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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?

Zombie Island of Dr. Ned takes place in Jakob’s Cove, which is accessible from any waypoint in the main game. Dr. Ned, a wayward employee of the Jakobs corporation, has used the powers of science to unleash a brain-eating plague upon the population.For fans of the tongue-in-cheek humor of Borderlands, the first DLC installment does not disappoint. The intro had me laughing from the get-go. The episode also continues the use of pop-culture references and backwoods caricatures that lent the main game much of its charm.

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.

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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.

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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.

Gamer Limit gives Zombie Island of Dr. Ned a 7/10.
  1. Great first review, Sean! It’s a shame that the first batch of DLC suffers from the same repetitive qualities as the main game.

    I have a funny story that sums up my party and I’s thoughts on the poor design:

    As we received the mission “Skagzilla”, our eyes lit up with excitement. After fighting droves of the same exact raider and skag skins, it was nice to actually find some sort of “boss” that had promises of a different look. Well, imagine our reaction when Skagzilla WAS JUST A GIANT VERSION OF THE SECOND ENEMY YOU EVER ENCOUNTER.

    Suffice to say we were literally rolling on the floor laughing: three of us, that is. The fourth party member tried to justify the re-skin, and we just made fun of Gearbox’s laziness the entire night. Considering 90% of the game consists of “skag, raider, and worm” reskins, the jokes were even more plentiful as time went on.

  2. Great review, Sean! A pity this looks as disappointing as I found the original.

  3. I gave up on Borderlands after beating it the first time. While I loved most of the game, there were too many problems with the PC version, and I was greatly dissapointed by a lot of the bosses and the ending of the game. I still have a blast playing it though, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up any DLC. Not that I have to worry about that though, since there is no release date for the PC DLC.

    Thanks for the review Sean! :-)

  4. avatar Avs

    I believe most of its sales were on the console, vs the PC. While console players tend not to blast through these kinds of games the way PC players do, Borderlands as a whole simply ended after the 1st game. The second playthrough was pretty much the same, and after the ending, there was no game left to play. I dont expect the DLC to make a difference, and while gearbox did a decent job with Borderlands, I don’t agree with putting out a $10 DLC which is the same thing with a new theme. They should take a page out of Valve’s playbook.

  5. avatar Marx

    Great Review Sean!, I just had a quick point out, Fallout 3 was the first FPS-RPS. Thanks alot for this, I think ill be picking up this DLC im sorry guys but i just can’t pass up the opportunity to kill zombies with some of the amazing weapons in this game.

    P.s. Ive played and beaten this game 3 times im on my forth time now, it seems every time i play it is just as good or better, for those that have only played and beaten it once GO FOR THE PLAYTHROUGH NUMBER 2 ITS SO MUCH BETTER THE SECOND TIME AROUND!

  6. I wouldn’t even say it was that recent to class Fallout 3 as an early example. In my opinion, Deus Ex would probably be the first substantial offering to the mainstreaming of FPS-RPG

  7. avatar Anonymous

    Well I think the reviewer summed it all up and I was a bit disappointed with the loot. I think that was probably the big part of the game as in getting the next better weapon. Also the fact if you played this the 2nd time around and maxed to level 50 then it really offers nothing to the table the DLC. If you already have the latest gear then you can easily run through zombies without breaking a sweat. I was mowing zombies left and right with ease and that really disappointed me. Only way to make it more challenging is start from scratch, but I was hoping a continuation.

    More loot and uncap the level to challenge us further. The ending can be forgiven if they drop some rare items. I mean I was disappointed I couldn’t go in, but some rare item drops would motivate me to play it more often. Maybe I am asking too much?

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