Feel like a nice relaxing tropical holiday? Then you’re out of luck my friend. This is the island of Banoi, and you’ve just woken up in hell.
Now lets be clear, this is no ordinary game, its a zombie survival that borrows heavily from the RPG genre. As far as the story goes, I won’t put in too many spoilers other than what you find out at the beginning of the game, you’re the only one that is immune to this virus or whatever is making everyone join the undead. This means that all the survivors are dependant on you, they are the vunerable ones and it’s up to you to help everyone escape. If you want to get to the end of the main story here you need to put in a ton of hours, if you’re the thorough type there are a crazy amount of side quests to complete as well. You may even come across random survivors that need help. I can’t stress how huge this game is there is just so much to do. You can expect to level your character up, acquire some new abilities and upgrade and maintain your equipment. The RPG elements are introduced at the very beginning, when you start a new game you’re given the choice of four characters, each character has their own strengths and weaknesses in that some characters have a higher starting health while other stats may be lower. Each character also has a favoured weapon type which you need to take note of. Then as soon as you’re in the game, you just begin collecting tons of loot, there doesn’t seem to be any limit on the amount of loot you can carry, there is a limit on weapons of course. It gives you a good idea of what you need to do to survive, you need to be thorough and get as much as you can. Character selection has a few other effects when playing co-op as well. For example, choose to take the rapper, Sam B online and all the zombies will flock to him first and leave the other players alone, quite handy that. You’re also not limited on character selection, if all four people want to bring the same character into the game, it may look a little strange, but you can absolutely do that.
When it comes to weapons and maintaining your equipment, you’re going to have to be very careful here. Wooden weapons break away quickly, bladed weapons blunt themselves and slowly cause less and less damage. Nothing lasts particularly long here so you need to pay attention and swap out a damaged weapon as soon as it’s close to breaking or risk losing it forever. There are a few workbenches dotted around, very few, which you can use to repair and upgrade equipment. You can even find some combinations where as long as you have the right parts and weapons you can make some deadly looking things to swing around. You can of course get some nails and make a nailed bat or plank, I found myself getting fairly attached to some of these and was constantly repairing them. As you level up you do need to think about discarding your weaker weapons though, every weapon has a required level which is a good indicator of how much damage and how useful it’s going to be to you. A low level weapon just isn’t going to cut it against a higher level zombie. So another thing to constantly be thinking about.
Now I want to talk about the atmosphere the the game manages to create. While it isn’t a horror game in the traditional sense, it doesn’t rely on making you jump, you can normally see any zombies or at least hear them, but it still manages to give you that nervous feeling, you’re waiting for something bad to happen. It doesn’t help that one of the special infected lets out a blood curdling scream. Even when there are no zombies around you never feel quite safe, the breeze is always blowing, the trees are always rustling and there are always noises in the background. It manages to create this tense atmosphere even though you’re never pressured into doing anything, which is quite an achievement. There are no time limited missions here, no real urgency, you’re free to take on any side missions or just explore the massive island yourself, most of which can be accessed right from the start, if you’re brave enough. The audio and soundtrack does a great job of adding to the atmosphere here as well, you never quite get over hearing a zombie scream in the distance.
This is no slouch on the graphics side of things either. the lighting effects are great, along with the water effects. You can actually see weapons break away or dent as you use them more and more, they of course get covered in more blood. Run over a couple of zombies in a truck and the windscreen starts to shatter, resulting in your character reaching up and removing the remains. The attention to detail is outstanding. You better not be squeamish either, you can send zombie limbs flying all over the place, crack open some heads and see the blood pump all around the body. One of the more gruesome things is to set fire to a zombie, you can see their charred corpse looking almost completely different with bone showing and just generally looking gross.
Now fighting these creatures is something else, you’ll have to pay attention to you’re own stamina, you can’t just swing away wildly as eventually your swings will just fail to hit. You’ve got the aid of being able to apply your boot to a zombies face, which helps out when trying to knock one over or just get yourself some space. The combat itself is quite clever, for example, there are some special infected in the game called thugs, they’re extremely slow, but they have a lot of health and are incredibly strong, they can in fact knock you flying about 10 feet or more backwards. A great tactic for taking these on is to aim for his arms, if you’re lucky enough you’ll be able to break them rendering his punches useless. The combat is not the fast pace so many other games take, if you take a little time you can normally figure out a good strategy for each type of zombie. Alternatively, just blow them up with a gas canister, works all the time. The pace of the combat here is quite unique, it soon becomes second nature to kick a zombie land a combo of hits and back away to recuperate. There are a few different special infected in the game to keep you on your toes. There is quite a unique feature as well, is you go into the control options you can enable something called analogue control. What this means is that you don’t have an attack button, you hold L1 to ready your weapon then use the right stick to swing, it’s extremely accurate, great if you want to break a particular arm or perform an overhead swing. This isn’t always useful when surrounded by a handful of zombies, but it’s really down to personal preference which type you use.
About the only fault I can find with Dead Island is that you are unable to save manually, I never really take note when the last checkpoint was saved and it doesn’t seem to save when you quit. Considering that is the only fault I can find with the game and I really had to scratch my brains for it, not bad going. And this isn’t even as bad as it sounds, this is only an issue if you quit. If you manage to get yourself brutally killed the game just re spawns you, it does punish you, losing some of your money, but the progress you made is all still there.
All other zombie games take note, this is how it’s done. Dead Island is out on September the 9th on PS3, XBox 360 and PC, for now here’s some screen shots.