|System: Xbox 360, PS3, PC|
|Pub: Deep Silver|
|Release: September 6, 2011|
|Players: 1, 2-4 (Online)|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol|
by Amanda L. Kondolojy
Saying that the zombie genre is derivative is, at this point, like saying water is wet. Zombie games by nature borrow from one another, and seeing glimpses of other games in new releases is to be expected. The moment I started playing Dead Island, I immediately thought to myself how like Left 4 Dead it was. The first-person perspective, four-person co-op, and even some of the aesthetics seemed a little too familiar. Then I got a little bit deeper into the game, and I noticed how like Dead Rising it was, with the destructible weaponry, a dilapidated urban landscape, and plenty of open areas to explore.
Comparisons to these two series are completely justified, and if you hated either of them, you will completely loathe Dead Island. But the good news is that Dead Island has enough original content to keep you immersed in its world for a little while. And considering it is the only zombie game coming out this fall (well, aside from the millionth Resident Evil 4 remake), this is certainly a good thing if you're itching to smash some undead heads.
The big difference between Dead Island and other zombie games is in its overall format, which takes the form of an RPG. You start off by picking a character with certain weapons proficiencies and their own special bonus. As you play through the game with each character, you'll learn little snippets about their background, but who you pick has no real bearing on the game's story. In fact nothing you do really has any relevance to the game's story, but we'll get to that later.
Throughout the game, you can mow down zombies for XP and unlock skill trees to improve your character. You'll pass the time hopping from hub area to hub area, talking to various NPCs and accepting quests. If you choose, you can open your game up to the online world, where the game's matchmaker will put you with up to three other players that are the same level as you and on the same chapter. You might think this would result in a slow matchmaking effort, but the result is actually pretty seamless. Players drop in and drop out, and the online experience is fairly enjoyable. However, the only drawback is that when a mission is accepted, you can't really deviate from it when you are with a party. But as long as you don't mind staying on target, working with a team is the best way to experience Dead Island. Of course, you can always go it alone (and the game doesn't really penalize you for playing solo) but the co-op ability makes getting through tough missions that much easier.
Combat in the game is fairly straightforward, as you'll cycle through weapons and hit the "kill" button as fast as you can to swing your current death stick and take out your enemies. Guns are introduced later in the game, but are pretty much ineffective, as melee weapons often kill much faster. But interestingly, the most useful weapon in the game actually ends up being your feet. You see, when you use a weapon, you use up stamina and degrade the weapon. And if you've got a low-level weapon, it can take five or six hacks to really kill a zombie dead. However, a quick stomp to the face will generally lay a zombie flat out, and from there, all you have to do is hammer on the button until the job is done. And the best part? Kicking takes no stamina and works on basically every enemy except bosses. This makes for easy kills, but it does make combat as a whole feel a little shallow when the best weapon of the game is actually attached to your character's body.
Now, a word about story. If there was one thing that disappointed me about Dead Island most, it would be its lack of plot. When the first trailer was released earlier this year, it seemed that the game would include an incredibly deep and moving story. The emotional impact of that little girl falling through the glass in reverse was something that we hadn't seen from the zombie genre before, and I was excited to play a zombie game that dealt with more serious themes. However, what I got was a paper-thin story that seems to mostly revolve around drunk people and hotel employees. You do eventually get around to seeing the family from the trailer, but their appearance is nothing more than the equivalent of an Easter egg at best. If you're expecting a great story here, you'll be incredibly disappointed.
Oh, and if you're expecting a lot of horror from this game, you won't really get that either. Though, to be fair, a zombie game set at the beach doesn't sound like a very scary premise to begin with. There are some areas with "pop-up" zombies designed to startle you, but even in the darkest of corridors—believe it or not, there are some dark places on a beach resort)—these plants are a little too obvious to be scary.