Dead Island Review/Tips/Cheats

Monday, October 03, 2011

(It's been a while since I did a full article on any game, but then again, it's been a while since I played a game that can't be finished in one day. Anyway, yeah. Also, I'm reviewing this game on the PC with the game version only up to patch 1.1.) 

Let's just say I'm not a fan of games that stress me out. I actually like games where I'm not challenged, where I can get power, abuse power, and ultimately get away with abuse. Dead Island gives me nothing of those, and yet, here I am, taking the time to write an article about a game that basically took away hours of potentially good rest to be replaced with unwanted muscular jerking, heart pumping, and soiled underpants. We'll get to that in a moment.

Dead Island is a zombie-themed person shooter that shares the questing-and-collecting elements of Fallout 3 with the theme of .. well.. zombie apocalypse. Most people would like to compare the game to another previously successful zombie-themed FPS game, Left For Dead. The comparisons are somewhat justifiable. There's only so much innovating you can do to a niche theme that's been done and overdone through the years. Some mechanics are similar, the usual "escape or die" theme, and even the enemy roster (hint: zombies) are near identical. It's not all apples and apples though, as there's something about Dead Island that makes it different, and that something is enough for me to say that at the end of the day, it's an entire game of its own.

The story is a mixed bag, but it's not like anybody watches zombie movies for the unique storyline either. You're in a resort as any one of the four starting characters that happen to be immune to the virus, and then you work your way though (as a team or alone) the whole island trying to escape and help others survive at the same time. A mysterious voice on the radio and a particularly obnoxious asshole lifeguard lead the plot on, while characters you encounter along the way provide more meat to the whole experience through their own smaller storylines. The twists in the game are somewhat predictable, but the effort that you will be putting in towards progressing the plot will make you feel all the much immersed in the plight of survival. Seeing a person die from some trivial bullshit right after you pulled an all nighter trying to save his ass, for example, is heartbreaking. The game is not without the emotional moments that the trailer promised us, but lets just say the acting could have been done better.

Graphics wise, the emphasis to detail in the landscape is astounding. It's an island, and beyond the shadow of a doubt, you will believe that the places you visit could have been real places if you take away the whole zombie invasion thing. The lighting and weather effects have been masterfully utilized to set the mood and paint any stage with a certain emotion. The effect works so well that sometimes you will find yourself afraid without even seeing any enemies. The zombies on the other hand are well within the current roster of FPS titles. The splashes of blood on high settings will make you appreciate killing the undead. The facial expressions are fairly limited, which is quite a disappointment since the game is supposed to explore the human side of a zombie apocalypse. That said, the game looks the part.

Dead Island's strongest appeal is that unlike almost pretty much every zombie game out there, it's sandbox styled, meaning, the order of the quests, what you want to play and what you want to skip is up to you. Sidequests give you experience, money, and better weapons, as well as additional flavoring to the main quests, which need to be completed to progress the storyline. Vehicles help you get around doing quests and a fast-travel system between safe haven help you get rid of having to trudge Two kilometers just to fetch some guy something to drink. The sandboxing is almost like Fallout 3 actually. The only difference in Fallout 3 is that travelling 2km will likely end you up fighting once or twice along the way while Dead Island will make sure you will be earning meter by meter in blood. The zombies spawn everywhere and clearing an area will only be temporary at best.  It's because of this nature of gameplay that will make you hesitant to keep on venturing out on your own. The island is dangerous and the game makes sure you don't forget that.

Items can be scavenged around the island for use in quests, barter, or creating unique weapons. More than half of the time this is pretty much what you will be doing actually, but the implementation is okay and the game ensures your frustration will not make you pull out (all of) your hair. Items needed for weapons, for example, are randomly available from merchants every now and then so if you cant find it outside, you can buy it for a slightly ridiculous price.

Combat is stricly melee. The guns exist, but ammo is scarce and the effect they have on the undead is limited. A shot in the head is no better than a shot in the leg. I personally believe that FPS and melee just dont mix. Not when you cant see either your leg or fists. For some reason though, the style works for the game. At times the swings are inexact, but rest assured that it's a lot better than what you used to see in.. say... counterstrike. Once you get the hang of it, you won't be comlaining  anymore (much). Weapons range from oar paddles to katanas to cooking pans. Each weapon has stats and attributes that make it more or less powerful. YOu're free to upgrade these weapons and modify them with the junk you collect around the island, imbuing them with poison, electricity, or fire or just additional moving sharp blades. Weapons get damaged as you use them, however, and the more unique and powerful the weapon, the more expensive it gets to maintain. This blancing feature will leave you budgeting weapon use for only the most important of situations, as going on bloodlusts all the time will leave you weaponless at a crucial period.

Healthpacks are available although not nearly enough are around most of the time. You can drink canned drinks and eat candy bars for additional health but these cant be carried around with you and must be consumed on the spot. So to set the mood for you, you're basically budgeting health and weapon health. Run out of either and you end up dead anyway. I can't remember how many times I ended up almost finishing a mission and then getting clobbered to death on the way back because I did not think of a good exit strategy or the logistics to back it up.

The enemies of this game are not particularly intelligent or diverse. Each type of enemy has certain movement patterns and once you figure them out, you can dispatch them easily, that is, if the game wasn't so goddamn clever in placing enemies around the ingame areas so strategically. The worst enemy of this game, when you think about it, is the island itself. It's the darkened corner of a seemingly clear hallway, it's the shrubbery placed alongside the main route, it's the detour through the showers that you have to go through. It's the fear htat any moment, you might make a mistake in clearing an area and have half of your life drained by a random zombie while you're in a hot zone. I cannot remember the last time I had a game that I played with a constant level of tension.

And that's what Dead Island is all about. You will never have the upper hand. The game ensures that you will be always at a disadvantage, limited in resources, and fighting for survival. When you get stronger, the enemies do too. When you start getting the hang of your skills, the game presents you with more targets. Until the credits roll, you will feel the need to survive more than to complete the mission. And as far as zombie games go, it doesn't get more immersive than that.

For all its limitations, bugs, and gameplay imbalances, Zombie Island is the zombie game of the year.

Some hints for the guys who are already playing:

1. Always consider running away as the best option. Level ups from fighting can only give you so much compared to quests, and every fight leaves you with less durable weapons and possible death. If you need to fight, fight near safe zones, workbenches, and sources of health.

2. Electricity > Poison. Stunning your enemies is a lot better than having them die slowly. Poison hardly has any effect even when in higher levels.

3. Dispatch Rams by running to the side when he's charging 5 meters away from you, then when he stops, hit him in the back. Grunts can be brought down by cutting of their arms when they're roaring. Drowners need to be flanked by running towards its back and then hit in the back. Infected need to be slashed right before they come at you, or if you suck at timing, a good kick will do the trick. If you're fighting 3 infected with helmets on, well, see rule number 1.

4. Always use the kick. They interrupt a lot of attacks (except from the larger enemies). At later levels you can dispatch downed enemies with just your foot. Save on weapon strength, use your legs.

5. Bundle quests objectives together to save time. Plan your routes to avoid dying in the middle of nowhere.

And lastly, if you are having a hard time with the game or are running on limited resources (i.e. time) because you're an adult who has to slave away countless hours at work, look for Razor 1911's Plus 10 Trainer. Works like a charm.

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