There was a day when I declared ‘Zombie Games’ to be dead, well, at least dead to me. That was until I saw the gloriously cut Dead Island trailer this spring. The thought of having a deep, gritty and realistic experience, had me very intrigued because we hadn’t seen anything like this in the zombie genre. The Techland developed Dead Island had stirred everyone’s excitement level so much so, that we were dying to play it. The main question was; can Dead Island live up to one of the greatest video game announcement trailers ever?
It seemed like any other day in the paradise that is Banoi. Dead Island’s main ‘character’ is a gorgeous, lush island filled with palm trees, resorts, crystal clear ocean waters and tourists, plenty of tourist who enjoy their vacations. All is well in Banoi until one morning the player wakes up with a banging hangover and the ears still ringing from too much of the smash hit “Who do you voodoo B****”, only to discover that something has happened to their paradise. The tourists who previously enjoyed drinks on the beach have been turned into zombies, beautifully animated and rendered undead ‘things’ which are looking to turn you into one of them.
Dead Island is an open world, four player coop, first person melee heavy game with the occasional gun play but players will mostly use paddles, bats, knives, machetes and other items to slay zombies, loads of them. Once players have chosen one of four playable characters, all with a different back-story and reasons as to why they are there, they are dropped straight into the beautiful island of Banoi. The player is immune to the virus or ‘cause’ of the outbreak but can still die rather quickly, if precautions aren’t taken.
At its heart, Dead Island is an open world, action RPG, in which players will be asked to complete certain quests for main and side NPCs in order to gain XP and move the story along. The non-playable characters possess some decent voice acting and made me feel compelled to complete their quests. Sure, I did a lot of “Go here and get this for me”-type missions but because it is so much fun to explore the world, loot and slay zombies, I didn’t have a problem with it, at all. When it comes to the combat, Dead Island displays some serious grittiness, which keeps the game fun and enjoyable even though the mission structure can be repetitive. Killing zombies made me smile every time, no matter how much I have done it. The zombies of Dead Island are of various natures, there are slow zombies, fast zombies, mini-bosses, etc. When dealing with a powerful mini-boss it helps to break its arms, at which point they will try to rush and head bud you continuously until they are put out of their misery. Also, breaking specific bones will provide extra XP which is used for upgrading the character tree abilities such as stamina, accuracy and repair skills.
The melee combat in Dead Island is simply outstanding; there is also an analog mode where players will actually have to swing the weapon as opposed to pressing a button. The different enemy types will require the player to adjust in order to stay alive; there are alternative weapons in the game such as ‘throwables’ like the Molotov, etc. This keeps the gameplay fresh and allows for some creativity. Almost anything in the world can be used as a weapon but everything degrades over time. Weapons can be repaired and upgraded and there are ‘mods’ which allow players to build powerful custom weapons. Many items in the game are scarce, so using bandages, food and weapons wisely becomes key.
After recognizing the fact that Dead Island has some of the most fun gameplay in an open world game this year, we have to take a look at the actual story since it was such a big aspect of marketing this title and of course the reveal trailer. While there are not really any incredibly deep and emotional setups, like the trailer suggested, Dead Island still possess a good narrative. As I mentioned before, there are a lot of fetch quests but the overall plot keeps on moving nicely and you’ll want to find out what is going on in Banoi and most importantly, how do I get off this hell hole.
Dead Island is a four player coop game and enjoying the slaying of zombies with friends is always better but even playing the game as a typical single player experience, I enjoyed myself immensely. There aren’t many gripes I have with Dead Island, sure there are some glitches and vehicles falling through the levels or zombies and players getting stuck behind crates but this is a massive open world without much of a limit and this doesn’t take away from the experience. The one thing however, that I found a little jarring, was the fact that during cut scenes, all four coop players were present even though I was in single player mode and some NPCs addressed me as ‘you guys’ and so on. The coop itself is seamless and based on a drop in drop out setup.
Even though Dead Island has a few technical issues and doesn’t quite live up to the story expectations we have build up in our minds after the amazing reveal trailer, it is one of the freshest open world games we have seen in a while. Dead Island did one thing; I didn’t think was possible, put a different and entertaining spin on the zombie genre and for that alone it should deserve a medal. If you thought zombie games were ‘dead’, like me before I played Dead Island, then play this game.
Score: 8.5 / 10
Dead Island was developed by Techland and published by Deep Silver for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on September 6th. A copy of the game was provided to us by Deep Silver for reviewing purposes.