Dead Island is a Zombie open world role-playing game that whose sunny holiday setting contrasts the usual dark, bleak settings we are used to in horror games. Indeed Banoi Island is quite beautiful and you might take a moment between Zombie killing to take in the fantastic views. The plot it simple: escape the island. Here of course the Island setting comes into its own as an open world as you can explore as much as you wish but there are limits, and you must achieve quest objectives to progress.
The Island is in fact rather big, impressively so. You start in the tourist part of the island, which is rather nice apart from the zombies, but you need to go to other parts of the island to achieve your objectives and some of these are rather less civilized. Parts of the city are something of a gangland and then there’s the untamed jungle. Oh, and Zombies everywhere.
Unfortunately the marketing department for Dead Island put out a trailer for it which, whilst being beautiful, emotional and frankly a work of art, in no way reflected the game. This meant that players could not really be anything but disappointed. Compared to the trailer the graphics are far less good (stunning in the trailer, average in the game) and the emotional content…? It’s just not that kind of game. You will not get emotional over this. You might giggle a bit.
Why do I say that? Well, as with Oblivion Dead Island gives you some epic, hilarious glitches! Also aside from the main quest there are a ton of side quests and quite a lot are silly, such as the NPC who wants her teddy rescuing from the Zombies or the guy who wants you to get back some money he’s owed. The main reason they are funny is because in it’s like they totally forgot a Zombie apocalypse is even going on! There’s also some deliberate gags; you can rescue a guy off a stage pretty early on which Zombies have surrounded whilst doing a pretty good impression of headbangers! There’s also the eccentric way the game insists on referring to you as multiple people even in single player and makes extra characters pop up in cut scenes. This is extremely weird but and a bad decision by the game designers, but amusingly bad.
So what makes the game so good to play? Well, the Zombie bashing is particularly satisfying with a vast array of upgradable, customizable weapons to choose from. You can buy diagrams, collect parts to bolt onto them and get a bit creative. It does take a while to really get into your swing, but once you start levelling your characters abilities and building those crazy weapons you will turn from zombie victim to zombie hunter. It’s a very visceral game with a lot of gore and you are able to hack of limbs or decapitate the zombies you fight. It does a fair job of realistically wounding them as you fight. Your character will also recoil from their blows and has a health bar and stamina bar and will get tired from running and fighting and have to pause with realistic panting sounds before they can continue. Furthermore different weapons have different weights so a heavier weapon may take longer aka be harder to swing but consequently can hit harder when it connects. Unlike other games you can also see your characters feet and body when you look down rather than being a floating head which makes you feel much more believably present in the world.
The body models in the game are refreshingly diverse with different body types and races represented. Yes, this includes all the zombies! The 4 heroes are also ¾ people of colour which is likewise refreshing as too many games have ‘white male protagonist’ as the default norm.
You can pick up a lot of things to use as weapons which is useful since your weapons accumulate damage over time and will break if you do not repair them. This means Initially you are starting out hitting Zombies with sticks, oars and baseball bats but as you explore you will find better weapons like swords and guns. However in a pinch, when resources are low, a stick will do, particularly if you can upgrade it to a stick with a nail in it! In fact you will get to build yourself some pretty impressive clubs and maces. Later you can also make weapons burning, poisonous, electrifying or explosive or make hybrids such as a circular saw-club. You will also be able to make Zombie bait to either lure Zombies away from you or towards your nest of explosives, for instance! This part of the game is by far the most satisfying particularly with individual visual effects to go with them. You just want to try all the weapons to see what devastating effect they will have.
The story is questionable but does it’s job. I enjoyed playing the game but in many ways in is mindless fun (brainless? Brains! BRAAAAINS)!! The main charm of the game is in it’s atmosphere and the good combat and weapons. It clearly expects multiplayer and has little love for the single player, nonetheless I found it easy to handle the quests alone, particularly once I could kill Zombies by jumping on their heads. There’s no death, just knock-out and a gold-penalty for dying (you can’t reload to avoid this though so it is a pretty good deterrent). Dead Island is great stress relief, and the trailer for Dead Island 2, due out this year, looks much more representative of the mood of the game: Silly, Zombie bashing fun. It is a game you decide to pay for 5 minutes then realise you’ve been playing it for a few hours. DIE ZOMBIES! DIE DIE!