Review by Bkstunt_31
"Oh, if only there was a story..."
Boy, zombies sure are IN nowadays, aren't they!? It seems like at least 75% of all horror games feature them after all (totally made-up statistic, by the way). Dead Island is really no exception, as it features a vacation resort over-run by zombies for you to kill. Despite all of the zombie games out there, I'm still a big fan of killing them, and since you're reading this review chances are that you are too. But is Dead Island worth your time? Let's look at in in-depth and find out!
The game starts out by asking you to select a character to play as. You have four choices in this matter, and each character has their own background story attached to them as well as attack-type specialization. I'll give you a quick run-down of each character. Sam B is a one-hit-wonder rapper who was playing a gig at the resort (he also sings the opening cinematic's rap song), Xian Mei is a hotel clerk who secretly works undercover for the Hong Kong government, Purna is an Australian body guard, and Logan Carter is an ex-NFL player who ended his own career (and another persons life) in an illegal street race.
I'll say it right off the bat: these characters are boring. None of their back-ground stories are interesting, and in fact the two main male characters just come off as being jerks (and that's me being G-rated, I really mean that they are BAD people in life and SHOULD NOT be emulated by anyone). Also, your interactions with the NPC characters are horrid, story-wise, as well. Not all of them, to be fair, but when you run into anyone who give you a quest to go get them champagne in the middle of a ZOMBIE attack, you should just off them right then and there. I mean, there is entirely too many characters in this game who don't seem to care about their situation at all and just want you to do some STUPID things. Not all of the side-quests are like that, but still.
As far as the main story goes, it's... pretty poor as well. Most of the story is told through scattered audio logs for you to find, which detail a researcher who knows (or finds out) exactly what is going on, so you will eventually find out WHAT is happening on the island but there are still plenty of details that could be filled in. You'll also find an assortment of random facts about the region which can be interesting, but ultimately with this game's uninteresting characters and smattering of stupid quests the story of Dead Island left me disappointed.
Game Play: 7/10
Dead Island is best described as an open-world hack-and-slash, as you might imagine given the fact that Dead Island takes place on a, well, island. The game play itself takes a lot of cue's from a rather popular game: Borderlands. For example, your character levels up as you play and all of the zombies are leveled as well. Also, each character has their own set of special skills that you can level up. Each time you level up grants you a perk, and each character has two skill trees that are shared (rage and survivability) and one that is unique to them. Logan, for example, specializes at throwing weapons. The RPG aspect of the game is a good addition that does nothing but enhance the game, and I like the fact that each character specializes in one form of combat.
As you play, you will of course have a MAIN quest to accomplish. These are the quests that drive the story and are often centered around doing things for a GROUP of survivors or finding a way to get off of the Island. However, you will also find a TON of side-quests to do as well. The amount of quests is pretty impressive, and quests can be easily tracked in the menu. Getting around the island is also conveniently easy, due to the game having a quick-travel feature that is unlocked as you explore the island and find maps that you can quick travel from.
The combat system in the game is fairly basic. In order to defend yourself you're going to need to find and use items laying around the island. Almost anything can be used, and the selection of weapons that you'll run across is definitely impressive. Not Dead Rising impressive, but impressive. Weapons are divided into four sub-types that match what the four characters excel at: sharp, blunt, throwing, and guns. Make no mistake: some weapons are VASTLY better than others. You'll end up finding better weapons as you explore the island. In fact, some of the best weapons come from completing side-quests. Weapons deteriorate as you use them (which is cool) and so you'll need to regularly find and use work benches to repair them or find replacement weapons. One last neat aspect of the game was the ability to upgrade weapons and modify them. As you play you'll gain mod-rewards which let you turn a weapon into something special provided you collect the right parts (A concept borrowed from Dead Rising II, actually, but done better here since parts aren't part of your inventory).
The enemies in the game are, for the most part, pretty standard. You have your regular zombies (called walkers), sprinting zombies (called infected) and tank-like zombies (called jocks). As you play through the game you'll find a few more types of zombies including ones that explode, spit at you, and have enhanced melee skills. Its also important to note that each time you play, previously visited areas that you've killed EVERY zombie in will be re-populated with zombies, meaning you are guaranteed a steady stream of killing throughout the game. And with enemies matching your level as you level up you are also guaranteed a steady stream of experience and level-ups.
The game play is decent but is really nothing special in this day and age. I really liked the fact that the weapons broke down and periodically needed repairs (giving money a purpose in this game), and the RPG systems and being able to modify weapons was neat as well, but the game also has its own bumps to overcome. For example, the game can get extremely tedious as you play, as aside from the main quest and advancing the story all you can ever do is side-quest after side-quest, each one as uninteresting as the next (partially due to the poor story). The game really does start to feel like an MMO in the sense that each side-quest wants you to go here and collect this or go there and collect that... Dead Island just suffers from a lack of variety, but its core game play is still solid.
The graphics are undoubtedly the best part of the game, but unfortunately they are a mixed bag. For one, the island itself is undeniably beautiful. The scenery is just gorgeous and worthy of pausing and taking in. The game is actually comprised of several maps (the island/resort area just being the first one) so you'll also see a nice variety of areas as you play and they all LOOK great. Lots of details make the scenery and locale excellent. And with new weapons and different items laying around everywhere you'll be exploring quite a bit as well, giving you time to appreciate the environment.
Not everything is good though. Graphical pop-in issues abound at times, especially in the wild. The character models are especially a mixed bag. Some of the models, especially the zombies, are well-designed with a variety of gruesome effects. However NPC's (especially the women's faces) looked just plain awful. While the graphics are the high point of the game, they still could have had a bit more polish.
The game sets its tone with a bang, with one of the main characters, Sam B, singing his one and only popular song: "Who do you voodoo, <female dog>?". I'm not a huge fan of rap, but the song is appropriate for the game. However, MOST of the game has a much more subdued sound track with tracks that are divided up depending on what you are doing. When you are out exploring the island the game's music is mellow, with instrumental tracks playing lightly in the background, but when you engage in combat (or if a zombie SEES you and starts coming after you) the music will shift to a more frantic nature. The combat music picks up the pace, naturally, but also includes some STRANGE sound effects. I swore that sometimes I was hearing cows and/or other weird things. It wasn't bad though, the unknown sounds tend to make things creepier, especially when you're in an enclosed space like the sewers and don't know WHAT is around the next corner.
The voice acting of the four main characters is decent. The actors did a decent job, but rarely rose above average. NPC voice acting was, honestly, rather weak. Many of the survivors that you run across who want you to do something for them just sound... either weird of un-believable. Not ALL of them, but enough to warrant someone questioning the quality control.
Extra Content: 7/10
With the side-quests included, Dead Island is a fairly lengthy game and could last you for quite a few afternoons. The fact that you can play as any one of four characters also naturally gives the title some re-playability (if the game's lack of variety doesn't get to you that is). One big re-deeming factor of the game is that you can play through it in online multiplayer, which greatly helps alleviate the game's tedium (something you should likely consider before playing the game all the way through). The random nature of the game also helps to provide a fresh experience as you play. Re-playing the game will only change how you play (or your focus on weapons) as the core story will stay the same.
Dead Island as a whole is a mixed experience. Beautiful visuals clash with a bad story. Repetitiveness is mixed with the excitement of obtaining a new rare weapon. There is bad AND good to be found here, and hopefully this review will let you know if this game is right for you or not. I would honestly recommend a rental if you are unsure... nothing better than finding out first-hand after all. Have fun and keep playing!
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 02/06/12
Game Release: Dead Island (US, 09/06/11)
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