Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Dead Island

Steam recently had Dead Island for $5.00, so naturally I snatched it up.  I wasn't expecting much, but I was sure I'd get $5 of entertainment out of it.

Expecting yet another tired zombie FPS with a focus on multiplayer (and therefore utterly dull as single player) I was pleasantly surprised.  Combat is quite fun.  Dead Island incorporates some RP elements - a non-linear quest system, item maintenance and upgrade, and a point-buy skill system.  It also has a (mostly) coherent story. 

The game setting is beautiful - a tropical resort with crystal blue water, verdant mountains, and a nicely sculpted resort area with swimming pools and cabana bars.  What's amusing is the NPCs, for which there is precisely two models: male and female.  The only differences are skin color, face, and clothing... except for the females.  So far, every single woman on the island is not only the exact same height and build, but also wears the exact same two-piece bathing suit (colors vary).  I've got nothing against an abundance of female flesh, but some variety would be nice. 

Ironically, the voice work is quite varied and for the most part, quite good.  The fictional island paradise of Banoi attracts Aussies, Frenchmen, Arabs, Californians, Russians, Philadelphians, New Orleansians, Midwesterners, one Chinese woman, and Max Sterling! (Cam Clarke).

Weapons degrade rather quickly.  This is irritating early on when you have little cash to repair them, but is a mechanic that keeps you on your toes: requiring you to switch weapons, or choose to punch or kick (jump kicks do extra damage!) individual zombies and save your pristine blade for larger groups or tougher opponents.  The good news is that almost everything is a viable weapon.  Canoe paddles, wrenches, baseball bats, shovels, broomsticks, and lengths of pipe ripped right off the wall.  Throwing crates and propane tanks at enemies does a surprisingly satisfying amount of damage, and there's a real satisfaction to being able to kick a zombie in the face after you've knocked it down. As the game progresses, you discover mods that let you create wonderful monster-slaying monstrosities of nails, duct tape, saw blades, and more. 

As a console port, the PC controls are naturally clunky.  Inventory management is unintuitive, which wouldn't be that big a deal except you're constantly going into your inventory to swap, repair, upgrade, or sell weapons and items.  You can also find and drive vehicles - a nice mechanic - but they drive more or less like every video game vehicle in the last 10 years, so be prepared for lots of crashes and 12-point turns. 

In spite of its flaws, I'm really enjoying Dead Island.  It's a fun environment and the combat is fresh.  It's a nice change of pace for the zombie genre and treats the situation with a bit more realism.

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