Dead Island: This destination’s surprisingly full of life

October 4, 2011

Dead Island is like Left 4 Dead meets Borderlands on vacation together at beautiful, sunny, tropical Banoi. It isn’t quite as awesome as that sounds, due to some hiccups regarding the co-op, but it’s a solid take on the survival horror genre that stands up well against the new classics.

You will play as one of four different survivors of a zombie outbreak at this tropical tourist trap, each specializing in a different type of combat. One is proficient with throwing weapons, one with blades, one with firearms and one with blunt instruments. Each character has a different skill tree that you’ll fill in as you level up. There’s a character for almost every play style, and because of the various skills that can be learned, you can personalize your character fairly well. This is good, because the story doesn’t treat any of the potential survivors any differently, often referring to you as ‘he’ regardless of whether you are a male or female character.

The story and NPCs themselves are also somewhat bland. You are, for some reason, immune to whatever has caused the zombie outbreak, therefore the various NPCs you’ll run into will decide that you are the only one who can do anything at all to facilitate their own survival. There’s no shortage of missions to undertake, unfortunately, they all seem to revolve around either finding lost people or fetching items for the various survivors.

So what about this game makes it good? First, the weapon customization is top-notch. You’ll scavenge all sorts of items from all over the island, and use them to create and customize all sorts of new weapons. You can make anything from a simple nail board to a weapon as complex as an electrified machete. With potentially hundreds of different weapons, and the apocalypse induced scavenging fueling it, this aspect really helps add to the experience of the game. The second, and potentially vastly more important, thing that makes Dead Island worth playing is the drop-in drop-out four-player co-op.  This works by allowing anyone to join any other game if they are in a similar area of the island. When the players are at about the same part of the story, then all players will gain experience for completing quests, and when you go back to your own game, will get credit for all missions completed together. While playing co-op, there will also be more, and stronger, zombies. The problem with the co-op system is that there’s really not a convenient way to specifically play with just your friends, and playing with random people is a mixed bag, as it is with most co-op games.

Speaking of zombies, there are a number of different kinds of zombies hungering for your flesh. There’s the basic Walker, which itself comes in three kinds: normal, fire and poison. They are the expected slow-moving, eat-your-face style of zombie. Next are the Infected, who ditch the shuffling for sprinting. They also try to eat your face. The third type is a large Walker called a Thug. These guys don’t want to eat your face, they simply want to crush your skull like an eggshell, and they can, thanks to their size. It’ll take a lot of damage to kill them. There’s a strait-jacketed kind of zombie called a Ram… because it tries to ram you, of course. (And no, there’s no explanation for where all the strait-jackets came from.) There are a few visually different kinds of zombies called Floaters and Butchers, and then you have the Suiciders. These last zombies are the worst because, true to their name, they will approach you and then explode.

Atmosphere is more prominent than usual in this genre, and Dead Island doesn’t disappoint. The graphics are breathtakingly beautiful, minus a few cases of texture-popping, and the zombie sounds are definitely creepy enough to make your heart beat faster when you hear one moaning and groaning at you but you can’t find it.

If you’re looking for an interesting new take on the standard zombie game, or you’re looking for a good co-op experience, then this is definitely a game you should check out.

Pros: Graphics are beautiful, sounds are very fitting

Cons: Co-op doesn’t quite work as well as one would hope, missions are repetitive

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.