Nothing in more beautiful than looking at a Tropical paradise on the back of postcard to entice you to warmer waters where temperatures soar, and the beach is infested with zombies.
Dead Island, the first person action RPG, is based on the remote tropical island resort of Banoi, a destination for tourists which just happens to be completely infected with a zombie virus. Exploring this beautiful landscape may seem like an attractive prospect, but eventually your picture postcard dreams transform into a nightmare as you find yourself desperately running across the sand in the hope of finding some kind of weapon to use against the zombies that will inevitably be chasing you.
Players can take any one of the four available characters; Sam B, Logan, Purna or Xian Mei. These characters are immune to the deadly virus and will find themsleves assissting those unfortunate people that have been stranded on the island. Each character has their very own specialisation and I chose to play Xian Mei, who is relatively quick on her feet, intelligent and a fast learner. She is also pretty handy with a blade, which was fortunate. Being immune to the deadly virus, it will be up to the player to help all of the survivors to escape the island, gathering more survivors along the way.
The main story is reasonably immersive as it follows the basic need for survival and answers, but it does very little to expand upon the main characters back stories, leaving them feeling somewhat bland. In typical RPG fashion, there are multiple side quests to take on, being handed out by various survivors, that mostly revolve around collecting, delivering or accompanying. These quests all provide the player with experience which can be used to level the character up and expand their skills.
The open world environment is entertaining to explore as you rummage through various beach huts or wade through the waters of the hotel swimming pool. As play progresses through this 20+ hour game, the player will have the chance to change up their environment with some jungle trekking and a town to explore. The player will soon discover zombies lurking around each and every corner, just waiting to pounce when they least expect it. The sun may be out and the beach may look inviting, but such beauty mixed with terror results in a surreal experience that captures the imagination.
Players will find a nice variety of weapons to choose from for slaughtering the zombies, such as the simple baseball bat or lump of wood, to a lead pipe or diving knife. Later in the game, fire arms can be found which mix up the action a bit. Scattered energy drinks can be used to keep health topped up and an overwhelming number of suitcases can be searched, along with certain cupboards, lockers etc. At times, the player will be able to cruise the island in one of a few vehicles that are available in the game. They will have the chance to test their driving skills and mow down every zombie stupid enough to shamble into the road as they make their way around the island. The vehicles are a nice, fun element of the game that give a welcome break to traveling on foot, usually with a horde of zombies close behind.
Some items collected can be used, with the correct blueprints, to customise various weapons, making them more powerful and interesting. An early example of this is sticking nails through your baseball bat to make it more efficient, or attaching a battery to a machete for a shocking effect. Weapons wear down aswell and may eventually break, generally just before getting down by a group of zombies that were hanging out by the swimming pool. Workbenches found throughout the island can be used to repair and upgrade weapons, for a price.
The game environment in Dead Island, with its various different zones, are totally transfixing and invite exploration because around every corner something new can be found or something interesting would be happening. I recall walking around in one area to find a zombie standing in a blood filled swimming pool, with a couple of bodies floating nearby, and I kept thinking that this was definitely a pool party that had gone wrong somewhere. These are the type of scenes that stick in your head after playing the game.
Dead Island’s ability to set an unusual scene for a zombie apocalypse is what keeps the game entertaining and immersive. It is not just the fact that, despite the beautiful setting, there is every chance that a zombie will be waiting around the next corner, but the noise of the zombies in the distance, or nearby, that set your nerves on edge and send you running in the opposite direction. Sprinting away from the zombies is an option, but your character has a finite amount of stamina, which is also used to swing a weapon. So players who think they can just run through the undead horde may find themselves out of breath and lacking the strength to swing a bat. But death is no big deal in Dead Island, as players quickly respawn near to where they died, missing only some of their money.
Dead Island has a co-op mode, but I was soon disappointed when I found out it was not local, but online. It would have been nice to see a split-screen option. Still, being able to bring three friends into the game certainly builds on the fun.
However, a stay on the island paradise of Banoi may not be as magical as it could have been. Things do begin to get repetitive after a while, as players spend their time fighting zombies and completing multiple similar side quests. Although the base gameplay is very good, a lack of variety in that gameplay may well become tiresome to some, casting a dark cloud over the luxury resort. There is also the disappointment that many players felt after discovering that the game was not going to deal with the touchy, feely human side of a zombie apocalypse as hinted at with the first incredible trailer.
But despite this, what remains is a very good action RPG with a modern zombie setting. Expectations may have been higher, but there is still plenty of enjoyment to be found in Dead Island, especially if you are a fan of zombies and want something a little deeper than your standard hack ‘n slash. With the promise of DLC on the way, players of Dead Island can look forward to wandering the island and killing zombies hopefully for a long time to come. Certainly worth checking out.