Following the game’s opening cinematic that depicts the early stages of zombie panic setting in at a hotel night club, you’re given the choice of playing as four very different characters, the token strangers that are immune to the infection and must band together to survive. They each have slightly different base statistics for health, speed, and stamina, as well as a unique combat specialty: guns, blades, throwing, or blunt. Experience is awarded for combat and questing, and leveling up earns you a point to spend in any the three skill trees.
Most of these skills are similar or shared between classes, save for the bonuses applied to specific categories of weapons. (Despite your chosen specialization, you are allowed to use any weapon you want, provided you meet the level requirement.) Most abilities are passive, but each class has a unique Fury skill that can be activated after it’s charged by killing enemies, which will greatly increase your combat ability for a short period of time.
As previously stated, the weapon selection in Dead Island
is unique in that it initially consists of picking up various objects from the environment, such as broomsticks, kitchen knives, boat paddles, pipes, or wrenches. As you progress through the game, however, you’ll come to rely on more sophisticated implements of violence attained through quest rewards, random loot dropped by enemies, or [sometimes locked] chests scattered around the environment. These range from machetes, maces, and revolvers to katanas, sledgehammers, and automatic rifles. The selection is not nearly as varied as it is in a game like Borderlands
, but you’ll see plenty of variation on several dozen distinct weapon types.
You can use a workbench to upgrade any weapon and increase its base stats (damage, force, durability, handling), or modify it with salvaged materials to add special damage types including electricity, poison, fire, and bleeding. Melee weapons must be repaired frequently, as every hit will damage them. The appearance of the weapon in your hand will degrade over time, and if they’re allowed to break completely, they become virtually useless in combat. If you wait until that point, it becomes much more expensive to restore it working order than it would have been to maintain it regularly.
Gameplay revolves mostly around killing zombies, of course. Technically, they’re the type that results from a horrific virus causing extensive mutation in humans; they’re not actually the resurrected dead. For the sake of diversity, there are two basic types of monsters --slow, shambling, moaning “Walkers” and running, screaming, flailing “Infected” -- as well as several unique mini-bosses that seem to have borrowed behavior from other popular zombie games. Among them are the extra-strong but slow-moving “Thug” that knocks you down with powerful swipes, the exploding “Suicider,” and poison vomit-spewing “bloater,” along with a few others.
While you will never normally encounter any group of enemies large enough to be called a horde, there are enough common threats around that you may often find yourself surrounded. In times like that, you’re forced to keep your wits about you and keep an eye on the slower-moving targets as you dispatch the ones you wouldn’t be able to simply run away from. This is also where the ability to throw any melee weapon comes in handy, so it’s wise to always carry extras so as not to leave yourself empty handed. One of the coolest things to do in Dead Island
is to chuck a machete at a screaming infected as he runs toward you, beheading him, and watching his lifeless body be carried by momentum to land at your feet. Then you can retrieve the weapon and use it on his friends!
’s combat is some of the most visceral and immersive I’ve ever experienced, which is achieved primarily through the implementation of some more realistic elements. For instance, your character’s movement is much more tactile and inertia-based, such that you move more slowly when walking backwards, sideways, or uphill and it takes some time to change directions. You are able to sprint and jump/dodge, but only so much as your limited stamina will allow.
Stamina is also drained whenever you swing a melee weapon or perform special moves; this forces you to put even more thought into how you conduct yourself around the enemy. If you spend all of your energy running and jumping around or swinging your weapon haphazardly, you will exhaust yourself and increase your chance of being overwhelmed or knocked down if you get hit. Luckily, you are always able to perform a basic kick attack to create some space and give you time to recover.
Though melee combat is Dead Island
’s primary focus, you will find and use a variety of firearms, especially in the second half of the game. In a refreshing change of pace, ammo is scarce enough that you will actually have to think carefully on how you use it most of the time. Even when you get to the point where you are able to purchase bullets in quantity, or even craft your own from spare parts, you’ll never be able to make a gun your primary weapon because of how little reserve ammo you are allowed to carry.