Straight off the bat, and there’s a lot of bats in this game, if you were expecting the graphical quality of Dead Island to match that of the original viral cinematic trailer, I think you need to remind yourself of the current graphical capabilities of current gen gaming, even in titles from major developers on PC’s running max settings.
The job of a cinematic trailer is to make you look at the game and say ‘Oooh, wow. That looks awesome!’ and the Dead Island trailer definitely delivered in that department.
Whilst the games narrative doesn’t have the heart-wrenching story that we were presented in the trailer (apart from a couple of side missions that made me feel quite sorry for some NPC’s), pretty much everything else we were shown in that trailer was provided.
Booking it down hallways from hordes of zombies as if a wedding DJ had just announced that the brain buffet was open? Check. Lopping off zombie limbs with various sharp instruments? Affirmative. Giving a zombie girl a piggy back ride? Er…Not so much, but one thing that can be said about the game is that it’s pretty much everything a gamer could want from a zombie survival RPG title.
And that is exactly what Dead Island is. Take all of your favourite things about titles like Fallout, Left 4 Dead and Borderlands, then put them in an island resort filled with zombies and various things to dice, drive over and decapitate them with.
The game opens with a cinematic that looks a lot like a first person home video of a typical Friday night out for me as our protagonist drunkenly stumbles around a resort party, oblivious to a few zombie attacks that take place next to the bar and in the bathroom. After necking some pills you find, your character collapses on their hotel bed and passes out. Rock and roll.
After the cutscene comes the initial menu screen which allows you to choose from one of our four protagonists; bladed weapon expert Xian Mei, throwing marksman Logan, firearms specialist Purna and the blunt object profiicent Sam B. I opted for Sam B, mostly for the fact that his character bio opened up with him stating in his local drawl “I grew up in Nawlins.” I’m a sucker for humourous accents.
So Sam B awakens, hungover as balls, and I began stumbling around the room immediately looking for the nearest thing I could pitch at a zombie if one decided to jump out of the closet. My search turned up uneventful and it was then that I decided to venture out into the corridor and start rummaging through peoples luggage, looking for my zombie bashing tool.
Now you’ll need to get used to rummaging around in luggage throughout this game as it definitely makes up a large portion of the gameplay. Saying that though, if you’re used to raiding the vaults of Fallout or rummanging around every pile of Skag vomit in Borderlands, then it’s nothing that you’re not already used to.
You’ll also find yourself questioning what kind of people come to the holiday resort of Banoi as you come across duct tape, lemon juice and all other sorts of weird items packed into the various vacationers luggage. “Pack a swimsuit dear?” “Nope. Got my metal scrap though just in case I fancy a spot of blacksmithing!” You’ll be grateful that Banoi attracts such weird guests though as all these things you find around the island can be sold or used to craft and improve your weapons.
After finding myself massively irritated that I couldn’t pick up the axe laying between a dead couple on the floor, holding hands, I found myself being told by the omnipotent voice of ‘man on the tannoy’ that I should make my way to the elevators. It is around here that I encountered my first batch of zombies. Did I run? Yes. Did I scream like I’d trodden on a bit of Lego at 1am in the dark? Hell yes.
It takes a lot for a game to fill me with a certain feeling of panic nowadays. The original Silent Hill is the last game I remember playing where I had to stop after 2 minutes, take out the disc, jump in a taxi and fling it into the ocean Jumangi style, but here I was over a decade later fumbling with my phone trying to dial Rent-A-Cab.
After some more brief running around and a semi-fatal stint down an elevator shaft, Sam B finds himself once again coming to in a shack, greeted by a man standing over wielding a bat and ready to strike (this really is sounding more and more like my Friday nights). It’s here that you are filled in on the situation, that for some unexplained reason you are immune to infection and where you finally get to beat the hell out of zombies.
Arming myself with the nearest, and only, weapon to hand, a boat paddle, I opened the door to the shack and proceeded to swing wildly towards the nearest flesh gobbler…and the biggest smile spread across my face and remained there for the next seven hours straight that I would play for.
Combat in Dead Island is by no means perfect, but it is immensely satisfying. Being able to utilise different types of effects from different types of weapons allows you to keep changing it up to suit every situation. Infected zombie sprinting towards you? Swing, batter, batter and knock their head clean off. Walker giving you hassle? Beat that fool with a wrench and break his limbs! My personal favourite however is how to deal with Thugs. These big lumps will knock you back with a strike that will take a big chunk out of your health but with the aid of a sharp weapon, you can hack their arms off, leaving them to bite pitifully at you as you box them barefist.
Using these weapons take up stamina but one thing that doesn’t use any stamina is a swift boot to the face. This was essentially my go to choice of attack for many encounters as it allows you to knock the zombies to the ground and then deal out some swift justice with a pipe or whatever else you’re wielding.
Like Fallout however, your weapons will degrade with use so it’s here that all that money and random junk you’ve been ‘collecting’ from peoples suitcases comes to good use. By visiting a workbench you can upgrade your tools of the trade to make them deal more damage and more durable. You’ll also unlock mods as you complete quests which will give you the option to add nails (my personal favourite), bolts and even fire to your favourite arsenal.
These modifications don’t have the over the top, extravagant feel of what you find yourself taping together in Dead Rising 2, but feel like genuine and realistic additions you’d make if you found yourself having to fight your way through an army of the undead. This definitely helps add to the zombie survival RPG nature of the title.
From the minute you leave the shack, the entire island of Banoi becomes available to you, and it is massive. It’s probably best that I talk about the graphics here, and whilst they are nothing to write home about, the environments look good, the water looks incredible and the zombies are indeed pretty horrific looking. Exposed bones and missing bits of flesh are certainly not attractive, bikini or not.
Driving around will become an essential part of the game in order to carry out side quests and just getting around the vast area. The driving controls can be a bit sketchy and you will often find yourself getting into the wrong side of the car to drive but the satisfaction of ploughing down zombies in a flat bed truck makes these irks forgiveable. Fast travel is also available in certain locations for those not wanting to slap a few zombies on the scenic route, but why would you want to do that?
The map screen allows you to see fairly easily where your next objective is and to set locations to head to but the GPS can be a little unforgiving at times, with plenty of ‘turn left in about 2 seconds’ scenarios cropping up during my playthrough.
As well as your inventory in the map screen, you are also given a skill tree where players can add skill points to their survival, weapon or ‘rage’ trees each time they level up. These skill trees are brilliantly straightforward and easy to use and don’t require a separate map to navigate like some ‘skill forests’ I have come across in games.
In summary, Dead Island is the closest gamers will currently come to the holy grail of a zombie survival RPG game and Bethesda and Valve will certainly have to watch their backs. Whilst the game received a day one patch to fix 37 glitches, I didn’t come across one during my 7 hour straight stint, which is more than I can say about my visit to Bethesda’s New Vegas even months after release.
Being told in the bio that Sam B had a hit with a song named “Who Do You Voodoo?”, I thoroughly enjoyed yelling this as I bashed in the brains of any nearby undead shufflers and never grew tired of it. The sound of Thugs screaming would always make me stop dead in my tracks and playing this game with surround sound is a must if you can.
My main issues with the title are the respawning items and vehicles which definitely takes away a level of realism and a night and day rotation would have been a fantastic addition to the title. I would have preferred it if a lot more of the building were explorable as well as I came across many a closed door. Let’s hope that it makes an appearance in Dead Island 2: Blood On The Sand (not featuring 50 Cent) as this is definitely a GOTY contender for us.
Remember to check out our top 10 hints and tips on how to surivive on Dead Island by clicking here.
+ Combat is great fun
Skill trees are easy to use
Modded weapons feel realistic
– Driving controls are a bit sketchy
I got killed by kicking a beach ball once (wtf?)
+ Zombies look horrifying
Environments look great and vast
Water looks fantastic
– Respawning items and vehicles detracts from realism
Night and day cycle would have been fantastic
+ Hearing a zombie scream nearby will always make you freeze
– Character dialogue can get repetitive.