Dead Island is an open-world, post zombie-inducing-contagion-outbreak first person action RPG, in the archetypal sense of modern, scientific zombie mythos, rooted as much as possible [we assume because they created the virus or whatever] in science and reality. It’s like Left 4 Dead, Borderlands, and Fallout 3 all rolled into one meat sandwich. The elements from each of these three games are well blended, though very distinguishable to those who have played all three games. It is not terribly original (nothing with zombies ever will be) and it seems familiar – in a good way.
From the beginning, unless you skipped the admittedly annoying rap intro starring our friends Sam and Logan, you are submitted to the blood, sexism, and pretty much mature/adult oriented material – you will be attacked by your first zombie within a few minutes (after single looting 40 or 50 suitcases – more about that later) and if your video settings are correct, it will probably scare you because you won’t be expecting it.
As previously mentioned, the game plays like a triumvirate of three excellent games: Borderlands, Fallout 3, and Left 4 dead.
Ostensibly Borderlands and Fallout 3 are two different sides of the same coin, though Borderlands takes a different approach. In Dead Island, as in Borderlands, all the damage you do to an enemy is shown, like in an MMORPG, as “floating combat text”, as are other things like whether or not your thrown weapon ricochets back to you. Also like in Borderlands (a feature infuriatingly omitted in Fallout 3. All those fucking motorcycle parts and I never get to build a functioning motorcycle!!!!?), you can use vehicles to get around – though it requires the utmost of Battlefield 1942 skill in later chapters when you are trying to drive away from butchers up a 20 degree road that curves around a mountain and has obstacles all over and around it. You may think that running over people got old several GTA’s ago – but running over zombies did not.
Unlike all three games, though, wandering around the island affords you a rich amount of loot – some may be useless as weapons, some may not be worth much money, and many may just be energy drinks (seriously, this island would be a paradise if you liked Monster as much as I do – zombies not withstanding). Left 4 Dead, Fallout, and Borderlands have a distinct lack of random “shit” that you can pick up (unlike Elder Scrolls, in FO3’s case), which is not the case in Dead Island. Though admittedly, you can not pick things up as though it were the source engine, where you can pick up pretty much anything, and there are realistic physics involved. Much to the contrary, you can only pick up useable items or quest items.
The game plays much like Borderlands, with quest and plot progression, and even endlessly respawning skags when you return to areas where they spawn (pronounced Zombies). In addition, you also can find or pick up weapons modified with special “magic” abilities, just like Borderlands. You can do poison damage, bleeding damage, electricity damage, and fire damage to zombies, as well as humans.
Anyone who saw the trailer or played with the sound on in this game can tell you the soundtrack is superb Giles Lambs piano theme, and all of the piano themes in the game, are beautiful, as is the more traditional action game music. Sound is an integral component of making a convincing environment, and as has been said in other reviews, the sound makes you feel like you’re there. You pant with heavy breaths when sprinting, you freak out when you hear the tyrannosaurus growls of a thug, or hear the creepy noises of a Suicider nearby. You run to the hills when you’re near the hotel, in the resort, as it persistently sounds as if the entire building will collapse on top of you, or like a gigantic zombie is literally ripping metal pieces of the hotel apart.
From the beginning, this game was hyped as being much more down to earth than Left 4 Dead, and it is. In fact, I would say this is the first survival horror game to be true to the name in several years (including Silent Hill and Resident Evil and Fatal Frame and Alice and other games) When you play alone, this game will make you paranoid. You become the person running across Moresby from an increasingly hard to handle horde of zombies, by yourself, with no bullets, with very few healing items, broken weapons, and low health. The zombie that was 30 feet away from you will be hitting you in the back a second later, when you pause to kill a zombie you thought was a bigger threat. When you hear a thug for the first time in the distance, I believe when you first clear the life guard building of zombies is the first thug, it will scare you off of the beach because you have no idea where it’s coming from.
Admittedly, the plot leaves something to be desired – like the best survival horror game, Resident Evil, you are thrust into this situation (though this time with almost no plot or introduction, compared to the story RE gives you before that classic live action intro). It does however become revealed through cinema scenes and tapes and documents, in the classic style of Resident Evil. It is also fairly predictable (pro tip: Do not let your girlfriend read ahead in the strategy guide)
To be honest, the scariest zombies in the game, to me, are the infected, and the thugs. Suiciders are slow, though I consider their blast radius to be overpowered. Floaters are quite dangerous, but in multiplayer they can be effectively handled. The same can be said about thugs – even two people can mercilessly beat a thug to death, in a wildly entertaining emulation of the pool cue scene in Shaun of the Dead, if they are good at the game. This is where Dead Island takes much of its Left 4 Dead influence. All the zombies from Left 4 Dead are also types in Dead Island, though prettier (more grotesque and more realistic) and more varied.
Obviously the comparison is not absolute. A thug is less dangerous than a Tank, because it will not throw shit at you, and does not move quickly at all – in fact, they forget you exist after they knock you over. A ram is less dangerous than a charger, only because it is like the Yeti in Trial of the Crusader in WoW– dodging it as it slams into a wall affords you some DPS time. Suiciders are more dangerous than Boomers, but move slower. Walkers also move much slower than normal zombies in L4D, though they can easily kill you. On the other hand, Infected, unlike hunters, can easily kill you with one hit if you do not get the drop on them. I would say butchers are less dangerous than witches, as a witch can easily kill at least one party member in L4D, though a butcher is not much of a challenge to a full party of FPS veterans, which are fortunately almost the only people left on PC.
Unfortunately, this is where the survival horror loses a lot of mojo, as do all survival horror games that are multiplayer. While Left 4 Dead is still a challenge (because of the sheerly retarded number of zombies you have to kill. I’ve been playing a lot of L:4D since DI came out and I lose count after 100 zombies killed from one horde – and this is halfway through the horde), Dead Island becomes can become a joke with two people – though once you have good weapons that isn’t the case. Where L4D uses very cut and dry game mechanics and sheer attrition to make sure you usually don’t beat the scenario (let’s not forget to place a large amount of blame on people who suck balls at games), Dead Island’s multiplayer requires your team not only to stay together, but to have common sense as well. Overwhelming numbers of zombies are not required to make the game difficult, because the enemies level with you.
While this is an online RPG, it is not a loot game like WoW. Having an epic Bleeding Baseball Bat at 100% durability doesn’t make you unstoppable, regardless of your build. Even having an epic (or anything higher?) AK 47 doesn’t make you unstoppable. Ammo is just as scarce as Resident Evil 1 or 2 or 3 and combat in this game is almost entirely melee – whether you are trying to beat a zombie to death with a wooden stick (props to RE Outbreak) or you are desparately fending off a horde of infected and walkers at a gas station because a scripted quest event made you, you won’t even get to shoot a zombie until some time in Act II – and all those dreams you had of how cool and easy it would be to kill a zombie when you finally get a gun will be crushed instantly when a headshot seems to do nothing to them.
Like Fallout, there are many a workbench scattered around – actually a ridiculous amount of workbenches when you get to the city (for good reason – unless you run away all the time, you will need repair very often). This facilitates using one of the coolest features of Dead Island: The stupid shit you pick up all the time is actually used to make things from scratch, or modify your weapons! The best part is, the modifications actually make sense! (Well, some of them. Lighting a baseball bat on fire and somehow keeping it on fire without burning the bat is…interesting) Some of them are very Borderlands, like shock mods for guns – imagine a bullet that is also a tazer.
I have one complaint about this game, honestly. One. Maybe two.
There is no area loot. Literally, within the first three minutes of the game, there are about a hundred suitcases or closets to loot. Any seasoned gamer knows you damn well better take EVERY item ever, and have no shame about your Josh Holloway-like activities. That large battery can be used later, if not for a mod you want, you can sell it. You’ll need money because, eventually, a baseball bat will cost $4000. Leave it to the douchebags to capitalize on post-apocalyptic commerce opportunities.