Just In Time for Halloween – Dead Island

By Michael WORKMAN

If there’s one thing that has been done to death in video games it’s having the undead itself as the main enemies. Zombies have been in the cross-hairs of countless games as far back as 1997 with the hit arcade shooter House of the Dead. Even though the whole zombie setting in video games has become something of a tired cliché, this didn’t stop Polish developers at Techland to create Dead Island.

Interest in Dead Island came about when a trailer for it was released which depicted a tragic end to a family with footage being played in reverse over somber music. It was quickly pointed out by critics that the trailer was made by a movie company and gamers should not get hyped about the game solely based on the trailer. So will Dead Island breathe new life into the zombie genre? Or just join the hordes of those that have come and gone?

Dead Island is set on a fictional tropical resort island called Banoi where a zombie outbreak mysteriously occurs literally over night turning a dream vacation into hell on earth. The plot focuses on four playable characters, each with their own special skills and depressing background stories. Your character wakes up to find the island is now teeming with flash eating undead and receives a bite from a zombie early on. The strange thing is the player is somehow immune to the zombie virus, which explains why the remaining survivors always send you on the dangerous missions.

The gameplay of Dead Island does have some intriguing departures from the norm such as adding an RPG element for developing your character. Through completing quests and killing enemies, your character unlocks new skills and gains access to better weapons. These weapons can range from boat oars to samurai swords that are conveniently just lying around wherever the player goes.

It is entirely possible to play through the game solo but a big selling point was the online co-op feature with up to four players.

Zombies in Dead Island come in a variety of different types. The iconic slow zombies are the most common and fairly easy to deal with but as you progress you run into undead that can sprint after you or another that can fire projectile acid vomit. A cool but grim feature in the game makes it possible for players to target enemy’s limbs, thus breaking bones and crippling them or just slicing them off.

While the gameplay itself is fairly solid, the plot doesn’t live up to the popular emotional trailer. The characters you play all have checkered pasts but it never comes into play in the entire game. But one of the biggest problems Dead Island has is the voice acting for many of the non-playable characters you encounter. The zombie Apocalypse has just come and many seem to only express a kind of dull surprise. Not to mention the horribly exaggerated Australian/New Zealand accents that don’t help the mood of the game.

It was an ambitious project and Techland definitely will have my attention when they announce their next game.

Dead Island has plenty of fun to offer gamers even if not all of it seems to be completely polished. Long time zombie fans should consider checking this out, but those who have gotten sick of killing the undead really should pass on this.

Dead Island is available for XBOX 360, PS3 and PC, and  gets a 3/5.