|System: X360, PS3, PC (DLC)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Gearbox Software||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: 2K Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 24, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
Borderlands was one of my very favorite multiplayer titles of 2009; tea-bagging Skagzilla's corpse with three friends was definitely one of my top-10 gaming highlights of the year. The uncomplicated loot-'n-shoot formula proved to be highly addictive, and I loved the beautiful art direction, challenging missions, and humorous dialogue. Of course, you can only have so much of a good thing before it begins to wear thin. After hitting level 50, experience points become meaningless, and it's tough to find better loot than what you already have. You can always fire up the game with another character class, but outside of distinct special abilities, you're essentially doing the exact same things you did the first run through.
Enter The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned; the first DLC offering for Borderlands. This additional content takes player characters of levels 10 to 50 to a spooky, run-down portion of Pandora where the "living-challenged" look to swarm you and suck the sweet brain-meats out of your skull. This add-on is a whopping 1GB in size, so you'd think you're getting a massive new campaign to shoot your way through. Alas, there are only a few extra hours of fun to be found - fun that culminates in a particularly epic boss battle. Despite the relatively short adventure, killing zombies with the incendiary and shock modified weapons of Borderlands is a real blast. The addition of new and tweaked enemies along with the fresh environments make this DLC more than worth the price of admission, assuming you haven't totally burned yourself out on the Borderlands formula.
Told from the perspective of Marcus Kincaid - the arms-dealing vendor - Zombie Island takes place after the mainline quest for the vault has been completed. That said, the new content can be accessed anytime (as long as you've attained at least level 10) by heading to a fast-travel station. Fights are scaled to your character's level, so Zombie Island serves as a great way to give secondary and tertiary characters you may have started some valuable experience in a distinct area of Pandora. However, if you're expecting new epic loot, you'll be disappointed. Zombie Island gives you a great new place to shoot around in, but unique, DLC-specific bonus items are not part of the package. You will, however, have access to more Achievements, Trophies, and in-game titles.
Mission structure is identical to that of Borderlands; you can head to the community board to pick up side quests or accept mainline missions from Dr. Ned and a Claptrap. One thing that has changed a bit in Zombie Island is the emphasis on headshots. It seems to be far easier to take out the shambling horde of undead with well-placed noggin-needlers, allowing you to pick up the "maggot-ridden" brains for an overarching collection quest. Also, the elemental effects of modified weapons really come into play. Scorching undead flesh with incendiary rounds proved to be essential in taking out the oft-surrounding monsters. Due to the zombie nature of your foes, you'll find yourself being waylaid from all sides by the reanimated rottens. This can get pretty darn hectic and even startle you, as the zombies are surprisingly stealthy and can spawn from practically anywhere, clawing their way out of the fetid soil.
I was impressed with just how different the environments are this time around. The moonlit, leafless trees, the dried up, wreck-strewn coves, and the moss-covered, dilapidated buildings really make for a creepy setting that nicely sets off the game's zombie tale (I haven't played Borderlands for a couple weeks and forgot how beautiful the game can be). Best of all, nearly every zone within Zombie Island is brand new. This really keeps things fresh. Unfortunately, one zone - Dead Haven - has been recycled from the original game. It's essentially a re-skinned and re-pathed imagining of Old Haven. Similarly, the new enemy designs are great, though a bit of character model rehashing is done here as well - many of the more mundane zombies are simply newly-textured bandits. Nevertheless, I especially liked the Tankensteins and Suicide Zombies, but the Defilers and Wereskags were also pretty cool.
Though the music is not as emblematic as in Borderlands, it nicely conveys the spooky feeling the devs sought to replicate. In the end, the ambient effects and background music meld into one eerie, chill-inducing mélange. As was the case in Borderlands, the dialogue in Zombie Island is often comical. In fact, a lot of funny writing was implemented to give the game a sort of Evil Dead/Army of Darkness vibe. This is definitely a gaming experience where you'll want to turn the volume up to get into the zombie-slaying hilarity.
While I wish The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned added some more innovative and substantive mechanics to the Borderlands formula, the completely re-skinned experience is definitely enough to warrant this add-on's purchase. Besides, the quality of the co-op gameplay found in Borderlands is undeniable, and Zombie Island gives you the perfect excuse to head back to Pandora and dish out the hurt. If you haven't gotten completely burned out of Borderlands' shoot-'n-loot hijinks or are looking to pick the game back up, taking a relatively new character through the perils of The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned is certainly a worthwhile endeavor.
CCC Editor / News Director