Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: Single player, 1-4 co-op online/LAN
Dead Island is a first-person horror/action/adventure/survival game set on the fictional island of Banoi, located near Papua New Guinea. The Island itself is a popular holiday destination with a resort area, that is until the zombie outbreak occurs, but also has other features you would expect from a tropical island which hasn’t been completely urbanised, such as a jungle. The game itself is open world, so you can walk over most things you can see but rather that putting obstacles in your way to prevent you going off the map, Techland instead put up a warning message, so if you wander off the map area you’re allowed in, a message will pop up telling you that you’re out of the playable area. If you don’t get back within a certain time the screen will go black and you’ll be reset back on the playable map.
When you start a game for the first time you have a choice of four characters, with each one having a different weapon speciality and each have different stats. It also gives you a back story on each character, both via a text box and a voiceover but these stories don’t play any part in the story mode itself, and no matter which character you chose the story will be the same, apart from a few changes in the speech, such as changing him or her. The story starts with you waking up in your hotel room, and after staggering out to the balcony you find that the island has been overrun with zombies. A voice speaks to your character over the CCTV system, helping you to escape the hotel building. This voice will continue to remain in contact with you throughout the game, giving you new objectives and progressing the story. The story is also told through the use of cut-scenes, which feature all four of the characters you could pick between at the start, even though you are only playing as one. These cut-scenes generally occur at key points in the game’s story. There is some screen tearing visible in the cutscenes, and those of you who keep the subtitles on may notice that, in the same way as in Techland's last project (Call of Juarez: The Cartel) in places the subtitles don’t match what the person is saying, or a number of times a word has been repeated in the subtitles but not in the speech, such as ‘the’ or ‘it’.
The missions in the game are split into three categories; Essential, Optional and Continuous. The 'Essential' missions are those that progress the story and have to be completed; you could complete the whole game itself just doing these missions. It’s these missions which, once progressed far enough through, will unlock new areas for you to explore. Optional missions are just that, you can choose whether or not to start them by talking to various people, marked on the map as exclamation marks. Often these optional missions will give you special items for completing them, which are stronger than those you will find just doing the main missions. Continuous missions can be completed again and again but don’t offer much as a reward compared to the other types of missions, an example of a continuous mission is to collect 3 cans of food, and each time you do so and return them to the start you gain a reward of a small amount of money and some XP, which although it doesn’t seem much, can help when you’re trying to quickly level up. If you die during a mission, or at all during the game, instead of restarting at the previous checkpoint, you will respawn in an area near to where you died, but you will lose some of your money, the amount lost depends on the amount you have.
The game features a typical level system, where you gain XP by killing zombies and completing missions, and each time you level up you gain a skill point, which can be used to unlock, or further upgrade, a skill in the skill tree. This skill tree has three sections, the first is fury, the second is combat, and the third is survival. When Fury is activated it gives the player stronger attacks and other abilities depending on the character chosen. The combat part allows you to upgrade the damage done with certain weapons and other skills related to combat. The survival section allows you to upgrade your total health, or the rate at which it regenerates, but also allows you to upgrade your ability to pick locks etc.
Zombies are plentiful throughout the game, and often drop useful items when killed. There are two main types of zombie you will encounter throughout, as well as five special kinds. The two standard types are 'walkers' and 'infected'. Walkers are your bog-standard slow moving zombies, which are easy enough to avoid if need be. Infected are considerably more annoying than walkers, if an infected sees you it will run towards you and start rapidly hitting you, although they do have less health than walkers. Often you’ll think you’re safe when a group of infected will appear screaming from nowhere and attack you, leaving you no chance to retaliate and so you will die unless your reactions are that of am Olympic athlete. The five special types are met at certain points in the story and can also be found around the map, but they're rare so you don't bump into them as frequently as the other two types. These five types are; 'Thugs', which are tall, muscular zombies with the ability to knock you over, the 'Suicider', which is disfigured, covered in boils and will explode when killed or if you stray too close, the 'Ram', a large zombie in a straitjacket who will charge at you like a Rhino, the 'Floater', a large, bloated and hideously disfigured zombie covered in slime which will vomit toxic slime at you, and finally the 'Butcher', a long-haired zombie whose arms stop at the elbow, with only bones sticking out.
The gameplay itself mainly focuses on melee weapons, but there are guns in the game and some vehicles which can also be used to kill zombies. Each weapon in the game has a set of stats, giving you its strength, durability etc, and also has a damage bar, because as a weapon is used it will deteriorate and its actual appearance will change and it'll cause less damage to the zombies. Weapons can be fixed at work benches and can also be upgraded, up to three times, increasing their stats. Both of these actions will cost you, but money is plentiful in the game as most zombies seem to carry round wallets, often containing over $100. There are also hundreds of discarded suitcases dotted around (it's a holiday resort remember) that hide cash and other usable items. Completing missions will often give you a 'mod' (Modification) recipe, but some are also hidden in the map somewhere. These mod recipes allow you to modify weapons using various bit of apparent junk that you can pick up throughout the game. These upgrades can add extra effects to your weapons, such as the ability to set zombies alight, or electrocute them, or they can just add extra things to cause damage such as sticking nails through the end of a baseball bat or adding weight.
The game has two combat control methods; the default is the digital attack controls, where one button hits zombies/swings your weapon, the second control method is called analogue which uses the right analogue stick to control the weapon once the aim button is held down. Whichever way you turn the stick, the character’s arms will move the weapon the same way. This analogue method offers a lot more variation in your attacks but can be hard to get to grips with to begin with and movement while attacking is more restricted.
The game’s options allow you to change between two multiplayer modes, Single player and Co-operative. Single player is as you would expect, you playing on your lonesome where nobody can join you and it won’t alert you to other multiplayer games. Co-operative mode features two options, System Link LAN and Online via the PlayStation Network or Xbox Live. LAN allows you to host games and join other people only connected to your LAN. Playing online means you can join anyone currently playing in the same area, and other people can join you, it also allows you to set the number of people who can join, and you can reserve spots for friends. When you have the multiplayer set to PSN or Xbox Live, the game features something called ‘Nearby’, so if, while walking round killing zombies and completing missions, the game finds someone else who is playing in the same area as you, i.e. they are nearby, a popup will appear in the right hand side of the screen allowing you to quickly join them, as often you’ll be in the same area on the same mission.
The multiplayer itself is co-operative, with you being able to join other players and between you, you can complete the various missions, often making them easier as you can protect each other. You can also trade with other players, allowing you to help those of a lower level with worse weapons if they’re getting stuck on a mission. However, if you play with players whose character is too far ahead of you in levels you won't get the mission credited to you, but you will be able to accrue cash, weapons and XP. You will struggle to cause much damage though, as the zombies will be set to the host's level and will therefore kill you easily if the level gap is significantly big.
The extras section of the pause menu tracks your progress towards trophies and challenges, allowing you to easily see, for example, how many more kills you need for that trophy or achievement. The challenges will give you some bonus XP once completed. This is all well and good apart from the fact that PS3 trophies don’t always unlock, the game will tell you that you have unlocked a new trophy but one won’t appear. A restart of the game normally fixes this.
As entertaining and disturbingly (you'll be amazed how satisfying bashing zombie skulls in is) fun as Dead Island is to play, it's not without more than its fair share of glitches and problems, most of which are (hopefully) going to be fixed in an upcoming patch. When you reload the game it is supposed to load the last checkpoint, but sometimes it doesn’t, leaving you to play catchup, redoing what you’d already done. Luckily this doesn’t seem to happen very often and if it does it doesn’t put you back too far. Those of you who are wanting to get all the trophies on this game will have a slight problem, one is impossible to get as an area for it has been counted twice, leaving you with a total of 71/72; this should be fixed in the upcoming patch.
Dead Island is a good zombie game, offering hours of gameplay completing missions and finding collectables. It is let down slightly by the large number of glitches throughout, some of which could probably have been caught and fixed with better testing. But overall it is an enjoyable game, and well recommended to those who like killing zombies. And who doesn't?