The year of 2011 has proven to be a strong start for the video game industry in the new decade. While 2001 to 2010 had its share of the fantastic and the lame, 2011 surely gave us gamers quite a lot to work with in where a released game belonged. Was the game worth the $65 or should it have been less? Was the game revolutionary in some way or is it following a trend? Was the game a good experience or a waste of time? Well, let's take a look back and see what 2011 offered us as I review one of the most anticipated zombie games to come out as of late: Dead Island.
With zombies being a popular medium of horror fiction, or even fiction in general, it's no surprise that people got really hyped after seeing the teaser trailer for Dead Island. The somber piano and violin instrumental in the background of the chaotic situation that has befallen the island resort of Banoi was told through a family who became victims of this zombie plague. I must say that I got goosebumps with how the trailer was made because it told me something about Dead Island that I can expect.
I was expecting a lot of character emotion, beautiful landscapes, chaos where you least expect it, and a mystery that leaves you guessing on what started this hellish nightmare. Did I get what I expected? Most certainly. Dead Island is brimming with that and more as I got to experience a little something different.
To start, gameplay can be personalized to the player depending on which of the four characters is chosen. First is Logan Carter, a former NFL star, who is a Throwing Expert. Second is Purna, a former police officer, who is a Firearms Expect. Third is Xian Mei, an employee at the resort, who is Blade Weapons Expert. Fourth is Sam B, a rapper looking to make it big again, who is a Blunt Weapons Expert. Tie those specialties in with three skills trees that you can add skill points to so your character get stronger.
There is Fury, Survival, and Combat. Fury emphasizes more on your character's specialty in that they become a rage-like combatant. Survival focuses on making your character tougher and more resilient with finding money and bettering their skills. Combat allows you to become a tough adversary for the undead legions with better attack damage and damage resistance. I found myself focusing more on Survival and Combat rather than Fury because the character I chose was Sam and he's plenty tough. I've seen what Fury does for each character, but I managed to play through the entire game without using so much as three skill points in Fury. If anything, Survival and Combat prove to be the better choices for gameplay, but it's always up to the strategy of the player.
Also, being that this is a first person shooter with a huge emphasis on melee combat, I suggest you get used to hardly finding any guns. You'll find more bladed and blunt weapons around than guns and ammunition. This literally forces the player to accept that this isn't going to be a straight up first person shooter. On top of that, melee weapons have a durability meter (reminiscent of Dead Rising) that lets you know when the weapon will break. No worries with Xian and Sam, though, as their specialties allow their weapons to not break, but rather be less effective at 0% durability.
There are also a ton of upgrades that be done with weapons. Not only will you focus on upgrading damage and handling, but you'll also find blueprints to crafting weapons with other items you find around the island. REMEMBER: Looting is necessary (and the collectibles are very informative)! Every battery, every roll of duct tape, every rag, every electronic scrap is necessary and essential if you want to craft effective weapons. One that I really enjoyed was a baseball bat that had barbed wire wrapped around it.
Next let's talk enemies. Now while a majority of the zombies you face are labeled as Walkers and Infected, it's the bigger and agile ones you need to watch out for. Thugs are tall, muscular zombies who have a nasty knockdown attack. Suiciders are zombies with pulsing muscles and skin that explode when you get too close. Floaters are big zombies found in sewers that spew toxins at the characters. That's just to name a few of the tougher zombies. I've often found myself having a difficult time with them, but once you figure out their attack patterns and behaviors you will have an easier time striking down these undead behemoths.
Other enemies include actual living humans who have taken it upon themselves to take advantage of the current state of Banoi. Gangs of punks and thieves guard territory and blockades like ravenous animals guarding their food. All are armed with melee weapons and guns. But just because they are ordinary humans does not mean they are pushovers. A smack to the face from a gangster using a steel pipe can do some major damage. Keep in mind to never underestimate the enemies in Dead Island.
The graphics are nice, but can be choppy at times. Loading screens and recovering segments may lead to textures loading for a few seconds longer. However, by staying in a single area, the loading textures are not a problem. Banoi is beautiful as well. The differing locations among the city, resort, jungle, and other places offer new environments for players to look at and admire. Cutscenes, on the other hand, suffer quite a bit. Loading textures and polish sometimes interferes with matching dialogue lip movements and sound effects for items (like gunshots).
The story is intriguing and will keep you guessing as to what is causing this zombie outbreak. You will hack your brain trying to figure out why your characters are immune. Even then, unfortunately, when you get to the end of the story your reaction may end up the same as mine. Which was, "Wait, what?" Story to me is very important for all forms of fictional media. When I get a video game, I'm hoping that I'll enjoy the story and learn more about the world I'm playing in outside of reading the small plot synopsis on the back of the cover. While the mystery itself keeps you engaged into wanting to know why this is all happening, the end leaves you on a cliffhanger which, yes, there will be a sequel.
The problem being that the ending is unsatisfactory. It left me with a feeling of disappointment and although I really don't want to spoil anything major as to the story plot, some of the side quests that you do and the characters you help (which are plentiful) lead to nothing. Sure you might help someone at one of the main safe houses get medicine and you're helping everyone there survive, but the end cutscene shows that that doesn't matter. Why put characters into the game if they don't really amount to the conclusion? I was into helping the people at the safe houses and finding a way to escape Banoi. That would give a sense of accomplishment like as if to say, "Yeah, I helped those people." But because Techland wanted to turn this into a franchise instead of a great single title, I left Dead Island with a sense of questioning what was the point of doing certain things if it didn't count toward the overall goal?
While the end of the story was a major disappointment for me, the gameplay makes up for it. However, story is something I hold high in my view of video games and Dead Island is something I doubt I'll load up anytime soon knowing full well what the end leads to. Are there games with senseless/linear plots that I enjoy? Of course there are, just check out early arcade games or the Sega Genesis. Plots in some of those games are simple. Or even downloadable games from PSN or XBox Live and games like Buzz and You Don't Know Jack. But when something like Dead Island comes out and has an interesting premise and characters, and then leaves you on a cliffhanger note or even an unaccomplished ending, then I get sad. It is unfortunate for me, but perhaps you will enjoy it enough that the end won't be too sour for you.