by Joseph Barron
previewed on PS3
Just when you thought you might have played your last zombie game, along comes Dead Island from Square Enix in which you must fight for your survival on the holiday from hell. This first-person, open-word adventure is set on a holiday resort located on a fictional island near Papua New Guinea. Normally such a location would be perfect for a relaxing vacation, but the undead have a way of spoiling things.
After waking up on the beach in the game's first level you must help a lifeguard to fend off several undead using a dinghy paddle as your weapon. Improvised weaponry seems like it will be key to your survival on the island. Firearms are few and far between, so first-person melee combat becomes this game's main form of attack, similar to the Condemned series. You even have the ability to cut individual limbs off the zombies and the results are satisfyingly bloody in a game which thrives on over-the-top violence.
Dead Island features four playable characters to choose from, all with different abilities and weapon specialities. It is not yet clear whether you can switch between them at your leisure, or if you are limited to your initial character choice for the duration of the game. Each of the characters has a special ability, but the developers are keep tight-lipped about what these abilities will be. On the undead side of things, like Left 4 Dead there are certain special zombies which pose a much greater threat than the normal shuffling horde. These include the Suicider, Butcher, Ram and Drowner. It seems that the special zombies will follow similar archetypes to those in Left 4 Dead, the Suicider for example, will explode when in close proximity to the player.
As in many RPGs, you progress through Dead Island by completing quests given to you by other characters in the game world and can also level-up your character by earning XP through killing enemies and completing missions. There are challenges which contribute to your XP as well, such as killing a large amount of a particular type of undead. The game gives feedback to the player by constantly popping up an XP number every time an enemy is killed. This means that you always feel that you are making progress, however seeing numbers pop up on the HUD so regularly could get very distracting during large battles.
Not as Alone as You Might Think
Dead Island looks great, especially in out-door areas which feature atmospheric lighting and give a good sense of space. The weather effects are also impressive, particularly when rain is lashing down onto the tropical island. Unfortunately, the graphics don't look quite as good in enclosed spaces. One sewer section which was shown at E3 this year suffered from bland lighting and a general lack of detail. However, the game does a great job of keeping large numbers of enemies on screen without a drop in framerate, giving an impressive sense of scale and intensity to the larger fights. The sound has been designed with lots of detail too. The soundtrack is creepy and the atmospheric ambient sounds will keep you guessing as to where the next zombie threat will appear from.
The game also includes a co-op multiplayer mode where teamwork will be key to coping with the different types of zombies in order to keep all of the team members alive. Depending on how you choose to explore the game world you will run into different kinds of zombies and also different numbers, forcing you to adapt your tactics to different situations. Every time you use a weapon you use up some of your character's stamina, so it is crucial to make every hit count, especially in co-op mode when you are protecting your friends as well as yourself. Weapons also get damaged when used and must be repaired at a workbench. Workbenches also allow you to create new weapons if you have discovered the appropriate blueprints throughout the game.
Dead Island is shaping up to be a very impressive zombie game, with a much deeper single-player mode than many other similar titles. This unusual combination of open-world RPG, survival horror and online co-op is sure to entertain fans of zombie games.