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When it first released, Dead Island did live up to expectations of an imposing zombie slasher, but not before gruesomely disappointing everyone with a broken, unfinished game. Despite missing awards season because of these issues, publisher Deep Silver still thought it deserved a Game of the Year (GOTY) edition that staves itself on 2 commendations and a misguided sales figure. Let’s be upfront about it: The only incentive here is not the shabby bundled content, but rather that the game works as intended now and is sold at a discount price to boot.
The zombie apocalypse occurs on the otherwise tropical setting of Banoi. A set of 4 unlikable characters band together and try to escape the wretched hell hole by plundering everything they see and taping the bits back together into better weapons. You get your choice of one of these people, each with a given specialty, but as the game requires the use of all types of weapons, there is little left as a differential. The rest of the story is forgettable, even if Dead Island attempts to create drama at every turn. What it succeeds in is making an irking B-flick where people repeat themselves incessantly. “I need champagne,” a drugged floosy says. What you need is to shut the hell up.
Luckily, any plot can almost be taken as comic relief as you drive your way through the splendid Banoi environment. From its sun-laden beaches and jungles to garbage infested cities and decaying buildings, Dead Island is heavy on ambience and packed with frills. Add to that a creeping soundtrack and the ominous, far-off screeches of zombies to set the stage for a hair-raising adventure. Time and again, zombies will find ways to surprise and scare you or just create a sense of panic as an advancing mob. However gorgeous a tropical paradise might seem, there is little sign of hope left when everything around you is tainted with blood, decay and death.
In order to survive, players need to whack zombies from a first person perspective in any way possible at the hand of shaky controls. Given different types of weapons, from blunt crowbars to pointy machetes, it will be possible to fracture bones and lob off heads and limbs. With buckets of gore splattering around with every blow, there is great satisfaction found in combat. Leveling up characters and unlocking more skills or upgrading capabilities only enhances the pleasure. For instance, one skill allows you to stomp heads into puss with your own feet, which sounds off with a juicy crack. The carnage in Dead Island is almost palpable, it’s so thick. However, the main advancement is a chargeable Fury skill that allows you to dispatch enemies instantly. As this is paired with a multiplier, players are encouraged to only unleash this in the direst of circumstances.
Dead Island isn’t done there though, as it still has weapon customization as well. Using items found everywhere, players can upgrade and modify their weapons to add even more instant gratification at the end of a flaming bat or lightning crowbar. If slicing a zombie’s head off to bathe in its blood is fun, then imagine how it feels when the undead is also on fire. A favorite is definitely the exploding knife that can be thrown between an undead skull before detonating and taking the scenery along with it. Unfortunately, not everything about the idea is sound, as weapons also have very limited durability and the upgrade system is tied to money, which has no logical consistency within the theme. It would have made more sense to collect oils or such to power the workbench in order to create a secondary currency unit. Rubbing money on sticks doesn’t make them better.
More versatility can be found with the enemies on the island. Even if some sections are also ridden with boring and annoying human enemies that force the player to use firearms, the zombie army is better designed. Frantically running zombies charge the player, while a suicide bomber might suddenly creep up or a huge constrained giant might emerge from around the corner. Whatever the poison, these undead never outlive their startling nature and that for the dozens of hours of content available, which is definitely a plus. It’s a shame Dead Island is scripted in nature, but that doesn’t make any situation less hectic, just more predictable.
Yet, for all these sound ideas, Dead Island often confuses with what atmosphere it’s trying to create. The vast open world experience periodically gets funneled through entire corridor sections that leave little to desire. Cars are offered, but are ridiculous to maneuver. Zombies literally appear out of thin air and respawning occurs in the threat area itself. Additionally, near the end game, the universal level system for enemies starts to make them too powerful for emergency weapons such as explosives, which negates the entire point of risking the proximity blast in the first place. There were definitely a ton of ideas brought to the table in Dead Island, but not all of them were given the same priority or care, with different levels of aggravation as a result.
However, its greatest idea yet comes with the multiplayer element of the game. Turning the network possibilities on, players can open up their world for visitors and in return hop into any other player that’s in the vicinity. It’s not perfect, as missions can drag out while waiting for the team to coordinate, but other than that the drop in and out cooperative section makes zombie genocide that much more pleasing. Now, mobs can be divided, backs can be protected and large enemies can be taken on in teams. It even flattens some other minor grievances, as those can be divided with up to 4 players. If you have the capability, then network play should be the standard setting for your campaign, even if it’s not usually the style of play you prefer.
Now, what is really the kicker with the GOTY edition? Little to nothing at all is the answer. A few post-release additions got added, such as a short campaign from one of the island’s main characters. This reveals a little more back story, though not enough, nor well made. The mostly linear campaign strips the game down to a simple action game for a conclusion no one is waiting for, since the main story itself is not captivating in the first place. Then there’s an arena where players can take on waves of enemies and a few more weapon modifications. Take solace in the fact that this version isn’t as horribly glitched as the original release was. That’s a sad comfort to say the least.
Players that still need to witness Dead Island for themselves won’t necessarily steer wrong by picking up the GOTY edition for a reduced price, even if it adds nothing of value. Normally, it’d be favorable for singleplayer purists to purchase this version, as the glitches are fixed on disc. Though this way, the single experience would miss out on the best element in the game, which is network play. Still, the astounding, open world zombie survival is now finally what it needed to be in the first place, even if it’s too little and too late. A better name would’ve been the complete edition, where development now is as far as it will go. Dead Island will remain a strange and confusing title throughout the ages.
|Dead Island GOTY Edition is the superior version, for those wondering. However, all can be said with that, as it adds little of value and its only appeal is its smaller price. The glitches have been worked out and the game is now the appealing zombie slasher it should've been the first time around. Get it for the cooperative play, forget about the DLC it adds.|