When Borderlands was released for consoles in late October, the industry’s leading psychic analyst, Michael Pachter, prophesied the failure of the release. With the game coming out scant weeks before big titles like Modern Warfare 2 and Dragon Age: Origins, he boldly declared that the game had been “sent to die”.
With console sales reaching 531K for the month of October alone, and solid critical reviews, it appears that Gearbox’s new IP has somehow cheated the reaper. The recent release of the game’s first DLC, Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, aims to keep interest in the title alive, even beyond the grave.
Does the new content shamble its rotted way into gamers’ hearts, or has it been sent to un-die?
The voice acting and ECHO dialogue writing were strong throughout, particularly in the case of the main villian, Dr. Ned (who was “in no way like Dr. Zed” from Fyrestone) kept a smile on my face and pushed the action forward to end of the story.
The signature art style that Gearbox employed with Borderlands is used to full effect in Zombie Island, adding just the right creepy cartoonish atmosphere to the proceedings. In fact, I found myself wishing that the main game had come out in September so that this DLC would have been released in time for Halloween.
Zombie Island features two new main enemy types: zombies and wereskags. Zombies have just the right slow motion feel to them with spawn numbers appropriately compensating for their lack of maneuverability. The fact that they emerge from the ground allows for some unexpected flanking, often forcing the player to abandon the trusty backpedal-and-spray tactic.
Wereskags are much faster and harder to to drop, and smaller in number after the section of the story dedicated to their creation. I felt they were woefully underutilized in the episode, which was disappointing, as they were the most challenging of the new enemy types.
Level design deviates very little from the Borderlands formula, which detracts from the experience. Kill quests, fetch quests, and the like still dominate the landscape, often providing the thinnest of pretenses to wade through the zombie infested swamps again.
I, personally, can forgive any atrocity in level design if the payoff is there to make the trudge worthwhile. As DLC for the world’s first successful FPS-RPG, the biggest question on gamers’ minds is probably if Zombie Island will give loot addicts another satisfying hit of that sweet gun-hoarding crack.
Unfortunately, the lack of loot is this episode’s largest shortcoming. Bosses carry no unique weapons, as many in the main game did. Additionally, the loot chests that provide the greatest chances to get the top-tier gear are woefully infrequent compared to Borderlands proper. I left the DLC wielding the same set of weapons as when I began it.
The climactic boss-battle turned out to be anything but climactic, which repeats the concerns many players had with the ending of Borderlands. I easily defeated the boss with circle-strafing, and was rewarded with a random scattering of sub-standard loot.
In the areas that Gearbox put fresh effort into, Zombie Island of Dr. Ned was a resounding success. Story, character, humor, enemy behaviors, and art design are all major improvements on the existing Borderlands standards.
Unfortunately, they didn’t put the same effort into other aspects. Zombies are just decayed skins of all the raider types from the main game, and the wereskags are just skag models with different colors and the “were” prefix on the name.
They made some humorously self-referential comments in the game about simply reusing old assets, but, after playing through the entire 6-hour experience, it becomes less funny and more telling.
For those that have the means and already enjoy the campy humor of Borderlands, Zombie Island of Dr. Ned may be just what you’re looking for. I really did enjoy the presentation of this episode from start to finish. I hope the next DLC maintains this tradition while addressing some of the more glaring shortcomings.
For those who are trying to stretch their gaming dollar, this is a tougher recommendation to make. The lack of loot, uninspired mission design, and re-skinned enemies don’t provide the hoped-for value in exchange for the $10 (800 MS Points) asking price.