Dead Island Preview

24 Mar 2011  by   John Robertson
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It’s difficult to go into a demo room and see a game when your only exposure to it thus far has been a masterfully crafted, fully CGI trailer. It’s doubly difficult to see a game for the first time when the only thing you’ve seen about it thus far is that trailer.
Without a hint of hesitation of sarcasm, it’s safe to say that Dead Island’s trailer has taken the internet by storm. The slick presentation, the horror, the little girl, the great music all combining to form one of the most memorable game trailers I can remember. Developer Techland and their publisher Deep Silver both proclaimed that it shouldn’t be taken literally, that we shouldn’t use it as a means to gauge the game’s content, merely as a way of judging the ‘vibe’ or ‘feel’ of Dead Island. 
Well, they were right. From what we’ve seen, Dead Island’s gameplay has very little in common with the trailer. Having seen roughly only 20 minutes of the game thus far, I’m in no position to comment on the game’s ‘vibe’ as yet and will refrain from doing so.
According to the Deep Silver rep presenting the game to us, Dead Island is a ‘zombie slasher action-RPG’, a genre I’ve never heard of before but one that sounds fairly interesting if only because of how fun it is to say. When I pushed him about whether or not this is a ‘fully-fledged’ RPG (see our interview later today),he was quick to say that it wasn’t because it has a linear story as opposed to branching paths and multiple endings.

But, from what I’ve seen, Dead Island sure looks like a fully-fledged RPG. Final Fantasy has a linear story, that’s a RPG. Dragon Quest has a linear story, that’s a RPG. Baldur’s Gate has a linear story, that’s a…  you get the point.
It’s not a huge stretch to say that the combat element of the gameplay is similar to that of Bethesda’s Fallout  or Oblivion. Action takes places from a first-person perspective with your weapon (and possibly your hand) the only visual signifier of your presence, attack an enemy and hit points excrete from their head, kill an enemy and an XP+ marker is your reward.
Where it immediately differs from Bethesda’s games is in the number of enemies you encounter. On a stroll through the Capital Wasteland you may not encounter an enemy for ten minutes or more (even then you may only come across a single Mole Rat or Rad Scorpion), whereas the beaches of Dead Island are teeming with undead waiting hungrily for a taste of your arm, neck or pancreas. The volume of enemies patrolling the area we saw created a strong sense of claustrophobia and intensity; there was barely a moment’s rest to go on the loot for a Rad-X or a bottle of Nuka-Cola.
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Supposedly there are a large number of different zombies that you’ll encounter but we only got personal with four of them. Your standard zombie was exactly as you’d expect, slow, bloody and as mindless as Beiber-fever. There are also fast zombies (described as ‘28 Days Later zombies’) who sprint at you with reckless abandon. A Yao Ming sized zombie packed a big punch but was slower than slow-motion and another appeared strikingly similar to Left 4 Dead’s ‘Boomer’, complete with horrifically boiled skin and an explosive temperament.
In an attempt to combat this threat your arsenal is seemingly underwhelming at first but actually packs quite a punch. Your instruments of pain infliction consist of whatever is lying around the island, meaning you’ll be fending off the hordes with oars and planks of wood – if you’re really lucky you might find an axe or a machete.
Individual body parts can be targeted depending on the enemy you’re facing. For example, regular zombies are best tackled by aiming straight for the head while the 28 Days Later variety needs slowing down so it’s a good idea to hack those legs off first (legs, arms, heads can all be targeted individually by simply aiming in the relevant direction).
I tend to get suspicious when someone says ‘this is not a fully fledged RPG’ after that same person has just finished demoing a game in which you pick up a wealth of what seem to be useless items before hauling them to a work bench and begins assembling them into some new-fangled zombie mangler. Dead Island’s work benches take you to a menu screen from which you can craft, repair (weapons have individual damage, range and force stats) or upgrade weapons. After some tinkering the simple machete was transformed into an electric-machete and some knives were kitted out as sticky bombs by attaching some form of explosive to them.

Each of the four characters you can choose to play as has their own set of strengths and weaknesses and their own skills trees and unique talents to aid them in their zombie slaughter. The ‘tank’ character type that we witnessed in our demo possessed the ‘berserk’ skill which allowed him to dispatch zombies with a single punch of his fist. We weren’t able to get a good look at the skill tree but it was separated into three distinct sections, one of which, ‘fury’, houses the berserk ability.
The environment itself looks lush and detailed, the draw distance is impressive and there always seems to be a lot going on. What we saw was based almost exclusively on a beach lined with palm trees which created a nice juxtaposition between island paradise and undead stumblers. Apparently the full game features numerous indoor areas (in which you’ll need to use a flashlight to navigate), thick jungles and terrorised cities.
Four players can also team up online to tackle the game in co-op. Multiplayer games allow you to bring in your own character from single player, level up in a friend’s game and return to your own story complete with those upgrades. We were also promised that players would receive sufficient warning when joining a game which is ahead of where they are in their own in a bid to prevent players from spoiling the narrative for themselves.
Even though I’ve seen the game in action, I’ve got a decent feel for the mechanics and I’m starting to get a sense of the tone it’s trying to achieve, all I can think about whenever someone mentions Dead Island is that trailer. Let’s hope this isn’t one of those occasions where the hype outdoes the product.

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