Dead Island Review (OnLive)
Review by: Ady Carter
I’m not a big fan of Holidays, perhaps I’m just incapable of relaxing or perhaps it’s because I always worry that something terrible is likely to happen when I’m miles away from home in a strange location. As if to prove my fears Dead Island presents the scenario of a bunch of people enjoying a holiday on the fictional island of Banoi only to wake up after a “few” drinks and discover themselves in the middle of a Zombie filled nightmare. Perhaps best described as a melee-heavy first person survival horror game, Dead Island is a distant cousin of Resident Evil and really not as similar to Left 4 Dead as people seem to assume. To my mind Dead Island draws very heavily from Borderlands; the inventory, quest and to a large degree the wider gameplay systems remind me very much so of my time spent on Pandora. This really is no bad thing.
I don’t really want to delve too deeply into the plotline of the game, mainly as I really enjoyed it and the chances of me spoiling it inadvertently are probably quite high. Let me just tell you it’s fun, amusing and surprisingly grounded in real life in places (especially if you’re familiar with diseases related to cannibalism!) The basic premise as mentioned earlier involves waking up a little hung over and having to deal with zombies while helping out other survivors; you have a choice of player characters from a pool of four pretty stereotypical characters each with their own specific areas of expertise ranging from firearms through to being really good at swinging baseball bats. The characters all have different talent trees enabling you to further customise them to your liking.
The basic gameplay itself is pretty much as you’d expect. You hack, slash and generally dodge you way through hordes of undead and various other unfriendly mutations in order to survive and assist the people you run into in their quests for survival (or their desire to get a lost Teddy Bear returned!) The game is broken into four distinct acts, each consisting of one main new area while still needing you to backtrack around places you’ve already visited. I spent the majority of my time in the game playing it cooperatively with other people. Dead Island features what to me is a really cool way of handling the co-op; the game constantly checks for other players near where you are and you can, with the press of a single button, instantly join each other and continue together in your fight for survival. I found this really handy as 90% of the time chances were if someone was in the same place as me then we were doing the same quests and two (or four!) players are certainly better than one. Having someone to watch your back on the crowded streets of Act II is a very, very wise plan! It’s worth noting that your character can hop in and out of as many games as you want or simply continue along solo, your character progression comes with you, and the game offers the option to scale enemies depending on your level in multiplayer games so you can play with differently-levelled friends and all still have a challenging time.
The combat system has two settings, “Digital” and “Analogue.” The former sees you flailing your weapons around as you’d expect, while the latter (if you can get the hang of it) enables a much greater degree of control with weapons. This is especially useful if you favour sharp weapons, enabling you to attempt to decapitate zombies all the time rather than randomly slashing at their limbs. My only real gripe with the game at all is the stamina system. Frequently you may find yourself unable to do the simplest of attacks, resulting in you getting thrown to the ground by the ravenous undead, purely because you’re out of stamina as a result of swinging your weapon or running. While it’s a totally realistic system, it proved to be incredibly frustrating for me, even when I’d assigned multiple talent points to improve it.
I feel special mention should be given to the frankly fantastic weapon and crafting system within Dead Island. Aside from your standard selection of guns (which are never in great supply, be warned!) pretty much anything you can get hold of can be used as a melee weapon, from smacking zombies in the face with canoe paddles to beating them off with brooms. The fun doesn’t stop there though – Dead Island features a weapon modding system enabling you to stick various objects together to find new and exciting ways to take the ‘un’ out of ‘undead,’ from your simple changes such as adding barbed wire or broken glass to a baseball bat right through to the more elaborate ideas such as wiring a katana up to a car battery in order to fry zombies or sticking a bunch of deodorant cans and lighter together to make some spectacular home-made grenades.
Visually the game really is pretty stunning. I know there are some people out there who insist that everything running on OnLive looks terrible but I really don’t see it, especially in the case of Dead Island which really does look amazing. Doubly amazing is the fact I played most of this game via my Android tablet and the Universal Wireless OnLive Controller – who needs Angry Birds when you can use your tablet to slaughter zombies! Rather than just take my word for how good it looks though there is a big button loitering down at the bottom of the screen, click it and you’ll be able to check out a free demo of Dead Island and see for yourself! I really enjoyed Dead Island. As you can see from the first screenshot in this review I’ve spent about 25 hours playing it, and in that time I’ve reached playthrough 2 on one character and I’ve briefly played around with the remaining 3 characters. For me that’s pretty good value for money – I’ll easily be able to get 100 hours out of the game and still have plenty left to do. There are currently also 2 pieces of additional content available for Dead Island on OnLive; Bloodbath Arena and Ryder White. If I had to give the OnLive version some kind of arbitrary score I’d give it 8 Electrified Katanas out of 10.