Zombie games are getting the norm now and we thought that people might be getting sick of the genre, then along comes Dead Island to fly in the face of all that, to prove that the public don't seem to care that the game has been getting some low scores from various critics and review sites alike. Gamers have spoken and the game's been enjoying massive sales, so massive that many game retailers are out of stock even now.
Welcome to the Island of Banoi, the beautiful vacation location where you can just kick back, relax and have your face torn off by the flesh eating undead. Something has happened here and you wake up to find that your hotel is now full of something terrible, something that wants to feast on you.
The story is told mostly through character narrative and fairly well directed cut-scenes, they feature the four main protagonists of the game most of the time.
Dead Island is a first person action RPG, it has character growth, dialogue, tons of loot and scads of the undead to maim in mostly melee combat. It's all about using your arsenal of ever-growing weapons to terminate the current threat and achieve the quest objective, and there are a lot of quests, which have a similar feel to them but subtle variants keep them flowing fresh and fairly interesting. There are several main story quests in the huge locations to keep you interested, and then there are the side quests which can offer rewards, cash, weapons or weapon mods.
Dead Island loves weapon mods, from shock mods to things like cleavers and swords, to fire mods that make ever-burning sticks and so on. There are benefits to exploring off the beaten track and looking out for people to rescue and places to break into. One could be right if they compared Dead Island to a cross between Borderlands, Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead, except Dead Island manages to do a fantastic job of actually making you feel like you're in a zombie horror and not just a walking badass with a shock maul that would rival the Space Marines thunder hammer. You run or try and sneak from one place to the next across a massive island and city, you're harried at every turn by the undead and you don't automatically regenerate your health. You need to keep a supply of medkits or find food and drink to keep your health bar stocked if you've taken a beating from the zombies. You have a flashlight and that runs out, so you need to let it recharge.
Weapons don't last forever and they can be repaired, for the right amount of cash, they can also be upgraded so that they deliver more damage and force, as well as last longer. You can only carry a certain amount of items on your person, unless you upgrade that via your skill tree and then it becomes a tactical choice...do you want that sweet increase in damage for you and your comrades, or do you want to be able to carry 2 more baseball bats?
You're also going to scavenge for items, things that you can use to modify weapons or trade with your fellow survivors. There are vehicles which you can use to get around the island, mostly pickup trucks and the like, but they offer a quick and safe transport option until you can unlock a fast travel, which of course means that you'll miss out on the XP from maimed zombies though.
You get varying XP from zombies, based on a few factors. If you've got a bonus multiplier from one of the character's skill trees, if you do a headshot or if you assisted in a co-op zombie kill (more on co-op later). The tougher zombies take more damage and often yield greater rewards. There are also different classes of zombies from the slow walkers, to the insane screaming infected and a few others we won't mention.
The combat system in Dead Island comes in two flavours, digital and analogue. If you opt for the former, you'll get a simple swinging system that lets you wade in and kill zombies with fairly good results. If you go for the analogue route, you'll get a combat system that lets you target zombie body parts more accurately, swing your melee weapon for real using the controller stick and deliver force proportional to the harshness of the swing. In other words, the analogue method takes some getting used to but it's the more rewarding of the two.
You also have an unlockable Fury skill that can turn the tide in a fight in your favour, you need to build up Rage to trigger it but once you have a full Rage meter it's time to lay down the law old school!
You can also throw any equipped melee weapon at the living dead. Just remember to pick it up later on since you might need it. There are four main characters in Dead Island and each one has a role to fulfil rather like you tend to find in Dungeons and Dragons, or in World of Warcraft.
Sam B: The fading one-hit wonder rap star is a great guy for the Tank class; he is your heavy hitter with blunt objects and can take damage that would normally knock down someone lighter. He can regenerate health from his skill tree. His Fury skill lets him pile on the damage and upgrades the team whilst it's active.
Purna: She's now a bodyguard and a master with firearms; she's also pretty handy with sharp objects and gets some nice bonus XP from her skill tree. She also has passive upgrades for a cooperative game. Her Fury lets her unleash a sidearm even if she has no gun equipped.
Logan: Once a great Football hero (American Football that is), Logan can also pitch a mean ball and he's the best at throwing knives etc. He can seriously lay down some thrown projectiles with his Fury and he's a good all rounder.
Xian Mei: She's the Hotel Receptionist and now thrust into a zombie apocalypse, she does what she can to survive. She's a master of sharp weapons and her Fury skill is a kind of berserker rage that makes her twice as deadly. Once again, she offers bonuses to cooperative parties in multiplayer.
Each of these characters is fun to play and they can all be levelled up to 50 (which is the max level so far). Our favourites so far have been Sam B and Purna, who make excellent team-based characters and can really swing a battle in a group's favour.
Zombies in the game are generated procedurally and they will respawn after a time, so you're never able to clear out an area for too long. This also means you can earn XP constantly and you're never short of feeling overwhelmed out there on your own. It also means that you never quite know what you're going to get as you come around a corner, is that body dead? Or is it undead? Cut the head off just to be sure!
With a large island full of secrets, a big main quest and tons of side missions, this game isn't going to take a few hours to finish. There's also a New Game+ mode too.
The game uses checkpoint saves and after the patch, these seem to be far more frequent and many of the previous bugs have been fixed. 37 issues and more have been fixed in the recent patch which is now live for the Xbox 360.
There are still some issues that can prevent a good time being had by all, but Techland are already at work fixing those. Luckily so far, we haven't hit any of the reported big bugs that prevent the game from continuing.
The game also keeps pace with your level, adding in tougher zombies and more frequent waves as you level up. It usually gives you the loot you need to deal with them as well as allowing you to purchase weapons and so on via shops. You'll never find a level 1 zombie if you're level 25 for instance, but you'll find a level 23 or 26.
If you die, you lose cash, ala Borderlands.
There are some issues with pop up and texture loads, but for the most part Dead Island is a gorgeously zombie soaked atmospheric game. With the Island of Banoi looking the part and the zombies taking centre stage, these really are some disgusting undead and they're procedural, so their injuries and how they died are all different, as well as the colour of their skin and many other factors. The rest of the graphics are decent and the various characters all have quite a lot of personality to them.
The game also has a layered damage system that lets you see the visual effects of blunt trauma as well as fire, it's all pretty gory and it's all part of the zombie genre aesthetic. I think Romero would be proud. The effects of Dead Island are pretty decent and the fire effect has a nice flicker to it. Our favourite and my favourite has to be the crackles from a shock based weapon.
There are a few issues with the animations from time to time, but for the most part they're really good. Again, the zombies are really well animated and they have a great sense of movement to them, especially the shambling hordes as they come trundling towards you only to stagger and rush forwards arms outstretched, hungry for your skin. Combat animations are great and you can dismember your foes, break their limbs and generally cut them down to size.
Weapons have a force to them, so the physics system is tied into the animation system in that regard. So as previously mentioned it's possible to break limbs, sever limbs and generally cause the undead some serious trauma. Explosions are meaty and some of the bigger undead can knock you over onto your backside so you need to spend precious seconds getting back up. Precious seconds that an infected can use to rip out your throat and eat your brain, you have been warned!
There's different levels of zombie AI in Dead Island, it simulates the range at which some walkers or infected can detect you, how they move around the area and of course, how they attack. Some zombies are intelligent enough to hurl projectiles at you; some are more brute force and like to get up close. Some are so sneaky they ignore you as you pass them and play possum, unless you cut off their heads!
The AI is good enough to keep you on your toes and provide a fun experience.
Survivor escort AI is pretty ok; there aren't many path-finding issues and if they're armed with weapons, they know how to use them.
Dead Island has a great atmosphere to it and the sound design is superb, with the ambience of the island highlighted by the normal sounds, mixed in with truly disturbing sounds that can hint to an imminent zombie attack or worse. It keeps you on the edge of your seat and exploring on your own can be a somewhat daunting experience when you're in a very dangerous area. The scream of the infected really does make you jump out of your skin when you're not expecting it.
The soundtrack is solid enough, haunting and pretty apt too. It moves from exploration themes to tense encounter themes and battle themes pretty smoothly.
The game has attracted the talents of Phil (Samurai Jack) LaMarr and Steve (Wolverine et-al) Blum. Plus a load of others, these actors do a decent job with their lines and perhaps some of the dialogue repeats a little bit too much when you're standing next to an NPC or so on. But it's not a game breaker.
The script is well written, it has a few moments where the dialogue seems a little clunky at times but for the most part it's a good enough story that it keeps you engaged and doesn't ram pages of text down your throat.
The true charm of Dead Island is that it lets you drop in and out of a multiplayer game; it checks quest progress and warns you how compatible the game is with the person you're playing. At the touch of a button you can literally join anyone's game that appears to be in the same area as you. Or you can play privately so only friends can leap in. It's up to you.
The game supports 4 players, lets players explore in the same area together and quest together. Some quests require the whole team be present to continue and you can roll with a whole group of 4 Sam B's if you like.
Play is available online or system link only, there's no split-screen.
You can revive downed players if you have medkits etc. All in all, it's good fun and working as part of a team brings a lot of benefits, since many of the classes have team based boons for multiple skill trees.
There are a few issues, such as flashlights not showing up for other players and a few animation glitches in multiplayer, again though, they're not game breakers and the game scales the challenge based on how many players and what level they are.
After getting low scores from certain media outlets, the game is flying off the shelves. I can see why as well, it's not the best game in the genre, it's not the prettiest and it's certainly got its share of problems now and then. What it is though, is fun and that's a highly rated commodity in this day and age of Cloned Shooters. It is truly atmospheric and manages to capture the feel of a zombie horror. It's also great to play with friends.
So, there you have it... dare you explore Banoi?