Saturday, November 26, 2011

Megabits Column: Dead Island

Megabits of Gaming contributes a monthly column in Charged Middle East – a leading Dubai-based gadgets and games magazine that provides news, reviews and features on the latest home and consumer electronics.

Each month, Megabits takes a look at a new release in a gaming franchise and considers how its evolved over the years and what makes it great!

Here’s the latest of the articles from the October 2011 issue. For more about the magazine, check out its Facebook page after the jump.

Sun cream? Check. Swimming shorts? Check. Currency? Absolutely. Shotgun ammo? Eyes in the back of your head? Survival instinct? You’d better hope you’ve not forgotten these... otherwise, Dead Island is one holiday destination you may not need a return ticket from!

What better way to get away from all the stresses and strains of everyday life than to retreat to an island paradise, knowing that your only worry is working out how best to while away the hours enjoying the sun, sea and surf? Oh, and how best to fend off the hundreds of marauding zombies that have taken over the once idyllic resort.

Dead Island from Deep Silver and Techland transports us to the luxury Royal Palms resort on the picturesque isle of Banoi in the South Pacific when calm quickly descends into chaos. After a night of heavy drinking you awake to find the place in turmoil; the hotel has been ransacked, suitcases looted and bodies are strewn about the place. Somehow you’ve survived a zombie outbreak – now you just have to ensure it stays that way!

As one of four playable characters, this is all about survival of the fittest as you negotiate the vast island and its varied terrain, looking for answers and wielding as many makeshift weapons as possible.

What appears at first glance appears to be a shooter actually has RPG elements, and requires you to scour the resort for weapons, collect money and complete missions for XP to upgrade your character’s skills and abilities. Completing set tasks or helping stranded holidaymakers unlocks more missions. Imagine a combination of Borderlands, Fallout 3 and Left 4 Dead and you’ll get the idea.

Zombie games have been spreading almost as rapidly as the very pandemic that features in them. The past few years have been positively full of them, the successful combination of action, puzzle solving and seat-of-your-pants gameplay.

From Dead Rising 2 and Red Dead Redemption’s Undead Nightmare to the zombie maps of Call of Duty Black Ops, gamers have shown their appreciation with their wallets over the past year and continued to hand over their hard-earned cash for some zombie-slaying carnage. There’s something profoundly appealing about blowing the heads off the undead or lopping off the odd limb; maybe it’s the fact it’s guilt free... it’s them or you, and they’re dead anyway.

The shuffling hordes have been synonymous with computers and consoles for decades, with prime examples dating back to 1984 with the 8-bit classics Zombie Zombie and The Evil Dead on the C64 and ZX Spectrum. One of the greatest zombie cameos was the titular pirate in the seminal 1991 point and click classic Monkey Island 2: Le Chuck’s Revenge – a lovable rogue dead set on getting the better of Guybrush Threepwood.

But it was arguably Capcom’s Resident Evil that breathed life into the survival horror genre and set the benchmark in 1996. In the original game, the zombies were little more than the slow, shuffling type and posed little real threat.

By 2008 and they had evolved somewhat with Left 4 Dead and its sequel a year later stacking the odds very much in their favour. Valve’s epic was all about volume and speed – loads of the undead, many of which would actually run at you. Not only did this add tension and shock value to the proceedings but it also set up some fantastic opportunities for melee combat and co-op play.

Dead Island has clearly taken inspiration from many of its predecessors. Within moments of walking outside, you’ll find yourself reaching for an oar, bottle, knife or bat to fend off your attackers just like in Left 4 Dead. Then there’s a hint of Dead Rising 2 thrown into the mix too... every so often you’ll come across a workshop where you can splice together objects to make more powerful weapons.

Zombie games are nothing new but they’ve adapted and changed as the years have passed. With Dead Island, some of the best bits have been pulled together, feeding even the most bloodthirsty of appetites.