Monday 12 September 2011

Today's Review: Dead Island

I am aware that my reviews for the past week have mostly been short ones about things I have snacked on, and devoid of the few movies I normally review a week. There is a reason for that, which is the fact that I haven't watched any movies because I've been playing too much Dead Island.

After launching itself upon the public with possibly the best teaser trailer ever, everyone was very excited about this game, myself included. But I ignored all the other stuff that was released for it, be it gameplay videos or other trailers. I knew I was probably going to buy it, and that was based on that trailer alone, not really the best decider. But at work I can rent out the new games a couple of days before release to try them out, so Dead Island promptly found its way into my XBox.

Dead Island is basically Borderlands with zombies, and with a little bit of Fallout 3 thrown in. You play as one of four characters who has woken up in the midst of a zombie outbreak on a tropical resort island. You turn out to be immune to the virus (glad they actually explained that one), so naturally you become the errand boy for various survivors dotted around the place. So of course there are lots and lots of quests to complete, be they fetch missions, escort missions, or various others.

If you haven't played Borderlands or Fallout 3, Dead Island is basically an action RPG. You run around, killing zombies and completing missions for experience points, which allows you to level up your abilities and turn you into a badass zombie killing machine. Of course, you'll also need weapons, and this is where the comparison to Borderlands becomes even more apparent. There are several types of weapon to be found, mostly of the melee variety, be they machetes, hammers or baseball bats. But each weapon has a unique name and set of attributes, and they can be upgraded and repaired to be more powerful. Yes, that's right, repaired. When your weapons first start to wear out it's reminiscent of Dead Rising, but upon realising you can repair them using your hard earned dollars that you've looted off corpses, the Fallout 3 survival element kicks in. If you don't keep your weapons in good condition then you're going to be screwed pretty easily unless you're good at scavenging some more.

Of course one of the main features of the game is the zombies themselves. Like many other zombie themed games, there are several types of zombie that come after you. You have the standard shufflers, but also ones that run straight at you and start tearing you to shreds. There are also special zombies like the massive Thug or the exploding Suicider. Each zombies is gruesomely detailed, and the action can become quite intense when they start to gang up on you and try to tear you a new one. Thankfully, with the right weapons, their body parts are just soft and squishy things just waiting to be hacked off or pummeled to a pulp with a blunt instrument. The blood flows rapidly, and body parts fly all over the place, giving that authentic feel to your personal zombie apocalypse.

The locations are nicely varied too. I am only halfway through the game at the moment, but starting out in the tropical beach resort, I found the map to be quite huge, with plenty to explore. After a while though, you move on to a large city further inland, and suddenly those sunny open spaces, beaches and roads are replaced with grimy streets more jam packed with zombies than you ever imagined before. The difficulty curve can get a little intense here, with zombies running at you from all directions, but you can either stand your ground, fight, and perhaps be rewarded with lots of dollars, or sprint away and hope no one's fast enough to follow you.

Like many RPGs nowadays, the main quest only scratches the surface of what this game has to offer. The main missions can be quite long in themselves, but it wouldn't take long to get through them all. The real bulk of the game comes in the form of the side missions that other survivors give you, and following them can easily reveal more strongholds and missions close to the location you're sent to. I am a completionist myself, and it's amazing how much time you can spend doing side mission after side mission, uncovering more and more as you go form place to place. If I were ignoring them, I probably would have finished the game by now, but as it stands the bulk of my time has been spent helping other people and levelling up my character with new skills, such as the awesome head stomp I just obtained. The good thing about Dead Island is that even if you just blazed through the main story, the game wouldn't hold it against you. The enemies level up with you, so if you're not harvesting experience points then the game isn't going to get exponentially harder.

There's also a four player co-op mode in case you can't handle the apocalypse on your own. I've only dabbled in the online mode, but from what I can see it's pretty smooth. You can complete quests together, and while the zombies become stronger based on how many people are playing, it's easy enough to double team them and overpower even the strongest enemies.

But every game is not without its flaws, though with Dead Island it's mostly in the form of glitches. Sometimes I've become stuck in place while running, but mostly it's glitched map and quest markers that kind of jar my enjoyment. The trail may lead you in the complete opposite direction to where you're supposed to be going, or tell you to go to the other side of the map when you should be turning in the mission where you're currently standing. Probably the most annoying is when you're selling items in the shop, and the cursor jumps to another random item every time. It's almost made me give up on selling things. There is a cool glitch for duplicating any weapon you have, but I obviously don't use that because that would be tantamount to cheating....

So yes, Dead Island is an awesome game. The quests are involving, and can often lead you on several hour long tangents in order to discover everything around. The zombies are greatly designed, and can become terrifyingly overwhelming at times, but that's just how zombie apocalypse survival should be. The graphics are stunning, and the locations are beautifully presented. I've sunk several hours into this game, and the only thing stopping me playing it right now is the fact that I'm really tired from playing too much Dead Island. Yes, the game has some glitches, probably more than usual for a new release, but the game itself is wonderful, and the glitches will most likely be fixed within a week anyway. If you like zombies, get Dead Island. If you like RPGs, get Dead Island. Hell, if you like games, get Dead Island.

My rating: 5/5

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