Posted by Raine Hutchens on Sep 5, 2011

Review – Dead Island (Xbox 360)

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Product Information

MSRP: $59.99
Publisher: Deep Silver Developer: Techland
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 Rating: M for Mature
Genre: First-Person Action/RPG/Adventure/Survival Horror

Zombie games. They are becoming more and more of a subgenre within the many genres of gaming. Though I enjoy my fair share of these titles, sometimes they can bleed together. For so long I had been looking for a game dealing with the zombie apocalypse that actually incorporated the means of survival within its gameplay. There aren’t any guns just laying around. Ammo is scarce. You need to find nutrition to stay alive. There are things that need to be done in order to make it out alive, by yourself or with others. When Dead Island appeared on the scene, needless to say I was a bit stunned. I had been looking forward to this game since it debuted, and the more that came out about it, the more I was inclined to play. Now that I’ve finally had a chance to sit down and let it scare the pants off me, I’ve found that all my waiting paid off handsomely. Let’s take a look at the game in this review.

Appearance and Presentation

The first thing anyone will pick up on with Dead Island is how great it looks. The game takes place on the tropical island of Banoi, more specifically at a vaction resort placed on the island. The player can choose one of four unique characters, each with their own story and look. Logan is an ex-football player who excels in thrown weapons. Xian Mei is an employee at the hotel on Banoi, and is a very fast learner. Purna is an ex-police officer from Sydney, and is a master of firearms. Finally there is Sam B, an upcoming rap artist who in an expert on all things blunt. From the gleam of the cerulean ocean to the swaying of the palm trees in the wind, Dead Island is a great-looking game. Even the undead have gotten a special touch in the game.

The game’s story is presented to the player through a large opening cutscene, and continues through dialogue and facts found throughout the island. When choosing a character, they voice their own backgrounds, explaining to the player a bit about who they are. NPCs will eventually enter the fray, providing more on the story and adding to its thick plot.

No matter what character you choose, the game always starts out the same way. You wake up in a hotel room, stumbling out into the nightmare that’s been created on the island. You then begin searching through luggage, trying to find anything useful as you attempt to make your way through the Royal Palms hotel. Now while this didn’t really bother me, some found it a little agitating that each character started out the same way. To me, it was somewhat believable as you only choose one character, so the story can play out from that perspective. The game does a good job of keeping the player engaged, so I was more focused on getting things done than on the nitty-gritty.

The character animation was also put together well, though you can only take each one so far. After all, this is an island resort, so you’re to see plenty of women in bikinis and guys in trunks. Even though this is true, the characters are given a certain level of detail, setting them apart from one another if even in the slightest bit. Some characters have distinctive tattoos, while others sport different types of clothing that make them easily recognizable in the crowd.

While we’re on the subject of characters and NPCs, this is where I ran into my first issue with the game, and probably my biggest. I understand that a zombie apocalypse, even as contained as this one is on the island, can seriously mess with anyone’s psyche. Some people can even go crazy beyond the point of no return. Some people, however, manage to step up and keep their head on straight, and this is a good thing. But when I talk to you, and you seem to know what you’re talking about, please look at me when you’re speaking to me! Almost every NPC that I come into contact with either is mental in some way, or has the worst case of ADD that I have ever encountered. They always seem to be looking around the room, starting off into space, or ignoring my presence completely. This really aggravated me to the point where I didn’t listen to their dialogue, and just took their quests. The worst part about this is that it doesn’t change as you get further into the game. While some NPCs are just find and react accordingly, there are still some that just seem out there and on something. I don’t know, maybe it’s their way of dealing with an occurrence such as this?

Another aspect I want to touch on with Dead Island is the game’s sound and voice acting. The characters in the game are from many different parts of the world, and many have accents that point this out. The best thing about the voice acting in Dead Island is that none of these characters seemed to be voiced in the same way. There wasn’t any monotone to anyone’s voice, and most of them were believable in what they were saying. On top of this, a lot of real-world logic is applied to the script, and a lot of these characters don’t give a rat’s behind about what they say. The dialogue is delivered in a real direct tone, and it’s enough to keep things interesting, as long as you can get past the fact that the NPCs look like they’re on some kind of trip.

Now let’s get to the sounds in the game. First of all, the music is excellent. The ambient score int he background really sets the mood and keeps the creepy level to a maximum. When you encounter an enemy, a heart-pounding track hits, making the fight for survival more intense than ever. Moving to the game’s sound effects, there’s a plethora of noises that help set the scene no matter where you are in the game. The sound of wind brushing through the palm trees, the ocean hitting the shore, the seagulls in the background, and the occasional screams and groans of the undead come together to create a setting that will definitely have players immersed within the world. I can’t tell you how many times I would be strolling along, and not pay any mind to my surroundings until I heard the growling of an infected behind me. Of course, then I would freak out, start flailing, and eventually run screaming like a little girl.

Gameplay

When it comes to gameplay, Dead Island provides everything I was looking for, even if not to a specific tee. Players will find themselves scrounging for nourishment, repairing weapons, gathering supplies, and foraging for any useful items that they can. It’s a new take on the undead  outbreak genre, and it’s what I think a lot of players have been looking forward to for a long time.

Gameplay is delivered to players through combat, completing quests, and exploration. I’ll go over each one of these aspects individually as they each have an important role in making Dead Island the interactive title that it is.

One of the core mechanics in this game is combat. In order to survive, players will need to know how to handle themselves against the zombie horde. On the undead side of things, there are more than a few different types of enemies you’ll face. You will come up against Walkers, Infected, Thugs, Suiciders, Butchers, Floaters, and Rams. Each of these undead nasties has their own special way of dealing with the living, and none of them are pretty. Walkers are the most common type of enemy, and their name says it all. They walk toward the player, shambling in efforts to drum up a meal. Infected are enemies that act much like walkers, only they run instead. They are much faster and can cause more damage than their slower counterparts. Thugs act as a sort of meta-tank early on in the game. They can knock the player down, and are no pushover when it comes to taking them out. Suiciders have massive boils on their bodies that explode when coming near the player. Butchers are probably the scariest undead in the bunch that I’ve seen. They have long hair and are missing their arms, only having the bones protruding from the elbows, which are sharpened and ready for death. Floaters resemble Boomers from Left 4 Dead, as they make attempts to throw up all over the player, causing massive damage.

The weapon choices in the game are a bit limited, but make much sense. Basically players can only use what they find. Tolls of the trade will be bats, paddles, broken broom handles, diving knives, hammers, wrenches, poles, and more. On top of this, all weapons deteriorate over time, meaning that they can only be used for so long before they break. Of course, when you find a work bench you can repair your weapons, restoring them to perfect condition provided you have the cash to pony up. As you explore, you can also find tons of items which can be used in crafting weapon mods which are more powerful and can last longer than normal weapons. Over the course of the game players will pick up different mods that will help create new tools of destruction. This felt a lot like Dead Rising 2, which I loved. It not only makes sense, but adds a brand new aspect to the survivalist aspect of the game.

Now for a look at completing quests. Players will pick up different quests along the course of the game’s story, and there are tons to do. NPCs will be littered across the island, most of them with little tasks for you to do. You’ll help with things from recovering a lost teddy bear to taking down a thug and retrieving a key from his body to unlock a safe. I found the questing aspect of Dead Island to be fun and interesting. I never found myself bored with the quests just because there was so much to do, and honestly, most of them just made sense with the game’s plot. The only thing about the quests is that there is a lot of back and forth with traveling. One quest may take you across the island, and you’ll need to come all the way back to turn it in. This may annoy some players, but if you learn to lump quests together, it makes completing them much more efficient and easy. This will come as you spend more time playing the game, and it takes the frustration out of having to run all over the island doing things. By completing quests, players can advance the story, obtain special weapons, and earn EXP that will help when leveling up.

Since we’re talking about leveling, let’s go into the skill system included in the game. Dead Island is a unique title in the zombie genre as it incorporates RPG elements that make it more like Oblivion with the undead. Each character has three different skill trees that they can upgrade over time by using skill points. These points are obtained my leveling up, which isn’t too difficult to do. I was playing as Logan, and the skill trees I could choose from were Fury, Combat, and Survival. I immediately started putting points in Combat, as it allowed me to do more damage, increase my critical strike chance, and decrease my weapon deterioration rate. Fury touches on Logan’s ability to throw and retrieve weapons, and Survivalist goes into the necessary traits of staying alive, increasing stamina (as it’s used to swing weapons, sprint, jump, and move about), and having a larger amount of health.

The inclusion of these trees allows players to tune the character to their liking, and really mold one that fits their style. It’s great to see this element added into the game, and it allows for a custom playthrough each time you tackle the game.

Finally, while attacking the horde and attempting to stay alive, exploring the island of Banoi has its own level of importance. By rummaging through luggage, searching bungalows, and picking up items off of dead enemies, players can find key items that will help them survive during the nightmare running wild through the island. Players will find money, crafting items, food and drink, NPCs and more across the beaches and bungalows of Banoi, and it all comes in handy. This isn’t a game in which you want to skip out on searching every nook and cranny. Every little bit helps, even down to that bar of soap that you can sell for $12. That’s right, you can sell your unwanted gear to different people you meet that are traders for their caravans.

All that being said, there are some elements of all these different parts of gameplay that irked me. One thing that bothered me is the fact that items respawn every time a player leaves an area and returns. While this helps a lot in terms of survivability, it just doesn’t make sense. A truck that I drove and wrecked just respawns right back in front of a bungalow? Come on, that just ain’t right. Like I said, it may help players gain more items (as they each respawn in their same specific spots), but with the level of realism the game tries to impress on players, this doesn’t sit right.

Also, when dealing with enemies, it is very easy to get knocked off track. Losing your aim can mean all the difference when in a fight for your life with the undead. I can’t tell you how many times I missed a kick or swiped at the air because things were blurry and moving too fast. It may be a sensitivity issue, but it seemed to happen all the time. Your sense of depth perception can really get lost when playing this game.

Finally, one of my big issues with the gameplay was the player’s ability to respawn. I am not trying to say that once you die, you die, but it’s a bit off to me. When you take enough damage to die, you will see a timer that is counting down. Once the timer reaches zero, you’re returned to the game at a respawn location near where you died, right with all of your items you were carrying when you fell. Now this is another instance where it could really help the player, but again, it doesn’t make much sense. When you die, you usually have to go back to an autosave point and start again. In Dead Island you just come right back and start where you left off, no harm no foul. This just didn’t sit right with me as it took more away from the game’s realistic approach to the gameplay.

All of that aside, one thing I can say about this game is that it’s the first to genuinely scare the crap out of me in ages. I’ve played my share of horror titles, and even Amnesia didn’t get to me as bad as this. With terrifying enemies, environments that play into the game’s terrifying plot, and enemies that know how to sneak up on you, Dead Island will surely keep you on your toes.

Conclusion

Though the game had instances where it didn’t make much sense, and the cutscenes weren’t the best ever, I still thoroughly enjoyed Dead Island. All of the hype I put up for the title payed off well. Dead Island is a game that I have been waiting for, for a long time, and I am really pleased with it. It’s a new take on not only the zombie apocalypse genre, but the first-person action genre as well. Not everything is about finding guns and just hammering away at enemies until the undead cows come home. This is a game about intelligent play, knowing your surroundings, and survival. I would say that Dead Island is definitely worth it right off the shelves, and if you miss out on this game it will become a huge disappointment in time to come.

The Good

  • The game looks marvelous
  • Leveling system is new to the genre and allows for customized play
  • Amount of action keeps players on their toes
  • Quests are abundant and keep gameplay interesting
  • Very open world and the means to travel are very much present

The Bad

  • NPCs, though detailed, lack sense of interaction with the player
  • Some elements of the game don’t seem to fit with the realistic aspect that it pushes (respawning items and player death)
  • Combat can get gritty and become overwhelming at times
  • The game contains a lot of “back and forth” gameplay which can become annoying

Written by Raine Hutchens

Raine comes from the mystical land of Indiana. Introduced to tabletop gaming at a young age, he quickly picked up video games and developed a passion for all things gaming. Raine has been writing all his life, and finally put that skill to use when he gained the opportunity to follow his passion with GamerFront in 2010. Raine’s Twitter can be found here.

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