Zombie popularity is at an all time high nowadays. With zombie conventions, AMC’s critically acclaimed TV show The Walking Dead, hit video games with zombie themes, and even yet another Resident Evil movie being made, it is no wonder that a game like Dead Island would be highly anticipated. Gamers crave the opportunity to decimate hordes of the undead over and over again and Techland may well have created the ultimate zombie game.
At its core, Dead Island is a FPS-RPG sandbox adventure. By sandbox I mean that you’ve a massive Island to explore and travel about from the beginning. Just as in Borderlands, you choose between 4 different characters (who are immune to the infection) who each have a skill tree that is advanced by spending skill points acquired by gaining experience levels. For each character, there are 3 different categories named Fury, Combat, and Survival. The Fury skills upgrade a special attack that each character has. The Combat skills upgrade the regular attacks that the character uses and the weapons they attack with. The Survival skills upgrade abilities such as health regeneration, inventory upgrades, repair cost reduction, and more. Though each character have these three trees, they highlight a slightly different playing style within each character. Sam B is a one hit wonder rapper that plays as the melee/bludgeon weapon expert. He’s got an oh-so-satisfying bullrush tackle that knocks over its foes and is the damage sponge (also known as the tank character). Logan is an ex-football player with a knack for throwing weapons. He may not have the tackle maneuver but his ability to instantly retreive thrown weapons and actually recover health when drunk certainly comes in handy. Purna is an ex-cop/bodyguard with a knack for firearms. She comes off as more of a support character who boosts the abilities and affects of other characters around her including herself. Lastly is Xian Mei who is the blade expert. With assassin style attacks and speed, she can deal a lot of damage very quickly.
As you can see from the variety of characters, there are so many different ways to dispose of the massive amounts of undead that you will encounter throughout this game. And here is the kicker, you will find that guns and ammunition for them are hard to come by. That’s right my friends, you will see scores of undead lumbering and running at you and you’ll probably only have a enough bullets to take down one or two of them. On Dead Island, melee weapons are your savior. You will have to get up close and personal with pipes, brass knuckles, axes, machetes, bats, hammers, swords, maces, wrenches, and more. Surprisingly, the melee combat within this FPS model works. Techland offers up a variety of swings, hacks, stabs, slashes, kicks, punches, and more that have a variety impact power and damage. Blood will spatter, bones will break, and limbs will fly as every attack you deal upon your foes is location specific. Particularly strong blade attacks will chop off limbs, wicked hammer swings will break legs, and devastating curb stomps will crush skulls. Whatever way that you choose to decimate your foes, it comes off as satisfying.
Another RPG aspect of the game that adds to this furious and gory combat is that you can upgrade, modify, and repair every weapon found. Machetes can be modified to be electrified. Bats can be wrapped with glass. Cudgels can be imbued with flames. There are a number of different modifications that can be added to the weapons once the recipes are found through exploration or received via quest completion. In order to create these modded weapons, common items found strewn throughout in bags, trashcans, shelves, and crates will need to be acquired first. Hunting for these items at times can become a quest in an of itself.
Upgrading the weapons make them more powerful and durable but also more expensive to repair as you use them. Thankfully, as you advance through the game, you are allowed to ‘equip’ multiple weapons that can be quickly switched to using a weapon select wheel that is fairly effective once you spend a bit of time playing the game. In addition to making powerful weapons, you can also find unique and rare weapons much in the same way that weapons are found in Borderlands or Diablo. The color code of the weapons designates the rarity of weapon. The more rare or unique the weapon, the better its base statistics and the stronger the weapon shall be as it is upgraded. This aspect of the game can have you hunting for crates and hulking zombies in hopes of finding that next uber-weapon that will be your new favorite undeath dealer.
With all of this substance in the combat, characters, and weapons, Techland brilliantly managed to pull all of this together with a unique atmosphere that is dominated by superb sound design and highlighted by great graphics. Exploration throughout the island with nothing but the sounds of the environment to soothe you will have you holding your breath as you listen to all manner of screams, groans, moans, and roars from various zombies as they approach you from all angles. There are times in this game where the screams of your current undead victim will muffle the approach of numerous cascading wails of oncoming zombies racing up behind you. Or you may just simply be exploring a few abandoned streets only to shiver as a hulk of a zombie bellows in the distance.
Thankfully, Techland set this experience up as one that is almost seamless as well as meant for co-operative play. If played while connected to the internet, other players who are at similar points in their game will be shown on the side of the screen with the option to join in their game. Up to 3 other players can join into one host’s game with no restriction on which character you can choose. The host will be the only one in the party that advances their character’s save game in the story but the other characters will keep their found loot and experience. Since there is no restriction on what character is used. Low level characters can join high level hosts in hopes of gaining levels quickly. This is probably the best method to use unless you just want to help a friend through the storyline with an overpowered higher level character.
But don’t think that Techland just threw together a few palettes of zombies that walk or run. They’ve huge straight jacketed beasts, vomit spewing fat men, exploding bulbous zombies, and weapon weilding undead. On top of all of that variation, these zombie hordes even become stronger and harder to kill as your character becomes a more effective undead death dealer. With names like Infected, Walker, Hulk, and more set next to a number level, you will always see which of these beast you can destroy with ease and which ones you’ll need to isolate once the lesser masses have been disposed of.
With roughly 25-30 hours of gameplay for a single playthrough, Dead Island manages to incorporate so many aspects of a zombie horror film that it manages to make you feel that you are the star of one at times. Though this game is wrought with meaty options, features, and styles of gameplay, it still manages to fall a bit short on the story side of things. It comes off as more of a blend of a lot of different zombie movies rather than a unique take on the genre. Though this isn’t a show stopper, it is a bit disappointing. Also, for some, this constant quest hunting and lack of a real emotional tie to any of the characters may make for a bit of a mundane experience for some as well. Still, the variety of ways to kill hordes of zombies will make this game one that even casual players will find themselves returning to just to pass the time. Of course, the time spent could very well be the thing that makes this game so good. The different characters provide all the more reason to return and start all over again multiple times whether it is playing alone or playing with friends.
Dead Island is an amazing new franchise that zombie genre lovers have been waiting for. This surprise hit certainly has made its mark as one of the best zombie horror games ever made. Time to nut up or shut up!
Final Score: 90 out of 100
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
Available for: PS3, Xbox360, PC