by Jeff Gates
reviewed on X360
Big Undead Shoes
There are few gimmicks in games that are overplayed more than zombies. When we only had Resident Evil, things were fine, we were at a good place then. As Left 4 Dead got into the mix, I was fine with that too as both were great games. Then Call of Duty and Yakuza got into this seemingly fruitful market and all of my interest in this sub-genre when out the window. Not even Red Dead Redemption’s Undead Nightmare could save the limping masses in my eyes. That was until I saw Dead Island. Here was a game, not tossing zombies in as an afterthought, but revolving around them as the Moon does the Earth.
Dead Island appears not to be inventing any genre but instead saving an existing one. The undead have long awaited a game to come along that had the potential to top Left 4 Dead, and this game proves that those 3 years did not go to waste.
Zombies Without Borders
In Dead Island you awake from a drunken daze to discover that the beautiful resort on the island of Banoi has become over-run with zombies. You must gather yourself and find other survivors but before you can, you will need to escape your current living quarters. As you struggle to stand and open your eyes, your first person journey begins as the new protagonist. You have the choice of four different characters, each with a different background and trait. I chose Logan, an ex-football star whose trait is throwing weapons at high-velocity with great accuracy. The others have specialties like gun marksman and speed. Each of the four characters is unique, adding replay value to the game.
Dead Island offers a slight RPG mechanic with skill trees. There are three different categories to upgrade your protagonist in. The first category surrounds your characters unique trait, allowing you to get the most out of their abilities. The other two consist of upgrading survival skills such as picking locks and your ability to do damage, for instance when intoxicated.
The shining star of Dead Island is its 4-player cooperative play which is beautifully integrated into the game. It allows players to join anyone else who is on the same chapter in the same area just by hitting left on the d-pad. Quickly, without any loading screens, you join them in their adventure. The addition of fellow players to the game adds so much more fun and it is unfortunate that Dead Island does not include split-screen.
The Nuts and Brains
The upgrades are increasingly important as you begin to realize that this is not your typical first-person game. Unlike other games in the genre, you can’t just mow down zombie after zombie with an assault rifle and call it a day. No sir, Dead Island requires not only strategy but skill, especially since it focuses heavily on melee combat. As you progress and come across larger groups of zombies, your inventory might reveal 12 weapons with 10 beyond repair and one of the remaining two a Molotov cocktail. Don’t panic though, if you run away fast enough they might stop chasing you. Or you can kick them to death. Mind you, unless you have upgraded your unarmed combat skills to the fullest extent, killing them with your bare hands and feet might take 20 seconds per zombie.
The key to surviving alone on the island of Banoi is to never be alone. However, if you must play by yourself, always be aware of what weapons you have in stock and aim for the head. I saw this as a welcome change to the mindless slaughter that you see in most first-person titles. The PR folks for Dead Island must have had the slogan “Use Your Brains or Lose Your Brains” on the drawing board at some point because without some form of strategy you will struggle to survive. It makes the game difficult and even frustrating at times, but like any good game, success is very rewarding.
The sounds of the game were right where they should be. Each zombie type has its own distinct noises. The large ominous zombies will emit a yell you can hear long before they are visible, while the walkers are nearly silent and often sneak up on you. When a zombie begins sprinting at you while you are looking in a different direction, there isn’t a loud roar that makes their presence obvious. Instead, screams only get very distinct once they are within 10-15 feet. The same scenario plays out in the dark hallways of buildings where your flashlight is your only friend. In Dead Island, listening to the sounds of the world around you is as important element for your survival as your weapons are.
Great often strategic gameplay, easy-access co-op, fun story, tons of quests, good visuals.
Might be too difficult for some, feels wonky.