Could you imagine a zombie-killing first person shooter without a trusty double barreled shotgun? Neither could I until I played Deep Silver’s first attempt at survival horror, Dead Island. With a wide open, sandbox style map, tons of quests and weapons, and no visible end to the scourge, it’s easy to forgive this minor step away from the everyday zombie extermination. It’s time to sit back, smell the tropical air and stomp out some undead!
Dead Island doesn’t waste any time putting you into survival mode. Tired and hung over, with only vague memories of what happened the night before, you wake up in your hotel room to find the building mostly deserted (except the people falling from their balconies a few floors above you). Things look grim for the lonely player until a mysterious voice guides you out of harm’s way via the hotel intercom system. Once you’ve finally found haven with a few survivors, you’re sent on your way to do what any good gamer would in your situation… solve everyone’s problems and get the hell away from the place where everything wants to kill you. Sound reasonable? We thought so, too.
Once you complete the prologue quests, you’re free to either set out and explore the area or take on some helpful missions from the survivors. If you take on the main quest missions, four main areas will become available to you as you progress. I assure you, killing undead on the beach is every bit as stress relieving as killing them in the city, the jungle or the local maximum security prison. Try to imagine kicking one of those hulking, loud zombies in the face (you know, the one that always got all the chicks when he was alive) and try not to smile.
Before you set out on your unusually gory vacation, you have to decide how you want to play the game. You’ll do this by choosing between four characters: Logan, Purna, Xian, and Sam B who are experts at throwing, firearms, melee weapons and blunt weapons, respectively. Before I go on, you should know something important about Dead Island… It’s designed for up to a four-person multiplayer. That being said, Deep Silver did a good job making the game fast paced and diverse enough to keep us coming back. On the other hand, they paid almost no attention to how the game feels depending on which character you choose. For example, you’ll have access to the same weapons no matter who you play as. There just aren’t any guns on the beach! That means if you decided to play as Purna, you don’t get access to your favored weapons until about half way through the game.
My first concern when I realized the game didn’t change for the characters needs was that it would be more difficult to play depending on who you choose. There were two specific compromises that Deep Silver made for us to make sure people didn’t fight over who got to be Xian in the multiplayer lobby. The first are the character-specific skill trees. Each character will have three separate categories in their skill trees which are Fury, Survival and Combat. Fury is a set of unique set of special skills that your character can access after you’ve filled up your rage meter by killing enough zombies. The Survival skill set has a set of mostly unique offensive skills that do everything from automatically regenerate your health to beef up your lock picking ability. With the Combat set you’ll be able to counter that whole… not-able-to-find-character-specific-weapons issue. If you choose to play as Purna, your Combat skill set will begin with low-level upgrades to your sharp weapon skills. As you level up you’ll get access to firearm skill upgrades which will hopefully become available about the time you start finding guns. Each character’s development will have a similar theme so you don’t have to scrape by until you can find the weapon you want.
The second compromise is an automatic difficulty adjustment. This means that as you get stronger, so do the zombies! Awesome, right? Don’t count on enemies being easier to kill on the beach than in the city. Don’t fret though, the difficulty curve seemed to move up at a firm enough pace to keep it challenging, but you’ll always have access to powerful enough weapons to do the job. The difficulty curve goes for single and multiplayer as well. You can team up with your friends or play it solo and keep all of the randomized loot to yourself!
Randomized loot, you say? Oh yes, and you’ll have to take your scavenging skill to the max to get all of the best items and weapons. Scavenging isn’t really on the skill tree, but fans of the Fallout series will appreciate how meticulous you have to be to get the fancy weapons. You’ll constantly come across luggage bags, lockers, trash cans and every other type of receptacle for useful items. Note that everything you pick up has a purpose and has value. The purpose for duct tape, wire, and batteries becomes pretty clear after you earn a ‘shock weapon’ mod from a lengthy side quest. Zombies look hilarious when they’re being electrocuted! There are more than a hundred different weapon modifications and bomb recipes to collect, so you know you won’t be doing side quests for bread crumbs.
Dead Island takes the player out of the status quo for survival horror and throws you straight into a huge, immersive world that will keep players of any skill level satisfied for multiple passes through the island of Banoi. It combines the scavenging of Fallout, the random loot of Diablo and one of the most infamous hordes of antagonists of modern day video games. Although it would be nice to have a few pistol rounds to play with in the beginning of the game, you won’t be disappointed by the large amount of diverse weapons and upgrades, challenging missions and rich plot line.
I give Dead Island 4 “Paddles” out of 5.