Some genres work well when blended together. RPGs and adventure work well by adding a sprawling world to explore. Adding Metroidvania as a subgenre can add exploration as a feature. One subgenre you don’t often see added to RPGs is horror. A genre like horror where you’re regularly subjected to a feeling of helplessness doesn’t mix well with RPGs, a genre where you regularly get stronger. However, there have been games that have attempted to make it work regardless. One of those games was Dead Island.
The Role You Play
You have the option to play as four different characters. Sam B is an African-American rapper who specializes in blunt weapons. Purna Jackson is an Aboriginal retired police officer turned bodyguard. She specializes in using firearms. Xian is a Chinese doctor. She specializes in using edged weapons. Finally, there’s Logan, who specializes in using thrown weapons.
The game is cooperative with up to four players, so you can play with any combination of the four characters. Each one has their own special abilities built around their specialization.
Dead Island takes place on the fictional island of Banoi. During a vacation, a zombie virus breaks out and only a handful of people escape alive and uninfected. This includes the four playable protagonists. The overall goal is to find a way to escape the island, while also pursuing leads on ways to assist survivors, gather supplies, and uncover the cause of the outbreak
This usually boils down to multiple fetch quests and a lot of side missions where you up going from point A to point B to talk to someone, gather items or kill some zombies, and it gets tedious pretty fast.
Dead Island is a first-person action RPG. You make your way through the Island of Banoi fighting through zombies with a variety of improvised weapons and firearms. Weapons have a durability meter that goes down as you use them, so they have to be regularly repaired or replaced. There are a variety of zombies that range from your typical infected to large battering ram zombies to large bloated zombies that spit poison at you. There are also renegade survivors who will shoot at you with guns. As you progress in experience with the missions you complete and the zombies you defeat, you can learn new abilities to make your character(s) stronger.
There are four different sections to the game, and each one has a main mission and a bunch of side quests. All of the side quests offer rewards of weapons, cash and/or experience points as a reward. Most of the sidequests are optional and several of them require going out of your way to find. There is a whole big open world to explore to gather weapons and supplies and fight zombies and such, so you can progress through the game at your own pace. With all of that in mind, Dead Island takes roughly 15-20 hours to finish.
There is music in Dead Island, but it doesn’t stand out much. It just adds to the general ambiance of the different areas while adding a sense of dread and horror. The tracks vary from slow and subtle horror to fast and heart-pounding. However, all of the tracks are meant to be in the background of the sounds of dialog or combat or the screams of zombies.
There is one notable exception. There is a rap song performed in the intro by one of the game’s in-game characters, Sam B called “Who Do You Voodoo.”
While Dead Island has all of the features of a first-person action RPG, it feels like it shouldn’t. Whenever you level up, the enemies around you also automatically level up at the same time. This means that the difficulty remains roughly the same throughout the entirety of the game.
The same level progression doesn’t happen with your weapons. They have their own level as well and stay the same while yours and the enemies’ progress. This means that it’s your leveling that ultimately makes your weapons obsolete and not your progression through the game.
The Talking Parts
Because Dead Island is set in a tropical paradise hit by disaster, you get some very interesting encounters with people. A lot of your encounters with people will be about securing supplies and providing rescue to others. Other times you will want to get people champagne for those who want to party through the apocalypse. Another person just wants to find their lost teddy bear.
There is a wide spectrum of ways that people react to the zombie outbreak. It’s made even more interesting when you get to the cutscenes involving all four of the survivors. Some are kind and compassionate, and others are crass and unforgiving.
Z…We’ve Reached the End. Anything Else?
When Dead Island was first announced, it was promoted with a highly polished cinematic trailer. This trailer was well-received by fans and critics alike and even won a few awards. However, this trailer had very little to do with the final game. None of the characters in the trailer were in the final game. The trailer itself didn’t even show off any gameplay. Worst of all, the quality of the trailer ended up being a lot greater than the quality of the final game it was promoting.
Dead Island just feels like a game that never committed to what it needed to be. It could have been a great RPG, a great horror game, or even both. However, the different elements don’t mesh well, and it feels like it’s just chasing trends. Whatever vision they originally had in their trailer seemed to turn into a sad mishmash of Borderlands and Dead Rising. It’s not terrible, but the inspirations are too obvious.
Final Score: 6/10
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