Zombies seem to be one of the most popular things to use in pop culture these days, and video games are no exception. Over the last few years, there have been countless zombie games, some of them fantastic, others not so much. Dead Island fortunately falls into the former, besides some definite drawbacks and rough edges.
Dead Island was actually formally announced back in 2007, but since then there has been little to no news about it, and hardly anyone even had knowledge of the game. It really put itself on the map earlier this year when the controversial though impressive trailer was released. Surprisingly regarded as the greatest game trailer of all time by some, since then the hype for Dead Island has built to an impressive level. For the most part, Dead Island lives up to be a fun zombie adventure, although it lacks the depth in emotion and story that the trailer suggested it might have.
The story in Dead Island is nothing at all to get excited about. The game takes place on the resort island of Banoi. Some kind of zombie outbreak has started and you take control of one of four characters who seem to be immune to the effects of it. The four characters each have a detailed history of how they arrived on the island, but for how developed the back stories are, the main characters fail to have almost any development through the game. The biggest problem with the story is how it fails to be really exciting or different. It feels like Deep Silver just took every big moment out of a zombie movie or game, and threw it all into one package. That’s not to say that the story is downright awful, put it is pretty uninteresting and definitely not the reason to play this game.
Dead Island is an open world RPG, with a focus on co-op and melee combat. It actually turns out to be vaguely reminiscent of both Fallout 3 and Borderlands. The game plays in first person and you have a variety of melee weapons, as well as some guns that you use to slaughter the hordes of the undead. Combat works incredibly well, both melee and ranged. Guns feel exactly like you would expect them to, the controls for them feel pretty good and a slight cover system makes things even better. Of course, the real focus of Dead Island is the melee combat. There are two types of control schemes, analog and digital; digital is the friendlier and easier version. Melee combat is brutal and totally satisfying. You have a stamina bar that gets used up each time you use a weapon, run, or jump and like usual, it restores on its own. You also have a kick attack, which is the only attack that doesn’t use stamina and can’t be interrupted, although it does considerably less damage.
The RPG element comes into Dead Island in the form of its quest system, as well as its leveling system. There is one main quest progression in the game, which follows the main story and has you complete a varying degree of missions assigned, with cut scenes scattered in between. In addition, there are a ton of side quests for you to undertake. At one point, I actually had around 20 missions active at once. Side quests are generally pretty varied and interesting but do tend to bog you down at points. Continuous quests where you collect different items for NPC’s are also present throughout the game. The entirety of the game is able to be played in four player co-op, and this actually feels like the way Dead Island is supposed to be played. The experience actually feels a bit gimped if you play it in single player, although it’s still a fun experience, you’ll want to have some friends to play with if you want the truly great experience.
The leveling system is actually pretty well done in Dead Island. Each character has 3 tiers of skills to put points into, one for their specialization, one for basic combat, and one for survival. Each “skill” has three levels to put into it, and as your character evolves their combat, survival prowess become noticeably better. There are a total of 50 levels to gain, and with each level to gain, one skill point to put where you please. The leveling system turns out to work very well, and is part of what turns Dead Island into a fun open world RPG experience.
In addition to the pretty uninteresting story, part of what makes Dead Island rough around the edges is the amount of graphical bugs and glitches. It’s nothing major like game crashes, but small things like texture popping, slow load times, and hands going through doors seriously detract from the overall experience of the game. Facial animations of the characters feel incredibly stiff and wooden too. Enemy AI is pretty decent, and the difficulty scales up nicely for the amount of co-op partners you have. All of the small bugs and glitches don’t turn the game into an unplayable experience, but it is enough that you can definitely notice it.
The graphics themselves are pretty decent though. Characters and animation don’t look the best, but the zombies and environments look fantastic. The different areas of Banoi all have a distinctly different look. A dark jungle contrasts nicely to the beach side resort and destroyed city streets. If there’s one thing that Dead Island does best, it’s that it gives you a beautiful and interesting island to explore.
Sound is actually a very high point for the game. Voice acting is sub-par at best, but it’s enough to get the job done. Although oddly enough, there are a couple of times where you could notice two different voice actors used for one character. The music does a good job of setting a desperate kind of mood, while also mixing it with some peaceful melodies, even though the melancholy music from the trailer is nowhere to be found. The best part about sound design though is the cries of the undead.
In every area, you can hear the groaning and shouting of the undead, this adds a creepy feel to everything and you’ll strain your ears for a clue to zombie activity in the area. Even though you only lose some money if you die, Dead Island becomes an effort in survival. Everywhere you go, you end up creeping around, listening for undead activity and scavenging whatever you can find. And unlike Left 4 Dead’s high octane zombie annihilation, Dead Island makes you feel like you’re really trying to survive in a nearly impossible situation.
Dead Island may not be the perfectly ideal open world zombie game we’ve all been wanting, but it comes within sight of it. The story may not be an attraction, but the visceral combat, entrancing exploration, and true feeling of survival is enough of a draw for anyone to try the game out. If you’re a fan of zombie games, or open world RPG’s this might just be a great new experience for you. Either way Dead Island is a great addition to the popular zombie scene.