Review by sonofkorol
"Only the strong survive..." No. Seriously.
Intro... A Ray of Hope"
When zombie fans like me saw the original trailer for Dead Island, we salivated. It looked so... Raw... Don't get me wrong, Left 4 Dead and other such zombie survival games are great, but while they can be quite difficult, none really made you feel so alone and weak. We all got this image in our mind of Fallout 3 + Left 4 Dead and we threw our money at employees at various game stores to preorder it.
Then we hit a brick wall that really was our own doing. We had no idea what the game would actually be like, so we made it up. We combined iconic games into our ideal zombie survival game, and then when it came out, we wept openly. Copies of the game ended up on the used shelf at gamestop and we all felt so betrayed.
On top of that there was the fact that people didn't enjoy the gameplay or the difficulty of the game. People were getting wrecked on the third quest of the game, and so people gave up. The QQ on the message boards was just immense. No one gave this game the chance it deserved. Even fewer realized the whole, hidden point of this game that makes it so damn awesome. But I'll get to that later. For now, sit back with your energy drink and extra snack and let's give this game the review it deserves.
Story: 8/10... One Foot in the Grave
I'll try not to spoil too much here, but if you want to avoid all spoilers, skip this section. But really, to analyze the story fairly, I have to mention a few minor things to get the point across.
The story is pretty damn good for a zombie survival game. The outbreak started quite randomly, and the cause of it may surprise you. On top of that, there are both the "walkers" that were dead and came back to life (and overpowered "special" zombies that are slow and dumb too) and "infected" that were alive when they were infected, are quite fast, and will attack in packs. It really is one of the few games that has a dichotomy between the two. Which I loved.
In short, you're on an Island Resort, loving life, then you wake up after a drunken night and everything's gone to hell. You just want to GTFO but you have to fight your way out while you help not only your fellow heroes, but random survivors. The game thankfully does this in a brilliant way. You'll do everything from collecting food to clearing out areas of all the dead and undead to just travelling somewhere.
To get to the bottom of things, thus earning your life back, you have to travel to a lot of scenic spots. Want an island paradise? You'll go there. Want a scummy, evil looter-filled city? You got it. Want to smell like poop for a week from slogging through a sewer? I don't know why you'd want that, but sure, it's there. Want a gnarly, creepy, lush jungle? Mhmm you get that too. A prison filled with serial killers, terrorists, and the criminally insane? SHAZAM!
The plot keeps you guessing, along with all the quests. There are enough twists to keep you interested and enough sob stories to keep you wanting to help people. It's so rare to care about the characters so much in a zombie survival game (apart from Bill in L4D), but in this game, you do. You want ot help these people, even if they're damn insane. There's a crazy woman who wants her best friend, who she knows is alive, saved and brought to her. It's a teddy bear. And damn you wanna get that poor, well-endowed, bikini wearing nutjob her stuffed animal! If that doesn't make you love the writing, I don't know what will...
Gameplay: 9/10... A Tough Nut to Crack
Oh boy. This is the first tough part to tackle, so I'm going to break it down slowly. First thing to go into is combat, I suppose. It's a little basic, in hindsight. You can get blunt weapons, sharp weapons, and guns. While this may not seem like much, it really is. There's tonfas, daggers, crowbars, brass knuckles, sledgehammers, fire axes, revolvers, auto rifles, etc. There's a lot. Trust me. Items get dropped off zombies, picked up in containers, and are given to you as quest rewards. They have levels, they decay with use (unless used for thrown weapons, which can be recovered off bodies), and can be upgraded.
This brings us to mods! Weapons can be upgraded and modified with countless tools of destruction. You acquire and can buy various items, from bolts to batteries to blades, and after acquiring mods from various spots in the world, you can build new weapons out of stuff you have. These can cause bleed damage, fire damage, poison, electricity (be careful with this one! I'll explain why later!), make things fly, increase critical, etc. They rock. And they make weapons look amazing.
Now, what about characters? There's four in the normal game. Logan (well rounded, lethal with throwing weapons), Sam B (blunt weapon using tank), Xian Mei (fragile but deadly with bladed weapons), and Purna (gun maniac who gives buffs to other players). Each has three skill trees according to their specialties. The first is Rage. Wtf is rage? Well if you take these perks (one perk per level, up to level 60) you get rage mode. When you get kills and take damage, you generate rage. When you get your rage meter filled, in a clutch situation, you can hold down the B button and go crazy. Logan throws infinite, heavy damaging knives, Sam B punches stuff all over, Xian Mei swings blades with high critical chance in a flurry, Purna busts out a nasty infinite ammo pistol. Second is the combat tree, which, obviously, makes you more dangerous. Finally is the survival tree, which makes you harder to kill, along with making it easier to level, find rare items, or open locked containers. Each character has different health, speed, and stamina, so pick the character you think you'll most fit the bill for.
Combat in itself is pretty obvious. You can use a quick equip wheel with RB to switch on the fly, RT makes you use your weapon, you can shove/block, and you can kick with LB. The kick saves your life. Lots. You can send things flying and you can stomp on heads for insta kills on fallen zombies with perks later on. Brilliant. Attacks require stamina. Watch your stamina. You run out, you're basically dead. There's also a flashlight that illuminates the many dark corridors of the game. However, you can also stick combat into manual mode, making it so you can control every motion of melee weapons. This is hard as hell to get used to, but when mastered, you can cut off limbs and heads like a damn monster. If you have the patience, get on it.
Other things to mention... Hmmm... Well, like I said before, you can break and sever limbs, rendering things pretty harmless. Woot! Which brings us to the various types of zombies and infected. Apart from walkers and infected (and the flaming versions of both) there are a bunch of "special infected," to borrow the term from Left for Dead. First up is the thug. He's tall as hell, slow, he roars, and if he hits you, you friggin FLY. They're tough as nails and will take some time to kill. My tip? Break/sever his arms. Then all he can do is headbutt, which is useless and easy to doge. Then there's Suiciders, which explode when they're close to you and kill you in one hit. Either get close and then dodge away so they explode at distance, or used thrown weapons/guns. Next is the Ram. Rams are nasty. These straightjacket-wearing criminally insane psychos rage and run at you like a bulldozer, and can kill you in 1-2 hits depending on health. Get close and they kick you. They are a force of terror. Use status ailments and then do hit and runs after dodging their tackle. Then come Floaters. Halfway between spitters and boomers from L4D2, they are slow and fat, but spit balls of acid at range or spew it when you're close, burning down your health. Get behind them and they're toast though. Finally come Butchers. These things still terrify me. They don't have hands, instead just having sharp broken blades made of their forearm bones. They shriek and come at you like a spider monkey, doing nasty combos on you and burning your health down while they make your head spin. Best method to dispatch? Come at them hard with power weapons and attack in pairs. Don't be a hero!
Multiplayer: 10/10... Family Matters
Don't play alone. No, you didn't read that wrong. Don't do it. Why? Is this game not playable solo? Of course it is. But it's painful. Remember earlier when I mentioned the hidden secret behind loving this game? Here it is: have friends. This game is designed for co-op. The more people you have in the game, the more zombies there are, the tougher the enemies (scale to highest level person in game unless set otherwise). But this also means you can coordinate attacks, get support, when you go down people can pick you back up, you can trade items you need, etc. It's amazing.
When I played this game solo, I raged. I wanted to sell it I was having so little fun. Then I discovered my friends had it. This is when the whole thing started to make sense. Let me put it in perspective. The first Thug in the game took me almost ten minutes to down on my own, at level 4-ish. Playing with one other person against a level 60 Thug? Like 30 seconds of gang beating. You feel empowered yet oh so vulnerable, but you always have a buddy to get your back so that oyu don't lose a huge wad of cash for dying.
I know, this is a difficult concept for a lot of gamers. I really do. People love to play solo and be the damn hero. Don't. Or you'll probably hate this game. Grab some friends and go to town, because it really is what this game is all about. I just wish they would have made it a bit more obvious that it was basically made for co-op play.
Now it's time for a public service announcement. Please pay close attention here because this could be game-changing for you. If you are playing co-op, DO NOT use weapons that cause electricity damage in the city. When it rains in the city, the shock visual effect causes lag, and having multiple people causes the server to just lose it. The game will freeze worse than you thought imaginable. I had it freeze so bad that I had to yank the power cord on my xbox, causing my save to become corrupted, and I lost a level 60 character. Don't risk it. For some reason the developers would rather patch a bunch of item duplication glitches than something that can literally ruin your game. So please, don't use electricity weapon mods in the city. Go to a guide on gamefaqs or the Dead Island Wiki and make sure your weapon for the city isn't going to electrocute things.
Graphics: 10/10... "Make Yourself At Home"
This game is pretty. Even without an HDTV, even on my crappy 24" TV, it looks amazing. Waving palm trees, high-rez textures, sparkling, flowing water, beautiful fire, awesome rainstorms... It's all just brilliant. Even newspapers have visible pictures and articles in high-rez. There really isn't too much I can say that can do it justice, but the game is just beautiful. You can feel the heat in the resort, the splash of the ocean, you can smell the dumpsters in the city, feel the moist air of the jungle, feel grit in the air in the prison... It's all there. They did it perfectly. It really is part of what makes the game so amazing is just the atmosphere. Why? Because they did what most game companies won't, and spare no expense when making the player feel like they're actually there.
Sound: 9/10... Danse Macabre
The game is so ambient with the sound. You can hear the trees moving, hear the water flowing, hear every raindrop hit. It's all just awesome. There is music, every so often, normally for cutscenes and tense moments. For certain fights with the "special infected" you get really intense, pulse pounding music. It's wicked. It will put you on the edge of your seat.
But where this game really breaks down the walls is with the sounds zombies make. Everything is different, creepy, and startling. Walkers grown and growl. Infected yell and scream. Thugs roar and grunt. Suiciders groan and murmur "help me" (super creepy). Rams roar super loud. Floaters grumble and kinda squish. Butchers shriek. Describing it doesn't do it justice. When you play the game you'll realize how important the sound is to the game. It startles the hell out of you and keeps you on edge. Especially when you hear a Butcher shriek and wonder which bush he's going pop out of. Nomnomnom. That's what all zombie games need. That adrenaline rush.
Extras: 8/10... Where is my Pineapple?
There's hidden newspaper articles, tapes, the weapons mods, etc. Most just unlock challenges that give you XP bonuses (there are a ton of these) which will help you level immensely. Then there's the skulls. Hidden in the game (well hidden) are brightly-coloured skulls that you can place on hidden alters to unlock developer's mods. These mods, requiring rare diamonds to craft, are insane. They're uber-powerful, many having a 100% critical chance, and will just devastate everything. Downside? They cost a huge amount of money to repair. Be aware of this before using and farm some money first.
This brings us to DLC. I haven't bought the Ryder White DLC (a separate, very difficult solo story), but the Bloodbath Arena is amazing. Get your friends, stand back to back, and fight off waves of increasingly powerful infected. It's insane. You don't lose money when you die, but if you're both out, it's game over. There's a repair bench on each of the four arenas, and that's it. There's a couple mods you can pick up in the various arenas too. Things get crazy after about wave 20. You'll be fighting zombies your level, but part of the wave will consist of say, 5 thugs at once. Again, it's crazy. It's survival of the fittest and the most brave. Is it worth it? Hell yes. It's super fun, super challenging, you can power level if you're good at the game, you can farm insane amounts of money, and even pick up rare weapons every so often. It's well worth the investment, in my opinion. However, I do wish they'd add a new character or two for the main story, or an expansion for the main story instead of something separate. But maybe they're just biding their time for a possible sequel...?
Conclusion: 9/10... Chasing the White Rabbit
In the world of FPS gaming, we've seen it all. Or at least, we think we have. We're all chasing that "something new" that makes us grin like idiots while we grip our controller for dear life and play till our xbox catches fire. But the thing is, this game does just that. But everyone overlooked it, the critics tore it apart (probably because they didn't play co-op), and it slipped under the radar. Even now, I have friends who love survival horror games, but won't touch Dead Island because of the reviews.
Please, don't make this mistake. This game is amazing if you realize that it was designed for co-op. So get some friends, charge your headset overnight, and get ready for a rollercoaster of a game. Don't read the slanderous reviews. People just don't get it. Which is quite odd. If you have friends who can pick it up too, you love zombie games, and have the money to spare, pick Dead Island up. You won't regret it. Especially if you turn the lights off. >:D
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Dead Island (US, 09/06/11)
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