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GAMING

Dead Island Video Game Review
By: Thelonius Funk
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    2011-10-07

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    The highly-anticipated release of the newest zombie game had a lot of people on the fence. In a world where zombie games have been the genesis of the RPG movement, they now clutter the playing field. Dead Island, Iím happy to say will fit in with some of best of them quite nicely.

    I say this not particularly because it is a polished gem, but because itís a buttload of fun. For those of you gamers living under a rock, Dead Island is a first person RPG game that features open world roaming. The focus is on melee combat, incorporating customizable weaponry, vehicular customization and blood- soaked combat.  Many advance comments on the web have been comparing Dead Island to other Z-Day RPG games like Dead Rising (as you can create weapons) and Left 4 Dead (as the action is first-person and good for four players online), but once you trudge through the clunky opening sequence and the paint-by-numbers cutscene animations, be prepared for a wild ride that offers at least 20-25 hours or more of zombie slaying goodness. 

    The game that Island borrows the heaviest from is, oddly enough, not even a zombie game. Dead Island is essentially Fallout 3 if there were a zombie apocalypse. The island of Dead Island is a resort somewhere off the coast of Papua New Guinea where, of course, a mysterious virus has transformed all but a handful of survivors into brain-munching maniacs. 

    Donít visit this island expecting a Fallout level of storytelling, or even a Resident Evil or Left 4 Dead level story, for that matter. The Z-Day premise in Dead Island is actually quite flimsy and exists solely for the purpose of hanging the bloodbath action on it. However, what the game lacks in story, it more than makes up in gameplay, allowing players to do what we all love to do best in these melee-focused games -- and thatís get medieval on hordes of the undead. This is an aspect that any zombie game should strive for, because it allows us as players to attack, brutalize and dismember countless multitudes of humans, guilt-free.

    The world of Dead Island is beautiful, and you want to spend time just exploring it as you discover endless side quests, lush environments, and character progression that will have you burning through hours without even realizing it. The story wonít win any game awards, but it sets up the premise as well as it can. The main characters wake up in the Palms Resort hotel to find the island attacked by zombies and mysteriously, they are immune to whatever is making people into zombies. As they try to find and help other survivors, they must also find a way to escape the island. The players go through a series of both main and side quests.

    There is an experience system as well as a skill tree system. There is also a stamina bar, meaning that after a set amount of action with a weapon, the character will need to stop to regain their stamina before continuing to attack. It has also been confirmed that there are "special class" zombies, which are more powerful than the standard zombie. 

    Players will need to use flashlights in dark areas and during nighttime sections, adding suspense to an already creepy game. This is where the game succeeds, and not because of its carnage, but because  the world allows the players to create as they explore environments that range from gorgeous beaches, sinister zombie-infested buildings and dark, dank sewers. City streets are littered with city-tight alleyways overrun with creeps, forcing you to change your fighting style from all-out slaughter to a strategy-based approach. Survival becomes the name of the game, instead of a body count.

    There was a characteristic of the gameplay that I particularly enjoyed: the sound effects and ambiance of the landscapes. The beachfronts and jungle areas felt very real to my ears, and there was the constant eeriness of listening to jungle birds, then the howl of oncoming zombies. By the way, kudos to the designers for the sound design of the zombieís wail, or should I say roar. Audibly, the zombies howl and yell instead of making the tepid monotonous moaning sound of some other games. That really brought another level of sensory input into the game, because I constantly felt that I had to pay attention in order to get the drop on the Z-boys and girls. I found that extremely engaging and really quite clever.

    The threat level in Dead Island is surprisingly high, which is exactly how a zombie game should be. You have a limited stamina bar, so you can't run or swing your weapon forever. Med kits were few and far between, so pay attention to how you expend your energy. Sure, it might me a blast to chop that island zombie into teeny tiny bits, but you quickly learn that your stamina will go down faster than the gas tank on a Hummer. So scavenging for energy drinks and fruit and any other various power-ups become just as important. The same thing goes for weapons; they downgrade pretty quickly, so finding a workbench to keep weapons in tip-top shape is even better than finding an epic weapon to use. 

    As brainless as you might expect a zombie melee game like Dead Island to be, after you spend a few hours navigating the game, youíll find that you spend time choosing and finding the best weapons, when and how to attack your enemies, what quests are worth the effort of pursuing and which ones you should leave behind.

    Closing Comments

    Now I enjoy video games, but I honestly would not call myself an aficionado. It's just like that old saying "I donít know about art, but I know what I like." I like Dead Island, not for its technical accomplishments, but because of how much fun it is to play. The edges are undeniably rough and perhaps there could have been a level or two of beta testing that the game could have gone through to smooth those out, but it gets more right than it gets wrong. So maybe I tend to be more forgiving than most when it comes to issues of gameplay mechanics or wonky graphics -- especially if, at the end of the day, Iím still hungry for more. Dead Island definitely has that quality for me, and Iím sure it will for many players.


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