Dead Island Review (PS3): The Nightmare Is Real

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I think it goes without saying that Dead Island is probably one of the most awaited titles this fall.  Sure, you can wait in line for whatever flavor of FPS meets your fancy and be like just about every other game on the face of the planet or you could take a trip to the island of Banoi with the rest of us and see how long you can survive.  Some of you may think I’m kidding, but after getting thrown to the wolves, in this case a horde of blood thirsty zombies, in the first moments of the game, players will come to terms with the environment that Deep Silver has provided you with and truly learn the meaning of the term “survival.”   Dead Island is not your typical zombie FPS, in fact it doesn’t even try to be that game, but rather takes many attributes of popular RPG titles and weaves a complicated storyline, characters, weapons, locations, and vehicles into the mix to see how players noodle their way out of becoming zombie food.

Okay, so you got your ticket punched and you decided to jump in on Dead Island and you are starting to enjoy your lovely island getaway in the South Pacific at the somewhat typically named Royal Palms Resort.  You choose your character for play based on four, unique characters that all have a single special ability.  (Logan, Sam B, Xian Mei, and Purna)  I choose Logan and his intro goes a bit like this: You’ve had a few too many drinks and manage to stumble your drunk self back to your room where you promptly black out.  (It wouldn’t be a vacation if you could remember it all now would it?..)  Once you awake, you soon learn that something must have gone horribly wrong while you were asleep as alarms are going off telling you to evacuate the resort.  You stumble your way down empty hallways of baggage and trash, not a soul to be found, just to be met with people falling to their death, random carnage, burning hallways, and no electricity.  (This, as they say, “is a good sign..”)  A voice, seemingly from above, but rather through an intercom guides you out of the hotel and to the safety of where other “survivors” have gathered.   At this location you find yourself attempting to rescue another survivor who is attempting to handle a small horde of flesh hungry, crazy people.   After getting your first taste of zombie head crushing, you are briefed on the terror that has taken Banoi overnight and launch into the hours of survival ahead of you: Welcome to Dead Island.

..the sound of zombies screaming and running towards you is not just in your head anymore..
Like any good zombie movie/game the story is pretty straight forward.  Something has fallen over the people that occupy the small South Pacific island of Banoi and anyone who gets bit, becomes a zombie.  Well, except for you that is.  Your main character seems to have the ability to not fall to the zombie infection, though you are quickly reminded that while not becoming a zombie has its advantages, this ability does not prevent you from dying.  (Good advice early on: You can die..)  At this point Dead Island really opens up, and I do mean opens up, into a full-blown RPG world complete with what seems like endless quests and side quests to keep players busy as they explore the island.   Players earn experience points (XP) to level-up and gain access to new abilities, weapons, etc.  (Abilities break down like most RPG titles in a “branching” system that requires certain abilities to be unlocked prior to opening up new and special abilities.)  During this time you will meet many survivors, many who differ on the appropriate way to get rescued, some who are just hungry, and many who ran out of booze and just need a little more to see their way through the zombie nightmare outside their door.  Players will also be introduced to zombies whose abilities are growing as well as the game progresses and this will keep you on your toes as you learn how to navigate the island.

As you play on, quests become more complicated and players have to cover a greater distance to accomplish them.  Further distance means more zombies.  More zombies mean more weapons, and more weapons means more to keep track of.  A unique aspect, though not entirely new to the RPG format, is that every weapon you have in your arsenal degrades in strength as it is used.  This requires players to constantly upgrade, repair, and build new weapons as they progress in the game.  Through the use of “work benches” players can do all of the above and use “mods” they have collected to make their weapons even more powerful.  (Mods are usually obtained as the result of successfully completing certain quests.)  If you aren’t quite into hoofing it around an island covered in zombies, Dead Island also provides players with a few vehicles to help you get from point A to point B, while running over as many zombies in your path as you feel is an appropriate number to met their end in the grill of your ride.  (No matter how many times I drive around the island, it’s still satisfying to hear *Bump* *Crush* “augh”  as I mow a zombie or two down and smile as the XP pops up.)  In fact, some may learn that this can be a very useful strategy against more powerful zombies that are encountered.

Bottom line here is that Dead Island is by no means a short game.  In fact this title is more on par with other typical RPGs like Fall Out 3 and Borderlands in terms of gameplay style and length.  (Going through the story missions alone will easily get you above 20 hours of game time, though looking in every nook and cranny on the island may net you closer to 30+ hours.)   You don’t need to take on the zombie hordes alone though.  Dead Island has a 1-4 person cooperative mode that allows you and three of your closest zombie hating friends to take on the island and attempt to survive as a group.  Through the use of an in-game menu players can either look for their friends on-line or allow the game to search out other near-by survivors in need of help.

All of that being said, Dead Island is a completely new experience that has its feet firmly planted in the basics of RPGs and FPSs currently in the market, while bringing a lot of new flavor to the mix via its cooperative mode and abilities matrix.  Though mechanics of the game’s melee controls can feel a little strange at first, this becomes second nature as you progress through the game and smooths out even further as you introduce fire arms into your arsenal.  Driving is another example of something that was done right, it’s not perfect, but is simple enough to get you where ever you need to go on the island and provides for plenty of amusement as mentioned above.   One of the best aspects of the environment is the environment itself and the zombies that inhabit it.  From breathtaking views and every last detail poured into different locations, the only thing more impressive than the island really are its zombie inhabitants.  Each is unique and well crafted, right down to the many parts and pieces they can fall into under the blunt force applied to them by your character.  (No joke, gore is gore, but Dead Island does a great job of graphically slicing up, blowing up, and burning zombies.)  Finally, mix in the perfect mix of sound effects, environmental effects, and music and players will find themselves completely immersed in Dead Island and fighting for their lives every second of gameplay.

This blood soaked nightmare is slightly flawed (nothing that can’t be weeded out in future patches), but remains incredibility rewarding in its game play:  8.5 or GREAT rating.

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Christopher Poirier
I started gaming when it was nothing more than green screens and clunky keyboards. Today, I play everything and anything that provides for a gaming experience. Good, bad, indifferent, and some times even ugly. I'm here to tell you whats up.