Vacation in Hell
The story of Dead Island takes place on the beautiful tropical island of Banoi, just off the shore of New Guinea. While the island initially looks like a paradise resort, it quickly becomes Hell on Earth as it falls to zombie infestation. You play as one of four survivors, all of whom are given detailed backstories that are quickly forgotten about in the rest of the game. The main plot of the game revolves around you trying to get off Banoi and helping all the survivors you can along the way. The story was generally bland and totally predictable, including the discovery of the zombie origin. The side quests are also usually bland, mostly consisting of "going somewhere and getting/killing something/somebody". Some side quests place you in interesting situations, but considering the monotony of 90% of them, it becomes truly difficult to care about any of the small characters.
The gameplay in Dead Island could be called a mix of Borderlands and Condemned. The game starts off giving you a choice to play one of four characters with different specializations (blunt weapons, firearms, throwing weapons, and sharp weapons). The game then throws you in an open world environment filled with various quests to complete and treasure chests to loot. The Borderlands parallel arises from a leveling system, which gives your character additional strength and improved attacks, and also provides you with a skill tree with which to optimize your character. The tree provides a variety of perks, ranging from being able to stomp on the heads of prone zombies to regenerating health faster. Along the way you find different weapons from pipes to machetes which are presented with a Diablo-esque coloring system (white, green, purple, etc.) While firearms are present in the game, they only appear in later stages of the game and are mostly used against human opponents, which means you spend most of the game time slaughtering zombies with various melee weapons. The combat is brutal and bloody, drawing the Condemned parallel, with you being able to break or cut off the arms from the zombies, making them totally helpless. While the analog controls let you have a fun time preparing each swing of the weapon, it becomes increasingly difficult to handle later in the game with larger crowds of zombies roaming around. Fortunately, the digital controls still allow you to surgically remove limbs, but are definitely easier to use. The side quests, while occasionally interesting (such as finding a teddy bear for a crazy survivor), definitely quickly become mundane as you rush through them to get more precious XP. Overall, the gameplay is bloody and weighty enough to provide satisfaction throughout the whole length of the game, although later on you will definitely try to avoid fighting zombies to save time and weapons (since they all break after constant use). While the game supports and endorses co-op (with even cut scenes showing all the characters even if you are playing alone), it is still a solid game to play alone, although cutting down zombies with friends is definitely fun.
Dead Island's visuals mainly thrive off of its unusual setting: seeing a beautiful resort covered in blood and surrounded by zombies is certainly an experience that is hard to forget. The game makes good use of its engine by making large sprawling environments with a decent amount of variety (although you will surely go through a lot of tropic jungles). While the jungles in the game may not look as nice as Crysis or Far Cry 2, it is still immersive enough for you to shiver at certain moments when you find yourself in a damp sewer surrounded by a pack of zombies. It is also to the game's credit that it has a very steady frame rate, which only started chugging when I was completely overwhelmed by opponents, but was usually very snappy, which is convenient when you try to hack an arm off a zombie while he is charging right at you.
Despite the bland story and repetitive side missions, Dead Island is still definitely a memorable experience. While various bugs and glitches may make your time in Banoi difficult, they still won't prevent you from feeling the satisfaction of decapitating a zombie. Moreover, the leveling system and scaling enemies will mean the game will never be too easy for you and will want you to come back for New Game + to fully level your character. The game almost becomes a jewel if you bring some friends along for the ride: the bugs and story take a back seat when you and your buddy simultaneously hack off both arms from one zombie.