Dead Island Review – A Brain Smashing Good Time

Let’s be honest, you would just love a zombie apocalypse, right? Well, don’t be stupid! Listen, I understand your lust for heroism and skull crushing. I think we all have it. The thing is, that in a zombie apocalypse you can’t choose whose skull you crush!  Dead Island tries to show you the ups and downs of your oh so foolish and childish fantasies. Please, strap yourself in and find out if this zombie murder simulator fulfills all your wanton desires.

Dead Island is an open world action RPG set on the island of Banoi Papua New Guinea. I will save you some time on a few things- firstly, the game is super fun and if you have a group to play with you should definitely add it to your ever-increasing collection. Secondly, no, it does not match that trailer. You see, the video game-ness of Dead Island is the best part of the package. You do miss out on the more “heart felt” moments, but ultimately you have a controller in your hand and you just gotta get them purples.

Like most action RPGs this generation, Dead Island’s main draws are its leveling, crafting and loot collecting mechanics. I wish that the narrative would have found its way in the mix more, but the other parts more than make up for its loss. Combat is similar to games like Elder Scrolls Oblivion or other melee based action RPGs. Since you are fighting zombies, and it’s 2011, you can aim at individual parts of the body for specific damage. Aim at the head for a quick kill, or cut off the arms to eliminate the main threat from a strong enemy.

While adventuring through Banoi you will collect both weapons and weapon upgrades. If you are anything like me, dear reader, than the thought of a purple or, heaven forbid, an orange gets your heart racing in all the right ways. Since this game is grounded in some form of reality (hey, it could happen) weapons are fairly common in your everyday life. This does not affect your loot craving. “Yes, it is a hammer, but did you see the force stat on it?” would be a common quote for Dead Island. Weapons also degenerate forcing you to find a repair station.

The weapons in Dead Island are the only things keeping you alive against the hordes of undead. A typical encounter goes like this: you run up to a group of lets say…four walking dead milling about. You kick the first one to the ground, perform a wide swing to knock back two zombies and jump kick the last one. Once on the ground you “go to town” on the flesh eaters. Sounds simple, no? Well, for the first act and 15 or so levels, it is.

I like games that offer some difficulty. Super easy games make me think I am just watching a cut scene and pressing some buttons now and again. Dead Island’s difficulty ramps up when 1) you play by yourself, 2) you reach around level 15. This initially isn’t a bad thing since you have to approach every combat engagement with respect, however, enemies  just hit so hard that it can become frustrating.

Dead Island has a fair amount of issues at the time of this publication. There are many glitches and bugs to be found while wandering around Banoi. After a few patches the game has improved, but none of these patches have corrected every glitch. This is unfortunate, but not game breaking. I almost expect it from open world games.

The cast of Dead Island is forgettable. It pains me to say that, especially since I personally found interesting things in the characters, but their quirks never relate to different gameplay. Sam B. is a rapper so he gets health regen while Xian is a Chinese spy so she is good with knives. That is about as deep as it gets. Each character does have a leveling tree along with individual special attacks, which is nice. There is no justification for it, but honestly, who cares?

Dead Island should not be played for its story. The problem comes down to the fact that some of the characters are practically unplayable during single player since they are so fragile. I suppose if you are super good at video games this will not be an issue, but I found I needed Sam B’s life regen to have success.

Let’s discuss weapons and their improvements again.  Dead Island has a basic crafting system in which you upgrade your weapons using found plans and resources. You can add such fan favorites as electricity to a knife or fire to a baseball bat to enhance your lovingly found weapons. It makes the weapon management engaging and entertaining, especially in the later levels. You will want to carry specific weapons for specific undead, which leads to the inevitable “which seat weapon should I take?” question. There are dozens of crafting mods to choose from  such as fire, electricity, bleeding or poison.

Dead Island is pretty, but man oh man are those shoot out sections the worst! I know an average game needs a low point, but when you are fighting un-affected humans with guns the game is simply not good. Thank the video game God that these sections come up rarely. Aim assist and abundant ammo pop-ups make these shoot-out sections bearable, but by no means fun.

Dear reader, I cannot say for certain that you will love this zombie drama but I can say for certain that I did. With gameplay reaching the mid-forty hour range there is plenty of zombie murder/ purple collection to be had. Factor in all of the collectables, side quests and easter eggs and you will have more than enough content to keep you busy. I am not crazy enough to think that this game is perfect, far from it, but the simple fun of the experience makes it worth the time investment, especially during this busy holiday season.

4 stars

This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Dead Island provided by the reviewer. It is also available for the PS3 and PC.

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