My most abiding memory of Dead Island is actually of the trailer. You see, back in 2011, I was so over zombie games; I felt like they were just another tired old video game trope that had had their day. And then, almost out of nowhere, appeared this video that piqued my interest. Following the story of a family who arrive at a hotel just in time to be caught up in a zombie outbreak, it garnered equal amounts of praise and condemnation for the subject matter, including a zombie child who was thrown off a balcony. At risk of minor spoilers, the trailer ended up being a lot better than the game it was meant to promote, and to this day is regarded as one of the best of the genre. If you want to see what I’m wittering on about, it’s available on YouTube.
So, with such a high bar set, and with such emotional impact promised by the trailer, could Dead Island itself match up to expectations? Well, disappointingly, the answer was no, despite excitement being high for the potential.
The setting for Dead Island was the lush tropical island of Banoi, and the way the game played out differed slightly depending on which of the four available characters you chose to play as. These were Sam B, a washed one hit wonder rapper who specialises in blunt weapons, or Xian Mei, a hotel employee who is also a spy for the Chinese Government. I’m not sure what the Chinese government wanted to find out about a tropical hotel, but there you go. She is a specialist in edged weapons, which comes in very handy. Logan Carter is a former American football star, before an accident ruined his life. He focused on throwable weapons whilst the final survivor is Purna Jackson, a former Australian police officer who lost her career after shooting a well-connected child molester. Firearms were her game, which is a shame as they are A) noisy and B) quite scarce.
So, as you can see, choosing the right person can certainly make Dead Island easier or harder to play yet one of the best things about the game, certainly in my humble opinion, was the crafting system. You see, there was the opportunity to seemingly be able to create weapons from almost nothing, and some of them looked almost worthy of being included in that other zombie staple, Dead Rising. The weapon that you got for pre-ordering, the Ripper, soon became a fast favourite of mine.
The way the combat played out in first person made it very satisfying too, and with the proper directional inputs, slicing the undead scum limb from limb soon became second nature. Well, until the sprinting ones came at you, at least! The weapons would degrade as you used them as well, and managing them does add a certain amount of strategy to how Dead Island would play out, as when a weapon actually breaks to the point that you can’t use it, it becomes much more expensive to mend it, and resources are quite scarce. Swinging weapons around also depletes your Dark Souls-style stamina bar, and when it is empty you are pretty much at the mercy of the zombie hordes, so a hit and run approach is much better.
Another plus point was the possibility of co-op gameplay, with up to four players joining in to try and escape from Banoi. I had a regular group of players who all bought Dead Island on release, from geographically diverse locations such as Norway and Austria, and while our languages may have been different, that of zombie slaying seemed to be universal. It certainly made some sections of the game a lot easier when you worked as one too, as more players meant the zombie heat was divided up four ways; watching each other’s backs being priority number one. We made some great gaming memories together.
Sadly, not everything was rosy with the graphics on Dead Island’s release, as they were disappointingly low res, and the animation of the zombies wasn’t the best either. While the actual maps were pretty large, and finding and commandeering vehicles soon became a necessity, the actual look of the game certainly didn’t match the trailer I mentioned earlier. With a re-release on the Xbox One, some of these issues were resolved, and the game does now look the part at least. Sound-wise everything was fine, with crunching impacts and growling zombies all being present and correct. What Dead Island did a good job of was creating a sense of tension, especially when creeping through bushes, on your last sliver of health and/or weapon strength, desperate to avoid a confrontation.
So, with Dead Island, and the follow up, Dead Island Riptide (I had the collector’s edition of this one for a while, complete with the chewed up female torso statue) and another little addition they made – a 16 bit-style side scrolling beat ’em up called Dead Island: Retro Revenge – there were no shortages of ways to enjoy the franchise. None of them reached the emotional heights of that initial trailer though, and it was difficult to care about the characters that we could choose to play as. I think two dimensional is pretty much the best that could be said about their biographies and backgrounds to be honest.
So, these are my memories of playing through the sun, the sea and the slaughter of Dead Island way back in 2011. Did you play it on release, either time around, or are you moved to try it now off the back of my ramblings and wanderings down Memory Lane? Let us know in the comments.
And if you want to pick up a copy, the Xbox Store is your best bet.