Sunday, September 18, 2011

Favorites of a Video Game Geek #3: DEAD ISLAND

This isn't something I do every time I come across a video game that becomes a favorite. The primary reason for that is there's a lot of games I love, and if I were to list and describe why I enjoy each and every one, I'd have to call this blog something video game-centered. (Yeah, I've got a lot of favorites!) Without a doubt, those at the very top of my favorites list will be mentioned. This installment is also different because it's my review of a new game, something I haven't exactly done before, and rest assured it's the opinion of someone who played the game! Therefore, it's for those who might have an interest in the topic at hand I bring you my review of the game "Dead Island".

Question: Why do people go to a tropic resort island? Answer: To get away from it all...that is to say, to get away from all the crap and troubles of the world and escape to an oasis of beauty and simplicity. That seems to be the God-created purpose of places like the island of Banoi, a paradise island where one can escape from any and every care and immerse into tropical beauty and sun worship, a place where everything's permissible and what's forbidden is left to the individual tourist and how much money they can spend. Unfortunately, in this place meant to be paradise, a world-ending virus has taken root. Both tourists and natives of the island are falling ill...only to rise back up with killer appetites and a bloodlust to hunt for the scent of those not yet infected. Virtually overnight, Banoi is turned from Heaven to a Hell on Earth, and only a select few immune to the virus have a chance to escape. The tropical paradise of Banoi has transformed into...DEAD ISLAND!

Okay, let me get this out of the way. Many of my favorite games involve zombies, like the "Resident Evil", "Dead Rising", and "Left 4 Dead" games, among others. So I was already semi-biased to get this game, which combines the island mystery of "Lost" with the blood-spattered horror of "Dawn of the Dead". Thankfully, my personal tastes gravitated me toward a helluva has its flaws, granted, but what's great about "Dead Island" makes me forgive those flaws. Mostly!

The player can choose one of four characters immune from infection to get through the story-based missions and fetch-quests. For my part, I chose the lovely yet formidable Xian Mei (voiced by Kim Mai Guest, who also provided the voice of Mei Ling from my favorite video game ever, "Metal Gear Solid"), who worked as a resort receptionist before the dead came to town. At any time, the player can choose to fight through zombies solo or get online to play through the campaign with others as a group of four. Considering the difficulty of some enemies (more on that later), I'd advise getting online help whenever possible to ease the frustration!

"Dead Island" is played in the first-person, but unlike most games which involve shooting from that perspective, the focus is on melee combat with blunt or bladed weapons. The analog controls, thankfully, are ideal for such gameplay and respond very well. If you have trouble, just practice, practice, practice! This dynamic is blended with open world gameplay in the vein of "Grand Theft Auto"...RPG elements are involved, as well, meaning the more enemies you kill and more missions you complete, the more experience you get to rise in zombie-kicking prowess! Each character has individual talents you'd be wise to Xian Mei's case, she gets better and better with edged weapons from knives to swords. It'll take a while to get there, but slicing into enemies with a katana is both bloody and damned awesome! (Be at ease, "L4D" lovers, there's guns to be found on this island, too...but be warned at the same time that ammunition is scarce!) However, while melee weapons don't run out of ammo, they do lose durability the more the player uses them, and they'll show it visibly. Work benches can be found in different parts of the island to fix and upgrade them to slow the wear and tear on them, thankfully.

The open world dynamics are ideal complement to the graphics, which are gorgeous...the amazing look of the game's Banoi surroundings trumps even the island setting of another favorite of mine, "Far Cry Instincts". You'll have all different kinds of places to go, from the resort-dominated beaches to a ruined slum to the thick jungle interior and more. But where there's beauty, never forget, things can turn downright beastly as decaying, bloody zombies can lurk around the proverbial next corner!

One more thing about the missions in "Dead Island". You're always given the choice to take a mission or not, which is a good thing. (Although you won't get through the story and maybe off the island if you don't accept the main plot-driven missions!) You have the freedom to do what you want when you want, without can even take it at any pace you want. Be warned, though, that some missions will annoy you. They're the epitomy of fetch-quests, like when a simpering nobody wants you to go and get something they can get themselves if only they'd get the courage up to risk it. They are...well, for want of a better word, pussies. The hardier survivors should just tie them up and leave them on the beach to get piled on by zombies!

Whatever pace you wish to take through "Dead Island", though, be warned it's a long took me a while to get through it, but I'll admit I only refused a few of the non-story missions. (Of which there were many!) One thing that may make it long for you, depending on your frustration level, are some enemy undead you'll run into. Now you'll learn that there are varying levels of difficulty for the missions you'll take, from easy to very hard. The difficulty of the game between missions can shift uncomfortably, too, and usually not in the player's favor! One of the worst examples comes from one of the many types of undead you have to fight, and I don't even mean a 'sub-boss' type, like the Ram! Infecteds are the fastest and most ferocious enemy you'll run into, and at times you'll run into more than one me, you'll have to be quick to kick them away at the right moment or run for a more elevated place to get a breather unless you want something bad to happen! The game might glitch on you depending on if you die at a checkpoint during some missions, too...your next objective might not show up! It's not bad enough to restart the game, just get some literal distance from the next objective that needs to appear before going any further. That among other glitches, like the few and far-between instances of undead appearing spontaneously to attack you, the gamer needs to be enlightened of!

In spite of those faults, though, "Dead Island" is a great game, both in terms of Survival Horror and open world freedom. If you're willing to get into the dynamic that distinguishes it, melee combat, then you'll undoubtedly enjoy it. Just remember that even in the most beautiful of settings, nothing is perfect...the undead enemies will remind you of that if you don't watch out!

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