FutureFive NZ - Game review: Dead Island

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Game review: Dead Island

Every traveller has a list of things they check off before going on vacation. Swimming togs? Check. Sunblock? Check. Zombie apocalypse survival kit? Uhh....

Dead Island, the latest game from Deep Silver, puts a new twist on the traditional Zombie survival horror game, by placing it in perhaps the most unlikely of settings, on a tropical island. 

Played from a first person action/shooter angle, Dead Island does some things amazingly, but also falls short in a few key areas.

Let’s start with the good, the Island itself. The Island of Banoi is constructed in amazing detail with areas ranging from the hotel resort itself (both inside and outside levels), the local city and the surrounding jungle. Characters and voice acting are not fantastic, but not terrible either, if you can look past the repetition in character models (like how nearly every female NPC at the resort is wearing a bikini and an MP3 player armband - maybe they were giving them away at check in?). 

We of course can’t talk about Dead Island without talking about the Zombies, and they are indeed stars of the game. Zombies come in several different flavours - from your classic ‘walkers’, to hyped-up, super-fast ‘infected’ (whose chilling scream will have you frantically looking around as a group runs out from behind a nearby corner), huge, slow but strong brutes (capable of sending you flying with a single hit) and other even more nasty types that I will leave you to find out about later. 

If there is one thing that Dead Island does well it is the atmosphere. Starting the game I would charge into mobs of zombies, decapitating left and right, laughing as I went, but as the game became more difficult I found myself just trying to survive. No longer would I take on every pack that I came across as I started to assess the damage to both my health and weapons, instead looking for smarter options like sneaking around or taking a different path.

Each Zombie features multiple injury points, which means that when you slash at them with a machete, you can cut off limbs (or break them with a blunt object). 

The storyline in Dead Island starts out with the player waking up as one of four character options, each with a particular combat specialty (Blunt Melee, Sharp Melee, Thrown weapons, or Guns). I don’t want to ruin the story so won’t be giving any spoilers, bar that your character, it turns out, is immune to the zombie infection (although not immune to dying) so guess who gets to be errand boy for the survivors you come across? There are a lot of side missions and content in Dead Island; a large portion of these are generic ‘fetch this/fetch five of these’ quests, but at least they are there as an option if you feel so inclined. 

One of the most challenging things about Dead Island for more casual players is that the difficulty ramps up fairly quickly. Thankfully, the game gives you the option to play cooperatively with up to three other players, although you do have to watch out for selfish companions, as there is nothing to stop other players from taking the choice weapon pickup that you really wanted, or picking up your favourite machete that you just threw into a Zombie’s head a moment earlier.

Speaking of favourite weapons, Dead Island has a wide range of items you can gather in-game and weaponise, from the obvious knives and machetes to the less obvious plumbing pipes or hat stands. You also will gain ‘blueprints’ throughout the game which enable you to create or upgrade new weapons at a workbench from combinations of parts that you have gathered. It’s a great system, but it is offset by the high level of weapon degradation through combat. You may spend a lot of time crafting that sweet electrified machete, but after hacking through a few mobs of zombies it will be a bent and corroded mess - until you reach another workbench to repair it, that is. Weapons aren’t the only thing that gets upgraded through the course of the game, as your character also gets experience points with which to level up in three character-unique trees. The skills gained are customised for each character, so each playthrough can be quite different in terms of playing style.

In terms of the combat in Dead Island, it could be compared to many games, but two of the closest that I would pick would be Oblivion and Fallout 3. The controls could be accused of being a bit clunky and difficult to aim, and quite often I would find myself flailing madly at a zombie with my out-of-shape piece of pipe. This also adds to the horror appeal, though, and obviously if it wasn't so hard to kill zombies, then it wouldn’t be half as scary. Driving portions are particularly fun; after the first hour or so you will get behind the wheel for the first time, and it is immensely satisfying to take out undead hordes blocking the road with a series of satisfying thumps and bumps (then turn around and do it all again).

Dead Island isn't all undead paradise though, and I encountered several annoying bugs that stop this title from becoming an immortal legend. One bug occurred with an escort quest, where the person I was supposed to be escorting wouldn’t trigger to come with me; another, after playing online with someone, reset all my completed side quests to ‘in progress’ again. Other more generic bugs saw NPCs and enemies clipping or getting stuck in walls or items. 

In the end, Dead Island brings more to the table then it detracts, providing an immersing and suspenseful experience that might just make you think twice the next time you are packing your vacation suitcase.

Graphics: 8

Gameplay: 8

Sound: 8.5

Lasting appeal: 7.5

Overall: 8

Available on PS3, Xbox 360 & PC.

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