out of 5 / “Worth Buying”