Dead Island Reanimates Rotting Gameplay
Dead Island is a lively experience in an undead setting. Courtesy of Square Enix
The island is beautiful. The ocean playfully splashes upon the white sand beaches while the sun causes the palm trees to cast inviting shade across the tropical fields. Gazing over the breathtaking landscape for a moment, you're able to forget about the blood-stained machete in your hand and the undead corpse stumbling toward you.
This is Dead Island.
Techland's latest gaming venture pits players against an undead horde on a beautifully-rendered tropical getaway with no escape. While the zombie-survival genre may have been beaten nearly to death, the studio's decision to incorporate role-playing elements has helped make a rotting gameplay experience feel fresh and lively again.
Players are given the choice between four different characters to play as, each with their own individual strengths and weaknesses. For those looking to sprint through the swarms hacking off limbs as they go, it might be best to go with the ex-football player. If standing your ground as zombie after zombie crumbles under your tremendous blows is more your thing, try out the burly rap star.
Even though each character comes with predetermined skill sets, players are still able to customize the style of their gameplay to their liking through the level system. As the player levels up they will be given the opportunity to unlock certain traits, such as lock picking, all the while becoming a stronger, faster and deadlier zombie slayer.
What truly sets Dead Island apart from all the other zombie games, though, is its combat. Where most similar-style games will thrust gun after gun into the player's hands, Dead Island goes in the complete opposite direction.
While guns may be available in the game, bats, oars and machetes will become the player's best friend. This means a lot of up-close-and-personal mayhem that is guaranteed to get your blood pumping – possibly from severe neck wounds. This is only made better by the weapon customization.
One of the best things about Dead Island is the ability to customize your arsenal. When you've acquired enough spare parts, you can kick-start that think tank – assuming some zombie hasn't taken a sizeable chunk out of it – and begin putting together some interesting weapons. Sticks will become torches, knives turn into electrified blades and – in a move that would impress even MacGyver – deodorant and duck tape can make a bomb.
Still, this game isn't without its downsides.
The plot of Dead Island is far from perfect and about as fresh as a week-old corpse. In a nutshell, there are zombies all over the place and you and a rag-tag band of survivors need to escape.
One of the few interesting aspects to the story is that, as the main character you immune to the virus. While admittedly good for the character, this means that everyone on the island will be asking you to venture out to deliver medicine or retrieve a missing necklace. After tackling a few of these side quests you might find yourself asking "is a necklace really worth getting my throat ripped out?"
The characters that ask for these favors don't help much either. The majority of the interactions with other humans are so dull and poorly executed that players might as well try to have an engaging dialogue with a zombie. Ironically, they seem to be the ones with the most life in them.
Thankfully, the minds behind the carnage produced a solution to this problem. While playing through the story, players are able to team up with others over the internet/xbox live/playstation network and take down zombies together for some bloody good fun with the click of a button.
The cooperative system has some flaws, though. Unless you have some friends online willing to join a game with you, finding a partner can prove to be a bit difficult. The players need to be of a similar level and on the same quest as you to team up.
In the end, Dead Island is a game that has reanimated a tired genre but feels a bit brain dead in certain areas. Enjoyable gameplay and unique weapons may keep you playing, but the lack of a deep and engaging story will likely keep players from caring about whether or not anyone survives.
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