The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Like a garbage disposal with a severed arm shoved down it, the video
game market is clogged with zombie games. New games featuring the
walking dead have trouble standing out from the horde, but Techland’s
first-person, open-world, action/RPG entry Dead Island distinguishes
itself. After kicking and slashing my way through the infected island of
Banoi, I can say the game has tons to offer.
The long-term goal
in Dead Island is to escape Banoi. On the way, you’ll fight tooth and
nail-bat through legions of zombies as one of four characters. The
survivors are all unique and loosely class-based, with specialists
focusing on various types of melee weapons or firearms. While everyone
starts on similar footing, the joy lies in chopping zombies to bits and
completing quests to level up and customize your character. Though guns
are introduced later on, the core gameplay is viscerally satisfying
melee combat similar to Condemned or Left 4 Dead 2. Hit detection is
reliable and consistent, allowing you to become a sadistic surgeon who
decides which limbs to sever or fracture.
The quests involve many
tired zombie movie clichés like undead-proofing a truck or making supply
runs, but mowing through the walking dead is a blast. Depending on how
you nurture your skill tree, the same character can either become a
throwing master with boomeranging weapons that pack a chance to kill on
contact, or a gunslinger with improved accuracy and a vicious
instant-kill curb stomp.
Misery loves company, and Dead Island is
best played with friends. Gearing up with three fellow zombie slayers
reminded me of the blissful carnage of Borderlands. Power-leveling
underdeveloped characters, swapping new loot, and cooperating to survive
are all highlights of co-op. When you’re standing on the roof of a car
surrounded by craven cannibals, having a buddy with a fire axe is a
great thing. The drop-in, drop-out co-op demands that all players be at
exactly the same point in the main plot in order for quest progress to
save, but experience, and loot are always retained. It’s in your best
interest (and the most fun) to choose a group of friends and stick with
them from the beginning, unless you don’t mind burning through low-level
quests to catch up. Fortunately, enemy levels scale with you, so
backtracking isn’t a complete waste of time.
My time on Banoi
Island was filled with more memorable moments than I could’ve imagined. I
raced down a city street and was intercepted by a pack of flaming
zombies that instantly gave chase. I decided to turn tail and run,
allowing the scathing flames to gradually destroy my pursuers. I hurled
sickles, scythes, and knives into a hulking undead beast, retrieved them
from its rotting frame, and threw them again. I sprinted at a zombie,
jump-kicked it to the ground, and smashed its brain in with my foot. I
severed a brute’s flailing arms while my friends distracted him. These
amazing moments were made possible by the freedom the game bestows upon
Speaking of creativity, you’ll occasionally find
blueprints that transform items in your arsenal into even more
improbable weapons. Wrap barbed wire around a baton, or create an
electric machete using scavenged items. Cracking zombies over the head
with a flaming baseball bat and watching them set their friends ablaze
is a riot. You can also spend money to repair degraded implements or
upgrade their core stats. Dozens of nasty weapon types, when combined
with the skills you’ve chosen to improve, give you plenty of
opportunities to develop a unique play style. You can pack your weapon
wheel with throwing knives, destroy foes with baited bombs, or arm
yourself to the teeth with firearms. Gunplay is introduced late, and the
delayed satisfaction of getting your first handgun makes you feel like a
god. Aiming down the iron sights and popping enemies in the skull feels
wonderful, especially when it’s a psychopath survivor that crumples
with one critical headshot. Gun nuts shouldn’t expect a boatload of
ammo, though. This is the apocalypse, after all.
Your quests will
send you to multiple sections of Banoi Island, and each one has a
distinct flavor of dread. An omnipresent sun bakes the walking corpses
on the beach, exposing every oozing battle wound. The hotel’s dark
corridors present an entirely different atmosphere where creatures lurk
just outside your flashlight beam. While terror doesn’t appear to be
Dead Island’s top priority, being stranded on a huge island packed with
monsters is unsettling. I could spend dozens of hours within the
gigantic decaying city alone.
While the captivating locations and
engaging combat should entertain zombie fans, Dead Island is missing a
layer of polish. Navigating the menus, getting accustomed to the
controls, and generally learning the ropes is a clunky process with few
tutorials. And don’t get too attached to your favorite weapons if you
plan on using them as projectiles, because downed zombies sometimes
disappear along with your meticulously upgraded weapons still lodged
inside them. I also had an entire quest grind to a halt because my
AI-controlled guide would either get snagged on geometry or walk in
circles. NPCs aren’t the only directionally challenged denizens of Banoi
Island either, as the minimap’s finicky pathfinding can occasionally
put you on a wild goose chase. Techland says a day one patch will fix
some AI and quest tracking issues, but at the time of this review those
changes are yet to be confirmed.
I’ve played a lot of zombie games
in my time, and Dead Island scratched an itch I didn’t even know I had.
Cooperative undead survival is nothing new to gaming, but exploring a
gigantic zombie-infested island with friends is. I easily poured over 40
hours into my playthrough, and a new game plus promises even more
entertainment. Rewarding character progression and the vast variety of
weapons should appeal to anyone looking for a good time. If you’ve spent
your time planning for the zombie apocalypse, Dead Island is the best
option so far to test how long you’d last.
Email the author Tim Turi, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.