Dead Island was originally set to be released in 2008 but was finally available to the public in September 2011. Did this immense delay mean the game was well polished, graphically advanced and a pleasure to play I hear you ask? Yes and no.
The game first caught the attention of the majority of the gaming community with the promo film. What seems to be a dead girl lying on the ground with a flaming body flailing around behind her, engages you instantly. I found it to be one of those very rare trailers that you actually stop and watch. The music, the nonlinear editing and the emotional attachment you feel from the very beginning of the trailer makes it one of the best I have ever seen (Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZqrG1bdGtg&ob=av3n) This was enough for me to pre-order Dead Island; and I’m sure for a lot of the other gamers who were impressed by the promo, it was enough for them too.
There are four characters you can choose to play as: Xian Mei – an employee of the ‘Royal Palms Resort’ originally from China. Sam B- a ‘one hit wonder’ rap star from New Orleans who is visiting the resort for a gig; Logan Carter- a fallen star of the NFL who fractured his knee after a street race accident, and Purna- a former officer of the Sydney Police Department and now a bodyguard for rich businessmen.
Dead Island is set on the fictional island of Banoi; a holiday destination with blue sea and sandy beaches. You wake up in your hotel room with a killer hangover and no idea of what happened the night before. You are prompted by a hotel loudspeaker to exit the hotel and that’s when you start realising something is wrong. The game does not give you an explanation as to why there has been a zombie outbreak, all you know is that it has affected most of the island but you are immune. We later learn it is because you are -O negative blood group that the virus does not affect.
There are many survivors hiding out on the island including a lifeguard called Sinamoi who guides you through the main story arch from the beginning. Also, do you trust a voice on a radio that claims he can get you off the island at a price? As storyline’s go, it’s not the most innovative, but the game is about survival and exploration. There are lots of side quests to keep yourself busy that give you time to gain some valuable experience and take in your surroundings.
Dead Island has four parts to the map: the resort, the city, the jungle, and the prison. The game is free roam, as a character you are completely free to explore every aspect of the maps and play the game how you want. Despite the maps being large, there are still areas you are unable to explore because of a convenient boulder and palm tree blocking your path, but there are not too many to get you frustrated and it certainly doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment.
Mostly all of the weapons are melee; you only come across guns a lot later in the game, and even then ammo is very rare in places. The combat is pretty standard format: if a zombie gets too close they will pounce on you and you have to follow the button prompts to push them off. If you are too late, the zombie will take a bite out of you and drastically lower your health. Because this game is more about survival than anything else, there is a stamina bar. Once in combat you have to keep an eye on the small bar at the bottom of the screen; if it runs low you will not be able to hit effectively or run away fast enough (consequently meaning you die). The stamina bar is regenerated once out of combat. It also runs down while sprinting and if it starts to run low while you run, your character will begin to pant and the screen will become blurry at the edges. These are all relatively small details, but really add to the idea that you are fighting for your life.
By completing quests and exploring the maps, you can find mods. These mods give you a list of items you need to make a certain weapon; one basic mod is the Nail’d mod. All you need for that is some nails, duct tape and a weapon to stick the nails to- like a baseball bat. The more you advance and the more items you find, the more weapons you can make at the crafting tables; like a machete that has an electric current running through it or a sticky bomb.
Like any RPG you gain XP with every kill and advance levels. Every level you gain, the more points you have to spend on the skill tree. You can choose to focus on one branch of the tree rather than anything else or mix and match. The branches are titled: Survival, Combat and Fury. With the skill tree you can make yourself run faster, pick locks, have more stamina and learn to crush zombie skulls with your boot.
One gripe I have are the facial expressions (or lack of.) There are some heart wrenching scenes in the game for some survivors and even tiny moments you come across during a mission that try and make the situation more human and placed in reality. But, these scenes just don’t have the impact they should because of the lousy models. The main characters all look cross-eyed and they don’t frown or smile. There really is no variation of facial expression and this is a major flaw. I wanted to hurl my controller at the screen and shout at them: “at least look a bit concerned: you just killed your entire family with an axe and are now sitting in a pool of their spilled blood!”
There is also an online aspect to the game: a drop in, drop out co-op. If someone is nearby who is at the same point on the map and is at the same skill level or has progressed slightly more, a prompt appears on the screen to show you. You can choose to join their game or not. It’s actually really fun, but does not make up for the lack of a split screen co-op mode. There is a max of four players that can join one game. However, there is no controlling what characters you want to play with, so you might end up with two Purnas and one Sam B (or similar) in one game, which just looks odd. You can trade with other players to get more unique weapons that are only available to certain characters. You can choose to complete different quests to progress faster or help each other out just working on one. The good things is that you don’t need to stay close to your team mate, there is no snapping back if you stray too far from each other – you can literally walk to the other side of the map to one another which gives you a lot of freedom.
All in all, this is a great game that can be replayed more than once. Even when you complete it you have the option of starting from the beginning with your character and gaining more levels and completing any quests you missed.
After completing the game, I did just that: sat and watched the credits for a while, had a cup of tea then started it all over again. The environments are beautiful and really allow you to explore and feel part of the game. The only part that lets the game down for me is the lifelessness of the characters. The voice acting is superb; I just wish they had the graphics to back it up. Perhaps because this game has been in the pipeline for 3 years I was expecting much more impressive character development.
DLC was expected to be released called ‘Bloodbath Arena’ but this has been pushed back until further notice.
Deep Silver has also recently registered the name Dead World and rumours are rife about a possible sequel- no official details as yet though. I await any news of the sequel with both apprehension and excitement. In other news, Lionsgate have purchased the film rights… zombies are definitely fashionable.