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Dead Island Preview

By Jeff Buckland, 3/10/2011

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Most gamers hadn't even heard of Dead Island up until a few weeks ago, but after the cinematic trailer hit, people suddenly really wanted this game. Developed by Techland, this first-person zombie action game looks like it will combine the best of Left 4 Dead, Dead Rising, and maybe some of those open-world RPGs that we hear are pretty popular right now.

Our live, but hands-off demo started on a beach. There are four characters you can play as, and as this has some fairly serious RPG elements, each of these characters has a unique talent tree that you'll fill in by getting experience and leveling up. Our demo was driven in the role of Sam B, a one-hit-wonder rapper who came to this resort island in the Caribbean to do a concert. He's one of the few on the island that is immune to the virus that caused the zombie breakout, and that means that a lot of susceptible people are going to huddle in safe areas and give you quests to go out there, get covered in zombie guts, and figure out a way to get off the island. Sam B was the tank-type character that gets in there and mixes it up in melee, and while none of the other characters were featured, the assumption is that at least one or two of them do better at range.

It's not all tropical resorts in Dead Island, despite what the the trailer might lead you to believe. We got to see plenty of interiors, along with underground areas and even a small city - I got kind of a Just Cause vibe from the visuals and openness, although I'm pretty sure the theme will stay closer to more standard tropical island-type jungles throughout. In at least the single player game, you'll be able to roam freely and pick up and complete quests as you go.

Combat is fast and furious, and it's experienced entirely from a first-person view. Most of your weapons are melee-oriented, as this island doesn't have any convenient army bases nearby for you to loot M4s from, and weapons do decay like we've seen in Dead Rising - but here, you can upgrade and repair weapons, too. There are formulas for building new ones from the various junk and parts you'll find on the island, and these are built in the same way that you'd create something like, say, the Shishkebab in Fallout 3. You won't be making silly weapon combos like you did in Dead Rising, and while the developers say the weapons will make realistic sense, I do question the realism of attaching wires and a battery to a machete and attempting to shocking a zombie while slicing it up. Eventually you will get your hands on some basic guns, but ammo will be severely limited, so you'll have to use them sparingly.

You won't survive if you make a fight out of every zombie encounter, so avoid the ones you can to keep your weapon strength up - especially once you level up some and don't need to fight run-of-the-mill walkers. Sometimes you can't avoid a fight, though, and you'll be able to throw pretty much any weapon if you want to take out enemies at range. You'll also be able to hold multiple melee weapons, so you can quickly toss a few at some of the faster-moving, 28 Days Later-style variants you'll occasionally find. Some zombies almost totally require you to hit them from range, too, like the suicide zombie that explodes when it dies.

We got to see a good amount of combat, and it looked solid and fun in the sharp-looking PC build demoed to us at GDC, but what interested me most was the idea of taking out a tougher zombie's limb in order to disable one or more of its attacks. Not only could you sever limbs and heads, but you could also break bones with a blunt object, causing the animation to shift to a useless, deformed limb instead of a spurting stump. It's probably pretty obvious that this game is gory as hell, and we saw plenty of decapitations, both "cleanly" at the neck as well as nastier ones (say, a slice above the jaw rather than below it) and other really disgusting sprays of blood.

I know a lot of gamers saw that trailer and really want to see more, and I'm sure that the developers will indulge players, but what I can tell you now is that Dead Island already looks like a blast. We'll get our hands on the game by the end of 2011, but for now, make sure to check out the stellar trailer that was released last month. And if you've already seen it... watch it again!



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