Sunday, September 18, 2011

Game Review: Dead Island (PS3)

Ahh.  The clear, sunny skies.  The warm, sandy beaches. The crystal clear ocean.  Who wouldn't love to escape to a tropical resort for a while, far away from the hustle and bustle of the day to day grind?  It's a perfect little relaxing getaway.  I mean, it's not like you're going to wake up the next morning and find out paradise has suddenly been overrun by the shambling hordes of the undead looking to feast upon your flesh, right?

Damn it!  That's the last time I book a vacation through Priceline.

In case you've missed the news, there's a new survival horror game on the market for the PS3, 360, and PC.  The game is Dead Island, from Polish game studio Techland and publisher Deep Silver.  Dead Island eschews the usual dark, gloomy settings like abandoned mansions, secret labs; or fictional, dark, gothic European villages (yeah, that's right Resident Evil ... I'm looking at you.). Instead, the action of Dead Island takes place on the fictional isle of Banoi, home of the plush Royal Palms Resort.

After some hardcore partying the night before, your character wakes up in your hotel room to the blaring of an emergency alarm.  There's really not much of a setup here ... no real backstory to get your started.  Nope. You just wake up and find out everything has gone to Hell in a handbasket.  Trying to make your way out of the hotel, it's not long before you're caught and bitten by a couple of zombies.  As any self respecting zombie aficionado will tell you, that's normally where things should end.  After all, once you're bitten, you're usually well and truly screwed.

But hey, that's wouldn't make for much of a game now, would it?  Instead, you wake up in a bungalow with a few other survivors where you learn that, apparently, you're immune to the zombie infection.  Oh, make no mistake about it. The you can still get ripped apart and used as a tasty snack ... but at least a scratch or bite won't earn you a membership to the Ghoul of the Month club.  Naturally, this makes YOU the best candidate to send out for help (or anything else survivors decide they need).  So off you go, armed with whatever you find laying around, to try and find some help and get the hell out of this George Romero remake of Beach Party.

Players start off by choosing one of four characters to play as.  Each has his or her own specialty.  There's Xian Mei, the Asian hostess who just happens to be trained in martial arts and specializes in hacking and slashing with sharp weapons.  There's Sam B., the big bad hip-hop star whose specialty in blunt weapons is only matched by his blunt dialogue.  Purna is the half-aborigine ex-cop turned high-priced armed escort whose firearm training is next to none.  And finally, there's my personal "favorite" Logan, the ego fueled ex-football superstar whose years of tossing the pigskin around has left him with an aptitude for thrown weapons.  Players level up by killing zombies and completing missions, which grants skill points to customize the abilities of their character via three distinct skill trees.

While playing Dead Island, I couldn't shake this feeling of déjà vu ... like I've already played the game before.  Eventually it dawned on me that, in some ways, I had.  If you were to take the large open jungle setting of Just Cause 2, then mix it with handcrafted weapons (with varied durability) and mission-based gameplay from Dead Rising 2, and finally toss in just a touch of Left 4 Dead for flavor, and you'd end up with something pretty damned close to Dead Island.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the game isn't its own unique experience, ... just that it's got an air of familiarity to it.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Personally, I think the most interesting thing about Dead Island is that it's really a lot more fun than it should be.  If I were to measure the game by individual factors, I've got to be honest, the game would probably seem just above mediocre at best.  Defying any logic, Dead Island is a hell of a lot more fun than it should be.  I mean, I've played plenty of games with better graphics, better sound, better controls, and better stories.  I've run into the occasional technical glitch, and the balance of the game is all over the place.  But somehow, it still manages to all come together just right. Dead Island is the perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.


Game Info:
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Techland
Genre: Survival Horror
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Multiplayer: 2-4 players online

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