When Dead Island was released in 2011, cross-platform, it was met with mixed reaction from the gaming community. Developed by Techland and published by Deep Silver, Dead Island’s concept was sound; a zombie infested open world to explore and survive, the fictional island of Banoi, located off the coast of Papua New Guinea.
Emphasis was placed on melee weapons and a unique upgrade/modification system, an extensive number of side-quests that run alongside the main campaign, an RPG inspired XP system/skill tree and co-operative online gameplay. Unfortunately, whilst Dead Island had all the elements to become Game of the Year, their implementation and execution made the naming of this 2012 re-release questionable.
The player begins the game by choosing one of four characters; Former American football-star Logan Carter, Hip-Hop artist Sam B, ex-police officer Purna and hotel reception Xian Mei, an officer undercover for the Hong Kong Police Department. Following a high-profile outdoor concert at the Royal Palms Resort the player’s chosen character is awoken in their hotel room by a voice on the emergency intercom system, directing them to evacuate the hotel. Heading for the elevator lobby our character discovers that most exits have been blocked off and that the hotel is now seemingly abandoned.
Guided by the voice over the intercom our character climbs down an elevator shaft and into the elevator itself; the weight of which causes it to drop 14 stories, before becoming jammed. Having avoided serious injury, our character climbs out of the elevator but is forced to sprint to the maintenance storage room after he/she is discovered by a large group of zombies. It is during this intense moment that our character is attacked, and how we discovered that each of the four playable characters are immune to the infection that is causing this epidemic. An immunity that other survivors will exploit for their own personal gain….
Now from this point on, regardless of whether you decide to play solo or online, the plot progresses as if the group of four are together as a unit. This can become disorientating in single player, especially as it is not made evident until later on in-game during cut-scenes. This is the first and most glaring of all Dead Island’s faults. The narrative is all over the place! Survivors you meet in the first act of Dead Island, and continue to help through the second, have no bearing on the third or final act. You rarely develop any emotional attachment to any of the non-playable characters you encounter. The next gripe I had with Dead Island was that the majority of tasks you were given, whether it was a side-quest or part of the main campaign, were delivery quests. I spent most of my playthrough heading from one location to another locating supplies for the survivors I met, bringing them back, only to repeat a similar task shortly afterwards. This repetition could have severely limited the amount of time I would want to have spent in Dead Island’s open world before moving onto something else…except for one fact. Dead Island is incredibly fun!
The first time I headed out onto the beach, armed with only a paddle and surrounded by a group of zombies, I was greeted with almost immediate satisfaction. Techland developed Dead Island using their own proprietary 3D game engine; Chrome Engine 5, which allowed for the zombies to be rendered with fully modelled layers of flesh, muscle and bone. This meant that each zombie you encounter has a multi-layered damage system. Focus your attack on a zombie’s leg and you will see layers of flesh rip apart exposing bone. Repeatedly hit the exposed bone and watch as the leg is amputated, the zombie falls, and their head cracks against the floor exposing the brain!
This is all played via a first-person perspective so expect to get up close and personal on a seemingly infinite basis. Weapon’s feel as it they have some weight behind them which makes melee combat all the more satisfying, but never feel overpowered. This is thanks to a leveling system that affects your playable characters, health, skills, acquired weapons and even your enemies. For example your character may be at level 15, primarily using a level 15 weapon whilst enemies you encounter are also approximately the same level. As you progress though Dead Island your character gains XP and reaches an additional level. You also recieve an additional skill to place on your skill tree. After gaining more XP your character has now reached level 18, so you should now be able to easily slay a group of zombies with no problems right? Wrong! Zombies always remain approximately at the same level you are, and that level 15 weapon you were carrying…it’s still level 15! You see, weapons don’t level up. Even with upgrades and modifications you will have to eventually acquire new weapons and sell older ones, keeping melee combat in Dead Island challenging throughout.
And speaking of modifications Dead Island also places great emphasis on looting. Whatever mundane object you find, I suggest you grab it because once you start finding blueprints for certain modifications you will want everything you can get your hands on! Modifications can be applied to both melee weapons and firearms but will require certain resources. For example the High Voltage Mod can combines most bladed weapons with batteries, wire, electronic scrap and duct tape, to create an ultra hot blade that easily causes more damage to your enemies, often resulting it bleeding or amputation. Just remember to keep your weapons maintained at workbenches. Repairs will cost you valuable funds but, at a holiday resort, most people carry cash with them at all times. This is where looting comes into play once again. Destroy the undead and then loot their lifeless corpses for cash, resources and even weapons.
Graphically Dead Island, for the most part, looks great although low resolution textures do appear from time to time, despite which settings you pick. Dead Island also suffers from some uninspired character models (mostly from other survivors) and terrible foliage which becomes more evident as you venture into the Jungle area. Pop-up also appears to be a problem but most of these issues are easily overlooked in-game when you are being chased through the city by a hoard of the undead! Both slow walking and fast running zombies are your main threat in Dead Island, but you can expect to also discover a number of mutated abominations as you progress, each with their own strategies, strengths and weaknesses. Encountering human antagonists is also remarkable, as these encounters feature some heavy gunplay that required patience and accuracy. These sections helped to break up the repetitious, albeit fun, delivery quests.
The Game of the Year edition also includes three items of downloadable content (DLC) available instantly. The first item; The Ripper modification, allows you to attach a motorised saw-blade to a baseball bat. The second item is the Bloodbath Arena; a series of four arenas, each with their own unique difficulty and challenges. Fight endless waves of zombies and compete on the leaderboards. What makes the Bloodbath Arena DLC a great addition to Dead Island, at least for me, is that any XP or items you gain in one of the four arenas can be brought over to the campaign mode. It also adds a great deal to the replay value due to the already addictive nature of zombie slaying.
The last item of DLC is the Ryder White campaign which expands upon the main campaign’s story, specifically that of Colonel Ryder White, the antagonist of Dead Island. Story progression is much more liner in the Ryder White campaign as the open world is closed off to keep the player on the right path. Side-quests are non-existent and level progression has also been removed. The campaign however places more emphasis on firearms and gunplay. Zombies also spawn constantly in waves so that the player can’t stay in the same area for too long. Unfortunately it’s over far too quickly, taking only approximately 2+ hours to complete.
Overall Dead Island: Game of the Year Edition is the definitive version to get, with the main campaign (including side-quests) taking 20+ hours to complete, plus the countless hours you will spend in the Bloodbath Arena. Techland have produced a flawed masterpiece. It is a video game that manages to be constantly fun throughout despite a few unavoidable issues, whether it be technical or by design, and is highly recommended.
Dead Island: Game of the Year Edition (2011, 2012) for Microsoft Windows was reviewed by Ken Wynne.
Developed by Techland / Released by Deep Silver / 1 Player Only (Local) / 2-4 Players (Online)
Certificate 18 (UK) / M (USA)
“Fight every day as if it were your last…”
Dead Island: Game of the Year Edition (2011, 2012) is available for the PC from Amazon.co.uk; and if you decide to make a purchase after following this link you will have supported Attack From Planet B, so thank you.