Dead Island Review [360]

Premise: The tropical island of Banoi gets hit with a virus that turns its inhabitants into those lovable zombies we love so much.

Zombies! I used to be on the train that thought zombies were overdone, but frankly, I love them to death now. Get it? No, but really. Zombies are always such a cool concept to me. When I first seen the Dead Island reveal trailer, yeah, I was skeptical because of the CG and lack of gameplay, but I was happy we’re getting another zombie concept. Well now the game’s out. Does it do well though?

Gameplay: Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat, that CG trailer is nothing like the game. If you were expecting an emotional game, or even a game that’s 100% on a resort, sorry to disappoint, you’re not going to get that here. The game isn’t based all around a resort, nor does it really get super serious, I’ll fill you in on that more later though.

The gameplay is kind of like a meld between Borderlands and Left 4 Dead 2. The melee system in the game is where you’ll spend most of your time in. You’ll get stuff from paddles to hammers to axes to assault rifles. From there you can customize your weapons through mods, which you’ll get as you progress in the game. Mods allow your weapons to get some crazy attribute like electricity or nails. In order to get that you’ll have to loot and search every nook in the game to get the appropriate items to make these mods.

The weapons have a breaking effect to them. Meaning the more and more you use the weapon, it’ll have to be repaired or you’ll end up losing it. Toward the later half of the game you’ll be spending upwards of thousands of dollars to not only make weapons, but repairing them too.

As for the controls, at the beginning they were very awkward. Moving was heavy, aiming was weird. Of course after a few hours I got used to it, but it’s still something to note. Dead Island plays heavily like a PC game when you start to see this. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it has that Valve game style where it plays well on the 360, but you just know that it’s weird due to the console.

You get four characters to pick from, Purna, Logan, Sam B, and Xian. Each character has their own set of skill trees that you can level up. So it doesn’t necessarily have to feel like you’re playing the same character over and over again when you want to go back and replay them.

The style of gameplay changes throughout the game, but the core gameplay sticks throughout. What do I mean by that? Well it’s hard to explain. For example, when playing co-op and I come across a Thug, which is a big but slow zombie who focuses on slapping you away, my co-op partner and I would surround him from both sides. Still we’re killing him the same way, but tactics change because of the pacing of the game, which the game does swell by the way.

Speaking of co-op, this is a note to bring up. Dead Island can be played one of two ways. With friends and just having the most obnoxious fun by messing around and killing zombies; or solo and having a super intense adventure unfold. Co-op makes the game not serious at all. I’ve had plenty of what’s safe to say the most memorable moments in my gaming career with this game so far. It’s without a shadow of a doubt the best co-op game this year, and it may very well be one of the best this generation. Whether it was tag teaming zombies in ridiculous manners, kicking zombies off ledges, or just laughing at the sometimes dumbfounding glitches, which I’ll get to. The game has a lot to make you smile. On the flip side when I played solo, I had to keep an ear out for any zombie growl at any time. I’d often run away from hordes and get all jumpy when I reach a doorway just by the skin of my teeth. Both ends of the spectrum are filled, but as it stands, Dead Island isn’t the best solo experience, but once again, the best co-op experience for sure.

The satisfying feeling from this gameplay makes the game golden. Standing over a sea of dead bodies with friends or even just kicking the rest of whatever life’s left in a zombie after you knocked it down with a friend makes this game well… just work.

Presentation: Hooboy, if you thought that was a praise fest, let’s take you down a notch.

While the gameplay in Dead Island is phenomenal, the presentation isn’t as much. There are some really out there glitches. From people you escort just laying on the ground and not moving to a co-op partner being in a car but not showing up as in a car on your screen. These are some of the game breaking ones. On the greener lawn of grass, we’ve got funnier ones like when zombies get stuck in fences and can’t get you or someone’s character freaking out by going up and down for whatever reason while at a work bench. These are the funny ones that make the game that much more hilarious. So much to the point where I’d stop mid-mission with a friend to just record a video of it.

Aside from glitches, the game has a few other negatives, for one, the textures pop in and out quite often. It’s not a big deal, I’m a Halo 2 fan and had to deal with that for ages. It does happen quite a bit though.

Another is the story. You would think there’d be an epic story behind Dead Island, well there really isn’t. Each of the characters you play as has no personality behind them. You hear their back story only once when choosing which to play as. Unlike Left 4 Dead when you have your team always there, in here you can be alone. That hinders the story because during cutscenes you’ll see all four playable characters even if you hadn’t seen them at all the whole game. It just assumes you have everyone there. Not to mention it really tries hard for that melodramatic feeling, but you just can’t get used to some of the characters. The pacing in the gameplay is right, but in the story it’s all off.

Some little things like the co-op drop in and out are crazy great though. The game can tell where you are, what level and mission area and if there’s someone else online there, you can channel them into your game. The problem though is that this isn’t customizable in the game. You can’t turn that on or off on a whim. One instance of me idling resulted in someone else coming into my game and completing an important mission that I wasn’t able to re-do. Error on my half, yes. However, it really should be interchangeable mid-game.

Value: Dead Island is a massive game. You can complete the main quest in problem 15-20 hours, but to complete every side-mission you’d have to spend about 30-40 hours. Once the game is completed, you can restart the entire game and start a new game+ with all of your weapons and inventory. Alternatively, you can start leveling up another character with another skill tree for you to go off of. Gamers who love exploring and zombies will spend ages in this game. I was able to play the game for 15+ hours straight and the next days I still wanted to play more. It just doesn’t get old.

Final thought: I won’t go as far to say that Dead Island is one of those, ‘it’s-so-bad-it’s-good’ games. I will say that the game is not very polished, and as a result, I kind of love it a bit more. On the zombie aspect, it’s one of the best zombie games out there without a doubt. I give Dead Island a B. Glitches and a lame story really hold Dead Island back, but the precise gameplay and supreme co-op make this a no-brainer. Pun slightly intended.

+ Gameplay is spot on
+ Co-op is fantastic
- Presentation is lackluster

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