Distributed by Deep Silver Games
Rated M for Mature
Available for Xbox 360 (reviewed here), PlayStation 3, and PC
“The boat can leave now. Tell the crew.” – ever since 1979 when I first heard Richard Johnson as Dr. David Menard utter those words in the Lucio Fulci classic Zombie (or Zombi 2 for you purists), I wanted to do one thing and one thing only … kick the hell out of the living dead on the tropical island of Matul. Let me just say this … in my decades on this planet playing Dead Island is the closest anyone will ever come unless an officially licensed game comes our way.
On the surface the island of Banoi is an absolute paradise, but some things are just too good to be true. Without warning a mysterious epidemic occurs. One that sees the dead rising up with nothing in mind other than chowing down on the living.
You start the game as one of four guests staying at the Royal Palms Resort: Sam B., a one-hit-wonder rap star of fading fame who’s really good with blunt objects; Logan Carter, a former NFL star with a penchant for throwing weapons; a mysterious woman named Purna who really knows how to handle firearms of all shapes and sizes; and finally the lovely Xian Mei, who is a blade expert working undercover at the resort for the Chinese police.
Each character has three specific sets of stats – health, speed, and stamina. Each also has a specific to the character Rage Mode (which really lets you kick undead ass) and an upgradable skill tree in which you’ll learn how to ravage Banoi for all that it’s worth. The rules are simple: The more you play, the more you kill, and the more tasks you complete will all help raise your level and skill set. Think your standard action RPG like Fallout 3 but with heavy emphasis on action and survival.
Every weapon you pick up from a flimsy stick to a frighteningly sharp machete can be repaired and upgraded at work benches found at safe zones. Have a favorite weapon? Max it out with the money you loot from bodies, etc. Looting is key in this game as you never know what objects can combine to make new weapons. For instance, let’s say you looted duct tape and deodorant from a piece of baggage or a hotel room. Head to the work bench and combine these items to make something else, in this case a bomb. Also, by completing quests, NPC characters throughout the game will sometimes give you blueprints to make some really insane shit. The more you play and the more you find, the more you’ll be whipping ass. You’ve just gotta love it.
Yes, Dead Island gives you LOTS of toys to tinker with that lead to extremely joyful zombie-killing action, but here’s the thing … no matter what you have on you or how heavily you’re armed, you never really feel safe in this game. That’s a very good thing. There are a few shelters here and there, but the zombies, made up from a variety of your standard shambling and running types and of course boss zombies that are tougher to kill and have a few tricks up their sleeves, are omnipresent. They’re everywhere. Just waiting. Your natural instinct will be to maim every one of them that you see, but you’ll learn quickly that sneaking by them or just running like hell can be extremely beneficial to your survival.
Whether you’re hitting them with vehicles, chopping them up, setting them on fire, or just being sadistic and breaking their bones, leaving them to crawl around defenseless, killing these rotting bastards is always fun; and the graphics go a long way in keeping everything beautifully gruesome. Banoi is a stunning place to behold, and the dead themselves are rendered in a manner that you can actually see the rot on them like never before. Visually what we have here is some really good stuff with a couple of small drawbacks. The game has a lot of clipping and texture loading issues. “Hey, look at that arm coming through the wall! That’s not supposed to be there!” This doesn’t distract much from the overall experience, but a little more polish would have been nice.
In terms of sound the only thing that could make this experience better is if you had your favorite zombie movie soundtracks playing in your ears while causing mayhem. If you have an Xbox 360, you can do just that. Trust me; hearing the theme from Zombie come on while you’re hightailing it down a beach while fighting for survival can really enhance things, and we highly recommend doing so.
Playing alone can be fun, but Dead Island is meant to be played with other folks, and again here’s where the Xbox version shines. Getting in and out of games is ludicrously simple. While exploring sometimes you’ll see a message that says that someone on your playlist is nearby. To join them, you just hit one simple button, and you’re almost immediately transported to your friend’s game, fighting side-by-side with him. Of course you can disable this option as well or just make it a private game that’s invite only. Taking into account that the game runs between twenty and thirty hours long, if you’re rushing through it, you may just want to get someone to lend you a hand. Or a weapon. Or a limb.
Dead Island has a couple of minor issues here and there, but the experience is nonetheless rock solid. There are times when you’ll really feel like you’re in a movie. Let me tell you there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing zombies collectively feeding on a body in the middle of the road and then doubling back to get a car so you can run them over mid-bite. It’s the ability to do little things like that in this absolutely massive open world environment that sends this baby right over the top. A must own for fans of the living dead and anyone who enjoys a good bloodbath. That means YOU!
4 1/2 out of 5
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