Dead Island: Post-Mortem

Sure the game is only 2 months old, so it may seem odd to feature it in a post-mortem article.  If you haven’t already seen our review, you can link it here, but I felt compelled to share my own thoughts on the PC version, especially since I’ve been vocal about being disinterested in the game all year.  From the moment I saw the trailer, I had a few things enter my mind.  First, it was a beautifully crafted trailer, but there is no way the game will a) look that good or b) play that well.  Second, who really wants more zombies?  They’ve been in everything from Left 4 Dead to Killing Floor and spotlighted in games like Call of Duty and Saints Row 2.  The trailer looked fantastic, but I figured the game would just bomb.  Slowly, more details and gameplay tidbits started to emerge.  Fallout with zombies?  We don’t even need another zombie game, Left 4 Dead nailed the zombie/co-op experience, and Techland is a small developer to take aim for such well known franchises.  I was already soured on the idea when sneak peaks started touting the fact that the game would be very melee heavy, making firearms more rare and less of a focus.  So you are giving me more of what I don’t want and taking away the best part of a zombie game—gunning them down?  What in the world what they thinking?!

Infected By The Virus

Well, with all of that being said, I would be the last you’d expect to play the game.  It was a combination of some lauding from friends and a Steam deal too good to pass up that made me take the plunge—-and plunge I did.  The intro was bland, the first missions didn’t quite get me, the skeptic in me kept yawning, even when he felt his power slipping.  Somewhere between the lighthouse and the lifeguard tower I was completely hooked.  Techland managed to create a fantastic game, truly spectacular and beyond anything I expected.  If you aren’t familiar, you can check out our previous review, here, but I’ll bring you up to speed anyhow.

The Story So Far…

Dead Island follows four survivors of the zombie apocalypse as they try to stay alive and aid other survivors on an island resort.  All four characters are immune to the virus that turns tourists to zombies, and that’s where the similarities to Left 4 Dead will end.  As I said, combat is mostly melee—and it’s visceral, brutal and will make you feel guilty for enjoying it so much.  You have a stamina meter, to limit your attacks, so spamming that attack button just won’t cut it.  Implementing the stamina meter, coupled with the shortage of firearms and ammo, along with the scarcity of good weapons at the game’s opening make the perfect blend of tension and survival instincts.  You really feel the pressure when more than one zombie spots you.  Weapons wear down and break with use which really makes you aware of the risks and benefits of exploring vs. seeking refuge for rest and repairs.  Each character has a specialty and a different skill tree to customize as you gain experience doing quests in the open-world resort setting.  In addition, as you complete quests and explore new areas, you will obtain blueprints for modding weapons, like adding nails to a baseball bat or shock damage to a machete.  The result is a simple concept honed to a fantastic experience.

My Two Cents

There’s a lot to like about Dead Island, both as a single-player game and as a co-op experience.  It completely blindsided me as a game I had no interest in and became a contender for GOTY, in my opinion.  The combat and the pacing really stand out.  As I said, firearms are at a premium, as are bullets, so wielding an oar and seeing 3 zombies bear down on you can be a tense experience.  Unlike the L4D games, where zombies are cannon fodder, just a couple low level zombies could be enough to make you turn back to a safe heaven to repair your weapons, rather than go down swinging.  I can’t say the missions are anything amazing, but they are enough of a motivation simply by dangling the experience carrot in front of you.  That’s not to stay the story is a throwaway; I was amazed at how well the NPC’s displayed the full range of logical emotional reactions to an outbreak on vacation, from the simple “I’ll getting blitzed and staying put” to the full-on survival, almost psychotic, mentality.  There are definitely missions and circumstances that will tug on your heartstrings, just as the trailer did.  There are a bunch of times I saw family members wrought with emotions at the effects of the virus on other family members in a “Wow! That was really messed up!” moment, and it did great things for the immersion of the game.  Exploration is fun, but not necessary, the missions will get you to most of the places you would want to go.  As you progress, you unlock better gear and more sections of the island.  I’ve spent a paltry amount in the co-op, I’m finding it satisfying enough as a single-player experience.  Speaking of the co-op, it’s fantastically implemented, similar to Borderlands.  You can set your game to accept co-op partners, then when the game detects players nearby they will jump right in.  Of course, you can customize all of these options and set up your own games with friends, but the freedom to tinker with those options only adds to the value of the game.

Final Thoughts

Of course, Dead Island is not a perfect game, there are some bugs and it had a rocky Steam launch, but I was pleasantly surprised at what I found in it.  My biggest turn off is the language, there is no filter to make it less graphic, and all but one of the characters drops tons of expletives at almost every minor scrap, let alone larger battles.  For those interested, you can play as Xian Mei if you want to use the character who avoids the most foul language, but the cutscenes incorporate all the characters and their colorful descriptions.    Language aside, I would have been doing myself a huge disservice by following my first impressions and writing Dead Island off.  The gameplay is gripping, the co-op is fantastic and the overall experience certainly lives up to the legacy created by the announcement trailer.  I’m still only halfway through the game(with 2 characters, thinking of starting a third!), most of my time has been spent playing alone, and I’ve already earned back my investment and then some.  I tip my hat, and my bloody machete, to Techland and Deep Silver for a job well done.  If you vacation on Banoi, look me up, I’ll be there for a good portion of the winter!



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