I shoot one up before I come out shrieking from behind a wrecked truck. The beasts have a dumb glare about them, first with a dose of baffling surprise that turns into a greedy grin as soon as they evaluate my meaty constitution. They stumble, drawn, beyond any doubt, by the prospect of a human hamburger – more precisely, me – an initiative that I can only welcome with the sharp side of a rusty cleaver.
After bashing away at a few undead mouths and decapitating more filth than a French guillotine, I’m breathless. Fortunately enough, my constant de-zombiefying partner ever since the first Left 4 Dead, cocorulverde, gets in the middle of the massacre and cleans out everything I hadn’t managed to turn into pudding. There’s no doubt about it, the man’s a perfectionist.
That’s a fairly accurate two-minute excerpt from Dead Island, a game that proposes a new infection of the hungry undead, geographically placed on the foreground of the idyllic landscapes of Banoi. After an intro that seems to have been inspired by Prodigy’s Smack my Bitch Up or Cinnamon Chasers’ Luv Deluxe, in the sense that we see the action in first person as an alcoholic bent on big jail time live his ideal night, picking one of four characters: Xian, a receptionist that, much like in any standard blockbuster, is more proficient with a katana and machete than phones and clients; Sam B, the rapper who sings the intro song (Who Do You Voodoo, Bitch?) and the general skeptic of the group; Logan, an ex-football star fallen out of grace without losing his league abilities and Purna, an ex-cop turned bodyguard for any rich sack with an affinity for tattooed Nubian queens.
Each of them has customized abilities and is specialized on a certain type of weapons (Xian with sharp weapons, Purna with firearms, Logan with throwing weapons and Sam B with blunt weapons). Exploring your abilities is done through leveling up (part of the game’s RPG flavor) which, classically, is done through gaining experience for completed missions and by killing the numerous zombies populating Banoi.
Zombies which, following up on recent year’s trends, have their own stars. Aside from Walkers, the dumbest and slowest of the lot, we’ve got Infected – fast runners who will burn through your health, Floaters who move slowly and spit zombie essence towards the player, Rams who, just like rams, charge at and pound you unless you dodge, Suiciders who explode or Butchers who… butcher?
Dead Island begins in a bungalow populated by but a few terrorized survivors, and the four protagonists are pushed ahead, basically because they’re the only people immune to zombie bites off the entire island. Which might have something to do with their 0 negative blood types, which is no surprise considering how much of a universal donor you become when you start spreading misery and pain right off the bat.
After a few beach runs, alongside pools or hotel bars or resource runs through (badly) barricaded cabins, I discovered additional enclaves, each with their own dramas and quests. Aside from those, some quests are given by survivors whom you save from certain slaughter, and the background story can be explored through the collection of I.D.s or bits of the Banoi Herald.
Considering a broomstick can only retain its integrity for so long, Techland created a crafting system that alters both the functionality as well as the aesthetic of weapons, imbuing them with additional effects. For instance, a few wires and a battery added to a sword electrify it, adding both damage as well as a stun effect to its targets; chlorine, combined with a few more domestic tidbits, turns a blade into Hamlet’s sword, complete with poison. And so on and so forth.
In the safe areas, various makeshift structures protect a series of needy NPCs, from quest givers to traders or artisans willing to make you a Molotov, for instance, in exchange for a few bottles of alcohol picked up from the game’s bars. Often, right as you exit a safe house you’ll find a few vehicles all set up to efficiently cross the Island of Terror.
Because it’s big. Probably the most impressive aspect of the game is how big it really is, compared to Left 4 Dead for instance. If Valve’s title had a much well established route (with alternatives that were either short or really narrow or both), the island of Banoi has content for you to be able to take side trips without getting bored a few hours just looking for secrets and collectibles and enjoying the small jokes thrown in optional corners.
Besides, the secondary quests, which geographically speaking deviate from the main route considerably, unveil a lot about what’s going on around you: anarchist groups robbing everything that isn’t nailed to the floor, taking over police stations and blocking communications, while zombies invade hotels, massacre entire villages and generally populate the island by the majority.
Zombies which are only good to be killed by the hundreds, for which we get experience and the implicit level ups. The common denominator when it comes to the characters’ talents is Fury, an ability that, for a few seconds, sends our alter-ego into a killer frenzy, temporarily exchanging your current weapon for a customized superweapon in the category of your character’s excellence. Xian, for instance, gets a knife stronger than any sharp weapon you might find in the game. Logan throws an explosive set of knives, Sam B puts on a pair of mean knuckledusters and Purna has unlimited bullets for her gun. If you manage to kill enough zombies while Rage is on, your experience is multiplied depending on how big the victim streak is. And, not surprisingly, charging this ability is done through Rage points obtained for every kill obtained.