Here are the basics: You pick one of four characters to play as and depending on whom you choose, you’ll have a specialty whether it’s gunplay, blunt weapons or another expertise. Your character is unaffected by the zombie virus therefore it’s your job to help other survivors on the island by completing various quests for them. Of course, you can still die from excessive damage so you have to keep an eye on your health bar.
Majority of the quests in the game are what you would refer to as “fetch quests” but you’ll also encounter a few simple escort and protection missions during your adventure. The game is set on the massive island of Banoi and you’ll spend many hours traveling on foot, and later in the game you’ll have access to some trucks and jeeps, but you can’t reach every area by vehicle. Similar to Grand Theft Auto, you can’t reach every area immediately, but as you progress through the story missions the game opens up and you can explore the slums and then delve deep into the jungle. But don’t think you have to stick to the story because there’s a whole bunch of fun side quests that will help introduce you to new survivors and new areas of the game. At any time, you can choose which quest you want to track and there appears to be no limit to how much active quests can be logged at any time.
Quest tracking isn’t perfect in the game though, and while a day one patch was supposed to arrive, it hasn’t shown up on Xbox LIVE yet. Despite a mistake on the PC end of things, a new and proper release showed up almost immediately to solve some major issues. Anyhow, there are times that they quest tracker doesn’t want to update to a new quest so it’s telling you to go somewhere else for no reason, and I encountered a quest in the jungle where it initially tells you to climb a steep mountainside – which can’t be done. This is allegedly being addressed and will be updated through a patch, but even so you’ll manage to find your way.
What makes Dead Island fun is the fighting mechanics and the fact that you have so many options. You can pick up various items to use as weapons including knives, cleavers, bats, or even a hat stand. Later in the game you’ll get access to guns and highly upgraded versions of everything from earlier in the game. Since every weapon has a different reach and a different design you have to constantly change your strategies to kill the zombies. Machetes have long reach and can easily sever limbs, but knives can really only stab a zombie. All weapons excluding guns have a degradation system and the weapon degrades rather quickly, and once the meter is empty your weapon will be quite ineffective. You can either toss it, or bring it to a workbench (of which you’ll encounter many!) and repair the item or upgrade it for a price. Keep note that you can throw weapons so that can help to stun a zombie if needed. Guns have limited ammo and their power level helps to keep things balanced since they don’t degrade like other weapons. Weapon strikes use up a limited amount of stamina that recharges when you’re idle or just walking, so in the meantime you can make use of the very helpful kick option to knock over zombies and keep them on the ground.
You’ll quickly learn what weapons work best for you, and when guns come into play they’ll help, especially if you’re playing as Purna, but they also feel awkward if you’re expecting an FPS style of gameplay. Gunplay in Dead Island is slower, but I quickly became accustomed to the feeling and it feels natural to use them. However, they’re not that strong against zombies… you’ll want to use them against the human punk enemies scattered throughout Banoi. Also, when you’re at a workbench you’ll notice an option to create customized weapons… Deep Silver has a tribute mod called “Nail’d Mod” which can make a baseball bat even more lethal. There’s a load of possibilities for customization so keep checking out the new mods you collect throughout the game.
One of the greatest features in Dead Island is having three skill trees to play with and customize your character. Each character has three separate trees to build up and you’ll earn one skill point per level gained. Some main skills only require one skill point, but others such as lock picking have three levels to fully complete the skill. The first skill I recommend is enabling your “Fury”, which allows you to build up a fury meter by killing enemies and then unleash hell against them for a short time. In Fury, Purna pulls out a pistol with unlimited ammo and auto-aim and can quickly take down 10+ enemies in mere seconds, while other characters use their own specialties such as rapid knife-throwing.
Of course one of the most talked-about features in Dead Island is the co-operative play. It’s nearly flawless and in the 10+ hours of co-op that I’ve played so far, I only experienced one disconnect with a friend. It’s drop-in/drop-out and if a player has their game co-op enabled you can easily join them at any time and you’ll be dropped in within a short walking distance of the player you’re joining. Enemies don’t appear to scale in difficulty, but later in the game it’s tough enough as is. If you pick up money in co-op, it’s not split in half and both players get the full amount, not to mention money appears to be much more plentiful in co-op. The game is fun to play, but co-op with three other players makes it so much more enjoyable.
You know this from looking at the screens, but I’ll say it anyway: Banoi is jaw-dropping in terms of graphics. The lush tropical island is littered with greenery and mountains and the crystal clear ocean compliments it well. In the slums you’ll encounter some stormy weather to change things up a little more, and when you hit the jungle it’s yet another experience to enjoy. Most of the texture work is pretty well done though some areas look better than others, but it’s all beautifully done. The zombies themselves look great in a decaying body sort of way, and all zombies look unique because they decay at various rates.
Sound quality is another strong point and Dead Island features the best sounding zombies of any zombie-related game. Groans, screams, and gurgling noises from the various types of enemies can be heard from a mile away and these noises are great to keep you on the edge. The sound effects combined with a few well-placed zombies have made me jump more than once while playing. The ambient noise from the island and environment are great too and you’ll often here nothing but the wind and birds. It’s a great blend of quality sound work and it helps to improve your overall game experience.
Dead Island redefines zombie games and it’s a blast to play! It may not be perfect and more variation in quests would be nice, plus I wish blades didn’t degrade so quickly. But, what Dead Island offers is more than enough to justify a $60 price and there’s hours upon hours of fun to be had. Fantastic visuals, quality sound work, and extremely fun gameplay make Dead Island a pleasure to have in your collection.
Strategic but arcade combat keeps things bloody and fun. Some issues with quest tracking and missions all feel a little too similar though.
Gorgeous backdrops and variation between the resort, slums, and jungle. Some weaker looking areas here and there, but generally beautiful for the most part.
Dead Island's zombies are the best I've ever heard - they sound REAL! Does that even make sense?