Dead Island – PC
Release Date (NA): September 6th, 2011
Publisher: Deep Silver
Rating: 7 out of 10
Reviewed by Konya
Zombies have officially entered our cultural zeitgeist. From the emergence of the zom-com, as evidenced by Warm Bodies, and the proliferation of zombie disaster films like World War Z, we love zombies. There are a lot of zombie games out now; some will be amazing paragons of plot, graphics, and gameplay. Some will be horrible, with stereotypical writing, character imbalances, and bugs. Dead Island is both.
Dead Island is produced by Techland and Deep Silver, a Polish developer and a German publisher, respectively. Dead Island takes place on a small island called Banoi, apparently in the South Pacific. Banoi is beautiful. From the resort to the city, and finally to the jungle, the graphics are one of the best things about the game. Another great aspect is the character system. There are four playable main characters, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
The first is the thrown weapons expert, Logan, a former American football star who now plays beer pong. The second is the blunt weapons expert, Sam B. Sam B. is a rapper from a broken home in New Orleans (he had a deadbeat dad and a Momma who “drank and did crack and any other random motherfucker who didn’t smack her round too bad.”) Sam B crafted the extremely catchy “Who Do You Voodoo, B*tch” that serves as the games’ theme song. The third is the bladed weapons expert Xian, an Asian woman also skilled in martial arts and obsessed with protecting her honor. The fourth is the support specialist/firearms expert Purna, a half-Aborigine former police officer who was discriminated against by her white male colleagues.
Playing each of these four characters is like playing a completely different game, each tailored to a specific play style. With Xian, your strategy is stealth and damage avoidance, and you deal devastating amounts of damage. Sam B. is the only character with regeneration, so you can wade right into battle and take hits. Logan’s strategy is to throw weapons at targets and kick down anyone who comes too close. Finally, Purna’s strategy is to use guns, and she benefits a lot using the excellent co-op method- she can be tough to solo through Banoi.
The writing is superb and conveyed through excellent voice actors. The NPCs you help have realistic desires ranging from sentimentality to a thirst for revenge. Because of the high-quality writing, you get attached to the characters. Trading with other NPCs is one of the only ways to get truly good weapons; the other method is to source metal chests scattered throughout Banoi.
As you grow in experience, so do the zombies and humans you fight. You graduate from driving pickup trucks to armored bank trucks, and your quests increase in importance towards the end as well. I appreciate that there is more to Dead Island than just carnage.
But oh, the carnage is truly wonderful. The leveling system, where you pick new skills, bonuses, and attacks every level, makes leveling a strategic process. The combat controls are precise, and for the truly talented, there is an analog combat system where you aim your attacks unaided by the computer. You have the option of fighting au natural or using the Fury system that allows your character to place a series of very quick attacks with unlimited ammo for Logan and Purna. Thankfully, you’re not just whacking off plain old zombies- there are the slow but brutish Thugs, the annoying and almost invulnerable Rams, the bile-spewing Floaters, and the supernaturally quick Butchers. The gun-toting humans provide a nice change of pace as well.
There are a few problems with Dead Island. First is the proliferation of various bugs, glitches, and grammatical errors. Sometimes quests can be disrupted, and the quest navigation system has been known to disappear temporarily or to lead people astray. A few characters speak proper English, but the grammar on the accompanying subtitles is mismatched and improper. Thankfully, these small errors are not enormous detriments to the gaming experience, which on the whole is excellent.
My other problem with this game is the use of racial stereotypes. As a minority, I was deeply bothered. Reading Sam B.’s character biography or listening to his poorly-written ebonics is cringe-inducing. Xian, the martial arts maiden with a bent for honor, seems ripped from the stills of a kung fu flick. In addition, this game often portrays women in a stereotypical light; the most common position for female NPCs in a safe house is cowering on the floor. This game also has a scene of implied rape, one that is ham-handed and not handled particularly well.
However, it is easy to overlook the flaws of Dead Island, especially in the face of so much good. In addition to the main game, the DLC concerning Ryder White is absolutely excellent and gives amazing depth to one of the most important NPCs in the game. I give this game a 7 out of 10- negative points for the glitches and the potentially offensive nature of the game, but it is redeemed through human-focused storytelling and excellent, varied gameplay.
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