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I survived the island

September 10, 2011



Let’s be honest right out of the gate. There’s always a much better use for $60. It’s green, and it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with zombies. But even if you’re not into dropping that many dollars at Gamestop, you should at least go rent a copy of Dead Island.

This was definitely one of my favorite games as of late. Lots of things can be said to put it in a positive light, but the one at the top of my list is how the game felt like I was getting to play the Left 4 Dead storyline in the Half Life universe.

The Gordan Freeman-esque gameplay was further solidified the second I picked up a crowbar.

The game also seemed to borrow its character customization from another of my favorite games, Borderlands. I’m sure there’s another title out there that does this and probably one the came out first, but Borderlands is the first one that I really enjoyed.

The main story follows four survivors on an island in Papau New Guinea that’s being overrun by zombies. They’re all trying to get off the island while stopping to help other survivors they find along the way.

I thoroughly enjoyed not having to play with AI driven teammates who cause more problems than kill opponents. Unlike most other titles that deal with more than one main character, if you’re playing the campaign by yourself, the other characters disappear after the cutscenes. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten killed trying to save Zoey in Left 4 Dead or the number of times I’ve been playing Call of Duty and my “teammate” Sgt. Stand-in-the-way has FUBARed the hell out of my current objective.

The four characters, or classes, are each specialized in different weapon types: throwing, blunt, bladed and shooting. Guns are in the game but only really seemed to come into play toward the end.

I was feeling like a proud Texan, and since Logan Carter, the former quarterback, was from my home state, I got ready to select him as my character. Then I noticed his specialty was throwing weapons. Not being in the mood for any of that jackassery, I chose Sam B, the rapper from New Orleans who’s on the downside of his career. Even though Sam is a blunt weapons expert, I spent the majority of the game slicing through the undead horde with blades … machetes in particular. Every time I’d be in a “store” (which was really just some guy who had a bunch of stuff), the bladed weapons all had higher damage point ratings. If a vendor did happen to have a blunt weapon as his deadliest, I was almost always already in possession of a blade that was higher. A couple of times I purchased a super highly rated weapon before I could use it in hopes of capitalizing on my specialty once I reached the required minimum XP level, but by the time I did, I would have already modded one or more of my machetes past the blunt weapon’s capability.

Speaking of the weapon mod system, it has both good and bad points. Purchasing upgrades that add damage multipliers is simple enough, and more importantly, it works. Modding weapons with found objects gets a bit trickier, and it’s the first issue I have with this title.

All the mods require possessing the blueprints for them, but they also require certain found items. Your inventory is limited to a certain number of slots, but this only seems to apply to weapons. However, even though you are able to carry an unlimited amount of … let’s say detergent (which you need for a few toxic and explosive mods), you may have just given away your entire supply to a NPC character to finish a sidequest. Also, you might find that while items like nails or oleander seem to be in every other box or bag you open, they become a lot harder to come by once you need them for a specific mod or sidequest.

I had a few instances where I’d find an awesome sounding mod that I couldn’t build because it would require an item or two that were either in short supply, or which I’d just used to build another mod that turned out to be not so awesome. The weight plate, for instance, was something I only found twice in the entire campaign but was an ingredient in at least three different mods. Selling all the seemingly innocuous item you find is certainly the easiest way to increase your cash in the beginning, but my advice would be to save everything you find — you’ll probably need it.

You do run into a character early on that you can use at a storage bin, but this seems completely unnecessary. You can already hold unlimited amounts of the little items you find, and even if you were to have her hold on to some extra weapons, if you really needed them, you’d still have to fight your way back across the map because she usually just hangs back at the last safehouse.

Finally, mods like adding nails to a baseball bat or gluing shards of glass to a police baton are reliable and work like upgrades by simply increasing the damage that weapon does. With toxic or electric mods, you have to have limited damage to the weapon and there’s some magical sequence of three or four hits you have to perform in order to get the full effect. It’s not like having to memorize moves in Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, but most of the time I ended up reaching for a fully upgraded weapon over a modded one.

While we’re on the subject, all your weapons do degrade with use, and the amount of damage they deal out is directly proportionate to the amount they take. Similarly, the more damage a weapon will do, the more money you’ll have to spend to repair it. Ideally, you should keep five or six baller weapons that you repair and trade out as you level up. The rest of your inventory slots can be saved for weapons you don’t mind dropping in case all yours get depleted and you need to pick up a new one. Also, thrown items like molotovs and grenades have to be carried in your limited inventory as well. For some reason, bottles of alcohol do too. You can carry as many as you want, but they will use one of your slots.

My only real complaint is about the fury system. This special ability comes in handy by allowing you to kill a heavier enemy in only two or three hits, but it’s activated with the same button that administers your medpacs. There were plenty of times when I’d accidentally set it off while trying to heal myself and then run into boss or a large group before it refilled. The first of your three skill trees deals with fury, so I’m sure it increases in both damage and duration as you add points, but since I mostly wasted my fury trying to heal or even completely forgot I had that ability, I mainly used my points on the combat and survival trees. Most of them went to things that would either increase the damage I could deal or decrease the amount of damage I would take.

I have no complaints about the campaign length. Most games now are too short. If anything, this one could have been longer, but I don’t feel like I got shorted. And I’m sure that some DLC levels with be coming down the pipe in a few months. You can restart the campaign with your current level and equipment, but even the appeal to play as all four characters to get a few achievements might not be enough to get me to play through another three times. I never finished Borderlands because other titles I wanted to play came out before I made it through the campaign. At least six (maybe eight) months went by before I ever picked it up again, so I just started over. Replaying those first levels with ridiculously ‘roided out guns and characters was a blast, so I can see how coming back to the island at level 32 after some time off could be fun.

The game is beautiful. It doesn’t look quite as real as Red Dead Redemption did, but how can you go wrong on a tropical island. Most of the maps are pretty wide open, but I would have liked the island to be more of a open sandbox like Red Dead where you didn’t have to “travel” to other parts of the world.

All said, I’d recommend this game to anyone, especially if they’re a fan of HL2 or L4D. And while I am being a little nit-picky, as I said, my only real complaint was the B button doing double duty.

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