Dead Island (PS3)

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Dina namona from Banoi, your tropical paradise located off the coast of Papua New Guinea and a stone’s throw away from the Rugby World Cup! Come treat yourselves to the abundance of relaxing activities on offer at the Palm Resorts hotel and make yourselves at home in the land of sun-kissed bodies! Try a gentle snorkel in the crystal clear waters or simply lounge about the sun decks sipping on a refreshing cocktail as you while away the time.

If you’re the more adventurous type you could test your hand at sailing through the undisturbed seaside caves, or perhaps some lively skeet shooting is more your style? Here at Banoi there’s guaranteed to be something for everyone to sink their teeth into!

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If you ask nicely, there’s even an extra special surprise that’s not on any of the standard tour packages. For the select few that prefer breaking a sweat and experiencing the exhilarating rush of adrenaline there have been some recent changes to the hotel’s programme that guarantees some slightly more mobile and menacing adventures! That’s right – patrons at Banoi are about to discover that vacationers in this part of the Australasian coast have bitten off a little more than they can chew.

Sun-kissed bodies make way for blood-soaked corpses and sand getting everywhere will be amongst the least of their worries now! The good news is due to recent events and the front desk staff being devoured the entire vacation is free of charge. The bad news is that the impending monsoon about to hit the shores of Banoi is merely a headline to the real trouble brewing in paradise…

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Just another day in paradise…

Dead Island is the ideal second honeymoon for any fans of the beach and zombie slaying: a first person horror action-adventure featuring open world roaming with your classic Zombie Apocalypse scenario. Dead Island supports up to four players in co-op and places a heavy focus on melee combat with RPG elements incorporated into character development and the combat system.

Unlike most games of the genre, Dead Island thrusts players into a Day One zombie outbreak: life for most people hasn’t become undeath yet and there’s very little in the way of information about what’s going on and even less in terms of preparation. Everything that happens at the beginning of the story involves a scrape for survival and a forage for basic supplies. No-one was prepared for this and most people still aren’t even sure what this is!

A broomstick for a weapon? Can you handle it?

Dead Island follows the classic four-player first-person shooter approach, but is actually more like a ‘first person melee’ (FPM) with most combat taking place at close quarters. When Dead Island’s greater focus on melee was initially announced I suspected it would still feel like the Left4Dead series, especially the sequel with its larger use of melee weapons.

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As I discovered only minutes into the game, however, any similarities with Left4Dead stops at the four player co-op. Where Left4Dead carries frenetic gun-toting action and one-button melee kills from one level to another without sparing even a few seconds to catch your breath, Dead Island prefers to hang ten and takes a much more leisurely approach to survival as players are forced to focus on story development, quests and XP gathering.

In fact, with its wide assortment of weapons, open world roaming and side quests Dead Island has a lot more in common with the likes of Dead Rising and Borderlands than the other four player zombie co-op series Left4Dead. In a nod to Borderlands, Dead Island also offers a choice of four unique characters to play, each with their own attributes, special abilities and skill trees.

Dead Island provides two forms of melee combat: digital and analog. In digital, a melee attack button is used to perform attacks as per most FPS games. With analog, players have more control over guiding their attacks which, once mastered, offers a much greater depth to the melee combat. The attention placed on close-quarters combat doesn’t end with the analog controls either: players’ slower melee attacks can be interrupted mid-swing and all strenuous activities require stamina, which depletes when players jump, sprint, or fight.

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Close combat is also not limited to melee or hand-to-hand, as players are also ‘armed’ with the much more favourable foot-to-face skill in the form of a kick. Kicking will become your best side-arm in the fight against the rotten beach combers as kicks are an effective way to knock zombies to the ground, giving you time to escape or to finish them off. Kicking sand into zombies’ faces, although a tempting strategy, is not recommended.

Zombies on the beach do it in waves…

The sense of isolation and suspense in Dead Island is further complemented by the effective use of realism elements, such as shadows and a realistic physics engine. Shadows are not merely a visual delicacy, but serve as an extra eye at the back of your head as any lurking zombies will cast shadows which sometimes help you to spot an imminent attack from behind. Although there is no active weather system in the game, there are weather effects as the story develops and when darkness falls players will have to rely on their tried and trusted flashlight to illuminate areas of interest, further adding to the suspense.

Story-wise there is no difference between solo or co-op and, although Dead Island starts off slowly, the pace and action soon picks up. The combination of the mysterious tropical island setting with the desperation of a zombie outbreak successfully creates a very real sense of despair.

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As players progress deeper into the more populated and darker areas of the game the zombie count increases and the shambling leg draggers make way for much more athletic and eager brain mongers. There is a significant range in the variety of zombies that players will encounter, and apart from the common undead such as the slow and weak Walkers there are also several special zombie enemies on the island. In the end, though, they’re all still zombies and that’s what you’ve come to slay, so whether they explode bile on you or impale you on their razor-sharp bones, it’s all the same tasty zombie slaying we all want.

Despite Dead Island concentrating on the story progression and the tangible sense of hopelessness that accompanies the grind for survival, one aspect of this theme that tended to detract from the game was the emphasis on searching and looting. Almost every few steps there will be an opportunity to search or loot something, and although gear is vitally important for repairing broken down weapons or modifying them, the over-abundance of opportunities at regular intervals means there’s significant time being spent on pausing to pick things up rather than advancing the story at a satisfying pace.

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Dead Island … Hangs Ten … times

The zombies aren’t your only worry in Dead Island. Unfortunately the day-one patch for PS3 has actually made the game worse. Game progression is governed by autosaves and checkpoints and this new patch seems to have broken them. Almost every time I reloaded a game I would either have lost all of my progression from the last session or I would spawn randomly into another area. After many frustrating hours lost, I removed the day-one patch and things improved, with a more reliable series of saves. This patch glitch appears to be unique to the PS3 console, too!

The Xbox 360 version, although not suffering from the same savegame glitch, does also stutter at times. In one instance my co-op game had to be completely restarted and my character deleted because the game would crash my Xbox every time I loaded my character, whether I tried to load into another host or into my own story. This was, however, a once-off glitch experienced on the Xbox version which suggests things have largely been fixed. Nonetheless, it’s a real pity to have so many bugs still around after release because it’s almost certainly tarnished an otherwise fantastic game’s reputation.

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Is this to be our last resort?

Dead Island, despite its frustrations and glaringly buggy initial release, is still a fantastic zombie game. The story starts off slowly (perhaps too slowly) but soon gains pace as the plot develops. Although the storyline is unchanged between solo and co-op, there are plenty of reminders in the game for people playing solo that this title is best served with friends and this can make Dead Island an even lonelier place than it ought to be during a zombie apocalypse. The smart match-making in Dead Island allows players to drop-in to other hosts’ games who are at the same story progression, and this creates a simple answer to getting on board with team mates so there is an answer to the loneliness if you want one.

Owing to Dead Island’s compelling story, heart-pounding suspense, and enthralling gameplay it manages to rise above its shortcomings to produce an effective story-driven zombie survival game with RPG elements that effectively reproduces the foreboding and forlorn sense of desolation that you’d expect to have if you genuinely were trapped on a tropical island holiday resort in the middle of a zombie outbreak.

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Don’t let the bugs and glitches scare you away. The most serious issues have either already been fixed or soon will be, and it would be a shame to miss out on what really is a great game because of initial teething problems. If you appreciate the dark undertones of Lost and Jurassic Park, and if you’re a fan of co-op, action, RPG, and of course, zombies, Dead Island is still the must-have title of the year for you!

The Good

– Wide assortment of weapons.
– Unique character abilities and stats.
– Co-op is well managed.
– Graphics and general setting.
– Plot and story development.

The Bad

– Buggy release which will take time to be patched.