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Dead Island: SurVivors review: Enough to rise the series from the dead?
Two years after soft launching on iOS and Android, the latest installation in the Dead Island franchise has finally been officially released. Dead Island: SurVivors takes place in the same setting as the original 2011 release, with many of the same characters. Beyond that, it’s a completely different game.
It should at least be a step up from the mediocrity of the sequel titles released in the years following the initial hit, right? Read on for the full Dead Island: SurVivors review.
Island hopping with zombies
Dead Island: SurVivors features the return of Sam B and the rest of “the surVivors” as they travel around a series of islands saving other surVivors from a zombie outbreak. You need to plow through hundreds or even thousands of zombies in order to save a handful of tourists, which I suppose is worth it.
After rescuing a certain number of people, the island is “freed” and you move on to the next, more difficult one — despite there clearly being more zombies and surVivors on that island. Mission accomplished, I guess.
Although zombies overrun your camp, nothing bad happens when you fail a mission
You successfully rescue surVivors by defending your camp from a horde of zombies on the map. Victories will also net you a loot-filled suitcase, the premium currency called gems, and some cash. Not all hordes reward surVivors — only some are “loot hordes,” which give metal for beefing up your defenses.
As you rescue more surVivors you’ll hit milestones allowing you to deploy additional turrets. Zombie hordes also become more powerful, and the learning curve is steep. Expect to die a lot. Thankfully (and disappointingly), nothing bad happens when you fail a mission.
Although you directly control your character, there are no open world elements in Dead Island: SurVivors. There isn’t even a free play mode to see how long you can survive waves of zombies, which seems like a no-brainer (pun intended).
Genre mashup gameplay
Dead Island: SurVivors takes a different approach to the zombie genre than its first-person predecessors. The camera is top down, and the gameplay is a mix of tower defense-style base building and hack and slash action.
The tower defense part of the game is interesting and it features some neat turret designs. Some roll flaming tires at the zombie attackers, while others zap them with lightning bolts from a distance. Different turrets do different kinds of damage as well, and keeping track of each horde’s weakness is key to overcoming the challenge.
Expect frequent miss-taps that get you torn to pieces by bikini-clad zombies
As for the real-time combat, it’s fairly basic but it works. Unlike many mobile action games, it doesn’t feature onscreen virtual controls. Instead, you attack zombies by tapping on them or use consumables by tapping small icons on the screen.
This might work well on larger devices, but I sometimes struggled to tap on the right zombie on my Nokia 7 Plus‘ 6-inch screen. The problem is made worse when zombies are clumped up, which is most of the game. Expect frequent miss-taps that get you torn to pieces by bikini-clad zombies.
Each weapon has a special move executed with a swipe, and each character has a special ability activated with a double tap. It took me a long time to get used to this, and I don’t know how many times I died while swiping furiously across the screen.
Not all sunshine and raw brains
There are a few quirks to Dead Island: SurVivors that arise as a result of this genre mashup. The first is that zombie pathing is all over the place. A red line indicates where they are supposed to go, but if they chase you off that path or get knocked away by a cannon, it’s anyone’s guess where they’ll end up.
Sometimes zombies sneak between two turrets, and other times they get stuck in corners. Your character can also get stuck in large groups of zombies, which will (once again) probably get you killed.
Neither side of the gameplay is executed particularly well. Turrets aren’t strong enough on their own to defend the camp no matter how well they’re placed, and your character will quickly become overwhelmed if you try to take on hordes of zombies on your own.
Don’t get me wrong, the game is fun. However, inconsistent pathing and awkward controls sometimes make it frustrating. There are tons of better tower defense games on Android, and even more great action games.
Classic mobile progression
One controversial element of Dead Island: SurVivors is how you level up defensive turrets, characters, weapons, and consumables. Each is represented by a card, and once you’ve collected a certain number of duplicate copies you can spend cash to level them up.
This is the same system found in Clash Royale and countless other mobile titles, but it adds an unwelcome element of randomness to your progression. Sometimes you simply can’t advance in the game until your suitcases open. Whether you wait for this to happen or use precious gems to speed up the process, it can be frustrating.
There are common, rare, epic, and legendary cards. Finishing islands unlocks additional cards in the loot pool, which could be a bad thing if you don’t get the right cards early. It’s a frustrating way to gate progression that prevents long play sessions.
Some of the unlockable items and weapons are pretty cool. There are more than 25 weapons available, and eight consumables, like Molotov cocktails and self-guided defense drones. Unfortunately, you’re often limited by what you have, rather than what’s best for the situation.
A Zombie apocalypse with a tropical twist
The visuals in Dead Island: SurVivors are one of its strongest features. It has a more cartoony 3D style than the original game.
Sticking with the tropical island theme, many of the zombies are in beach gear. There’s a wide cast of nose-less zombies, from headband wearing runners to overweight beach-goers that explode upon death.
Although controls are clunky at times, the character animations are great
Turrets (called traps) feature interesting junkyard-style designs. Most of them look like they were cobbled together from whatever could be found, which fits the theme perfectly. There are 16 traps to collect and level up in total, and all of them are useful for one thing or another in the game.
Although the controls are clunky at times, the character animations are great. Frozen zombies shatter when you hit them, and attacking a zombie that’s knocked down launches into a slow-motion attack dealing massive damage.
Dead Island: SurVivors microtransactions
Dead Island: SurVivors uses a premium currency, much like most free-to-play mobile games. In-app purchases for gems range from $4.99 to $99.99. A few gems can also be collected by opening suitcases or completing achievements.
You can spend gems to purchase cash, suitcases, or speed up the opening of suitcases you receive from defeating zombies. Gems aren’t absolutely necessary, but they are the only way to speed up progression other than waiting three or eight hours to open a suitcase.
You can also use gems to hire another worker, which increases the number of suitcases you can open at once. An extra worker costs just over $4.99 in gems. This is a more reliable way to progress faster in the game than buying suitcases filled with random loot.
Finally, you can make one-time purchases to unlock bundles with new characters and weapons. This option is thrown in your face each time you are defeated, which gets annoying after the first few deaths.
Dead Island: SurVivors review – Conclusion
It’s far from perfect, but Dead Island: SurVivors is a decent way to kill some time for zombie game fanatics. Fans of the original Dead Island probably won’t be impressed, since this game has little in common with the 2009 hit.
Zombie games have been done to death (and back) in the last few years, and Dead Island: SurVivors simply doesn’t stand out enough.
What do you think of Dead Island: SurVivors? Does it quench your thirst for brains or are you waiting until the eventual release of Dead Island 2? Let us know in the comments below!