(Review copy played on the Xbox 360 console, mileage may vary)
There was one game that came out in 2012 that I played far more than any other. FAR more. Dead Island. And now it has a sequel!
If you haven’t checked it out, the Dead Island franchise (I can call it that now) is a first person shooter that blends Zombieland and a Corona beer commercial together. In the first game, you play one of four zombie plague-resistant survivors on a tropical resort island. You gather, make and modify weapons to battle your way across the island, trying to find a way to escape the ravenous hordes of zombies- who come in several different types.
At the end of the first game, you finally escaped in a helicopter. The sequel, Dead Island: Riptide, has you on a military ship, where you’re thrown in the brig and experimented on to see why you’re immune. Of course, something goes wrong, the crew start to turn and the poopy hits the fan. You are soon fighting your way to the bridge to try and save the ship. Alas, despite your best zombie killing efforts, the ship runs aground on a new island that the zombie plague has already spread to. Once again, you’re on the hunt for weapons and a way home.
One of the coolest mechanics of Dead Island are the missions. There are the main storyline missions, like finding parts to fix an old truck so you can drive all over the place- gleefully mowing down zombies too stupid to get out of the way. And there are side missions- helping AI survivors with stupid little errands. Like retrieving a woman’s favorite necklace from her vacation bungalow- ‘cause she’s too scared to go get it herself. The missions all offer various rewards- normally cool weapons, like my favorite, the Samurai sword.
Now, earlier, I called this a first person shooter. That’s partially correct. There are guns in Dead Island. Ammo is harder to come by, however. Really, the game is geared towards melee combat. Smashing zombies’ heads in, cutting off their arms, legs, or faces. It’s all very gruesome fun. And there are a variety of weapons- from broomsticks, to machetes to homemade explosives (molotov cocktails are my drink of choice on Dead Island).
For the sequel, they have slightly improved the graphics. Otherwise, the game seems to have remained pretty much the same. This might explain a price of only $49.99 when I pre-ordered my copy, rather than the normal $65.99 most Xbox games run (it’s also available for PS3 and PCs).
One feature I really liked was importing my character from the first game. I mean, I didn’t play for hundreds and hundreds of hours for nothing! In Dead Island, you rank your characters up, as in most ‘shooters. You can unlock special skills and abilities and you tend to do more damage the higher your rank. Weapons you find are also more deadly at higher ranks. Unfortunately, if you host a game, the zombies tend to be at your level and that almost balances things. If you want to be a superman, you have to join the game of someone much lower ranked.
While my Level 60 Logan has a decided advantage (that’s one of the five pre-made, playable characters in this game- a fifth having been added for the sequel), all the awesome gear I spent gathering for those many months I played is gone! I’m starting all over. No more samurai sword. No more thermal grenades. No more Left Hand of Glova (an easter eggish device hidden in the first game that let you shoot lightning from your fingertips like Emperor Palpatine- awesome for removing Zombie’s faces).
So what’s Dead Island like, compared to other zombie games? Well, I hate third person games, so I put it head and shoulders above Dead Rising. I just can’t aim guns properly in third person. Otherwise, they both seem very similar. Left For Dead? That’s more of an arcade-styled game. I love it and its sequel, and I’d love to play as Vietnam Vet Bill on Dead Island, but the L4D games tend to be more frantic. I prefer to stalk my undead prey, leaping out from around a corner and slicing their heads off. Or doing the Dead Island-Stomp. That’s a clever move that lets you pop a zombie head after you’ve knocked them off their feet.
Kid appropriate? Well, no, I suppose, in general it’s not. Of course that doesn’t stop so many parents who invest in the Nanny-Box. Small children of uncaring, uninterested parents will undoubtably show up, their shrill voices making my ears bleed in co-op mode as they plead for cheat codes, duplicating items, or if anyone knows any glitches.
I allow my kids to watch the gameplay, as we routinely watch behind-the-scenes programs, like Faceoff, and I’d rather they not be scared of zombies. We have great fun coming up with corney, MST3K-like jokes for during my game play.
Co-Op mode? Oh, yes, it has that. You can play by your lonesome, or join with three other players to fight the AI Zombie Horde. The co-op mode allows you to make games private so you don’t have to play with obnoxious 11 year olds- you can reserve game slots for your friends.
Should you buy Dead Island: Riptide? Well, yes. Unless you like dying and respawning over and over again like in such popular shooters as Battlefield 3, Call of Doody, LAMO, etc. Or if you’re a-scared of zombies and gore- ’cause this game has a ton of it. Zombies leap out of bushes and spawn behind you sometimes. It’s definitely a jump-out-and-get-you kind of horror vibe they were going for, and they have succeeded.
In the end, I give Dead Island: Riptide Five Decapitated Zombie Heads Up. It’s an awesome game that made me want to call in sick for work today and play the hell out of it. I suspect it is going to cut severely into my writing schedule and rot my brain all summer.