With Dead Island: Riptide on the horizon it only seems appropriate to revisit the original to see what all the initial hype was about. Released in 2011, Dead Island had already generated its fair share of publicity due to the eye-catching logo and the nice bit of cinema that was the announcement trailer before it even hit shelves. From that first trailer to the assurance of a full on zombie survival RPG with four player co-op, Dead Island promises players a unique experience they enjoy on your own or with a friend. However with so many zombie games out there nowadays, does Dead Island do enough to distinguish itself or end up dead in the water?
Game: Dead Island
Published By: Deep Silver
Developed By: Techland
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC (Review Sample)
Genre: Action Roleplaying, Survival Horror
Release Date: September 6th, 2011
Written By: Debo
Screenshots By: Debo
Dead Island is set on a fictional resort island in the South Pacific by the name of Banoi and kicks off the day after a raucous party and subsequent zombie outbreak that has left most of the picturesque island infected. You play as one of four uniquely suited survivors, a rapper Sam B, a receptionist Xian Mei, a former football quarterback Logan Carter and an ex-police officer Purna, all with an apparent immunity to the virus. Each character has their own in depth and completely voiced over narrative to give you an idea of where they are coming from that this pops up throughout the game. Being immediately thrown into the action and tasked to defend some of the last remaining survivors, it is up to you (and your friends if you so choose) to find a way off the island and help any living you may encounter along the way through a range of side missions.
This will eventually take you to several sprawling, open locations around the island paradise/hell and lead to countless confrontations with both the living and the dead as you try to survive and find a way to escape. It appears all is not as it seems.
Dead Island has an Elder Scrolls feel to it from the very beginning with its emphasis on melee combat and a vast open world to explore and loot until nothing is left but the game plays on this survival aspect very well. Your inventory is limited and yet with each swing of a weapon or each shot fired your durability and ammo decays. This forces you to scavenge in order to defend yourself or run back to the nearest safe haven to repair, upgrade and heal up. The map and quest log do a good job of keeping everything arranged and organized keeping confusion to a minimum.
A stamina bar is also ever present and just about everything you do requires stamina from running to jumping to swinging your weapon and when you are hit without any stamina left you are knocked prone and helpless. This forces you to strategize how you will dispatch your foes whether then wading in and swinging wildly.
Through dispatching the undead and missions, most of which you have to explore to find, you gain experience points which enables your character to level up and gain skill points which they can put into three separate trees: Fury, Combat, and Survival. The all three trees are unique to each survivor and enhance their predetermined specialties in various ways while affording you several boosts that can help make your journey throughout the game just a little easier. These trees are in no way railroaded and allow you to purely customize your character to the way you want to play while forcing you to make choices since you will never have enough skill points for everything in every single tree. Beware though, as you level up so do all of the enemies.
The Fury tree enhances your individual character’s “fury mode,” a timed mode you can activate with the press of a button turning yourself into a killing machine capable of overcoming enemies and odds you normally may not be able to. You unlock this by spending a single point in the tree and enhance both its length and ability over time.
The Combat tree enhances just that, your character’s combat ability. From Logan’s throwing and Sam B’s large blunt weapons to Purna’s penchant for firearms and Xian’s knives, everything in this tree will help you be that much more deadly and may even change the way you play.
The Survival tree is not as potent as the other two but equally just as important. Containing boosts that allow you to simply survive easier throughout your journey you’ll always be giving consideration to this tree every time you level up.
Dead Island also sports a robust and deep crafting system for the various knives, guns, pipes and boat oars you’ll need to equip your character with throughout the game in order to wade through the legions of undead roaming Banoi. Of course the game is nice enough to supply you with decent killing utensils but at each haven you unlock in the world you can find a repair and upgrade table. Upgrading weapons costs a bit of money each time and increases their effectiveness and overall durability but on top of this you can apply modifications to further enhance them. Upon completion of story and side missions you will be awarded these blueprints and mods that require materials scavenged all throughout the island. All of this is done through a rather intuitive click and confirm menu leaving very little to question while maintaining levels of customization.
Dead Island offers everything availible to the single player expirience in a four player co-op environment as well. The game is essentially designed to be played at any moment with one to four players with the game adjusting difficulty and loot generation on the fly. Before strating a new game you can choose to set your game type to Cooperative instead of Single Player opening up options as to how many slots you want open to the public or only to friends as well as visibilty and voice chat decisions to make. Once the options are selected start the game and play. Only your friends and people you choose to invite can join the game in private slots while anyone far enough along in the game can fill the public slots.
At any point in time you can also pull up a menu while you are playing that will find public games that are currently active with open slots and are the best fit for where you are in the story. It is only a single click from there to jump right in sharing the joy of zombie carnage with others.
If that wasn’t enough, if you are playing in a cooperative game and you come within the vicinity of a place on the map where one of these best maches is you can simply initiate joining the game by pressing “J”. After a short load time you will be back in game playing with your new co-op partner.
The ease of joining and dropping out makes co-op play a breeze. The zombies, themselves, are leveled to each player personally meaning the challenege for all players will be the same even when a level 20 character joins a game even to help a level 1 and loot is handled simlarly. Better rewards are given, however, the more players are in a specific game instance to go along with the increased difficulty in foes and everything you do in a co-op game will save to your single player advancement.
Dead Island handles like you would expect any first person shooter to with a keyboard and mouse control scheme though every one of the keybinds are absolutely customizable to your own personal preference. All that said, the default scheme is quite intuitive and pop up tips appear when abilities are first introduced making sure even the most novice player understand what to do.
If you are the type of person that prefers a gamepad instead you are also in luck as the game has full support for an Xbox 360 controller with a choice of three predetermined mapping options which are the exact same as the Xbox 360 version of the game.
The game as a whole controls quite well with combat playing out like a sadistic version of Skyrim. Switching between various weaponry is a breeze in the middle of a skirmish as well as out giving you all the information about your equipment on the fly.
Graphics and Audio
Dead Island runs on Techland’s Chrome Engine 5 and despite being a two year old game at this point still manages to produce some stunning and grotesque visuals. Sprawling vistas are eye catching and actually make you stop playing for a moment to admire them which is a compliment when shadows and darkness are used to full effect to provide a rich atmosphere with which to interact with. The cutscenes are done in the same engine as the game so they flow seemlessly from a visual standpoint but lack a certain overall feeling of epicness at points.
Still that is not to say everything is perfect. Many models get reused over and over again throughout the game and the sameness of enemies can set in but an environment this large can almost be forgiven in that respect. I ran the game fine at all times at 1920x1080 resolution and even with up to 20 zombies on the screen at the same time I could not notice any choke.
The audio on the other hand does have its share of issues. The in game supported voice chat is very poorly supported and I would recoment another chat program when playing it with friend if you want that on the fly voice communication. The soundtrack sets the mood quite well and even inspires a certain amount of stress when you are surrounded by a dozen undead and down to your last weapon. Still it does have points where static is noticeable if only for fleeting moments.
Overall and Final Verdict
No matter how many levels or resources you hoard you never truly feel safe while playing Dead Island and I think that can be its ultimate compliment. At any moment a body you overlooked in the corner has a chance to suddenly come to life and attempt to eat your face. You find yourself passively looking over your shoulder from time to time and inching forward rather then running in guns blazing. The game does have its fair share of obvious and predictable jump scares to be sure but for every one there is also a healthy dose of tension building terror.
Is it perfect? No. Dead Island is an ambitious undertaking and feels a bit rough around the edges at times. The story won’t win any awards for originality or vision and the sameness of some side quest NPCs and enemies can be grating at times. However, the overall rush of fighting a horde of enemies and coming out with just enough HP remaining to limp to your next goal is more than enough to have the game be enjoyable, and couple that with the fact you can have this experience seamlessly with three other friends at any moment and Dead Island is a game well worth your time.