Dead Island Preview

After releasing one of the most emotional trailers of this generation, the team at Techland brought its upcoming zombie title Dead Island to GDC to show off the actual gameplay. During a behind-closed-doors session, I was given my first look at Dead Island in action. Based on the aforementioned trailer, it was nothing like I expected. The demo featured a playable character named Sam B, a former rap star who came to the island to perform. Characters in Dead Island are separated by classes: a tank (Sam B's class), an assassin, a leader, and a jack of all trades. During the day of his performance the outbreak occurs. Sam B wakes to a group of survivors racing his body into a hut. As he slowly comes to, Sam B spots a man hovering above him with a baseball bat primed for his skull. "Nod your head. Do you understand me?" the man screams, testing Sam B's humanity. After Sam B passes the test, he's able to speak with survivors locked away in the hut. Soon, Sam B volunteers to jump out of the small enclosed space to save a survivor who is battling a zombie horde alone on the outside. BOOM video 8174 The Dead Island trailer that features a family fighting for survival using anything at their disposal does set up one of the actual game's core elements, improvising weapons. In the game, players will be able to use a multitude of everyday items to combat the zombie horde. Exiting the hut, for example, Sam B grabs a canoe paddle. As weapons are used, they begin to decay. After a few swings against the heads of zombies, the blood-covered paddle begins to splinter and lose pieces. Picking up a new weapon is easy enough, there's plenty of makeshift weaponry on the beach Sam B finds himself on; however, to rid himself of his current arsenal, Sam B throws it like a javelin through a nearby zombie. For more intricate killing devices, players can find blueprints scattered throughout the large island and build combination weapons at designated workbench areas. Though that element sounds extremely similar to Dead Rising 2, Vincent Kummer--brand manager at publisher Deep Silver--says the two games are very different in this respect. Dead Island doesn't allow players to make wacky killing machines, everything is set in the real world.

One such workbench creation.

During the demo, the zombies had a mixture of slow 'George Romero-style' and faster '28 Days Later' killers. There are also specialized zombies, like the Suicider, which gets as close to the player as it can before exploding to deal massive amounts of damage. A few things threw me during the demo. Sam B constantly threw out the same, terrible one-liners as he killed zombies. If that becomes annoying during a thirty minute demo, I don't imagine surviving through the game's campaign. The other thing that struck me was Sam B's story. Here is a character that has just arrived on an island, with seemingly zero ties to those around him, who is now in the middle of a zombie outbreak. It's hard to muster emotion for those around you when the character you control is introduced as a lone wolf. In fact, players have the choice to ignore NPCs in need, all together. Dead Island is completely first-person, presumably to increase the immersion. This view includes vehicle sections players may be able to unlock if they decide to accomplish a certain task. While that has the potential to drag players into the experience, the HUD flashes information for nearly every task. Experience Points earned numbers flash across the screen after every zombie kill, icons hover around items that you can pick up, and more. It's excessive and hides a very good looking game engine. According to Kummer, the team is still exploring how to manage the HUD. As players collect points for killing zombies, they can unlock new abilities to aid in their quest for survival. Some abilities are class specific. Sam B, for example, can unlock a move that allows him to stomp on a zombie's head as it lays on the ground. Classes also have special abilities. Sam B's ability lets him unleash "Fury," which allows him the opportunity to punch zombies to death.

Let me axe you something.

According to Techland, Dead Island is labeled as a "zombie-slasher/action RPG." The game focuses on melee combat, though Kummer mentions that players will come across firearms with extremely limited ammunition during the game. The world of Dead Island is completely open to the player, and its scale seemed quite large based on what I saw. Players can also call in some help with four-player, drop-in/drop-out cooperative play. Dead Island seems to have plucked some of the best elements from Dead Rising 2 and Left 4 Dead. What I had hoped was that Techland would find a way to capture some of the innocence and emotion found in the trailer. For example, I asked Kummer about families throughout the island. My specific question was whether or not the game features children as zombies, something that made up most of the game's recent trailer. According to Kummer, the team "doesn't want to go there." Though the demo I saw focused heavily on the game's action, Kummer says that the team at Techland wants the game to have more of an emotional tilt. "We want the game to be emotional. We want it to be about survival and we want to show that when you are on an island when stuff like that happens--when a zombie outbreak--that everyone is involved." Kummer says that the goal of the trailer was to showcase everyone's individual desire to survive. "There is no one making any differentiation between children, between families, between adults, between single persons," he said. "Everyone that is on the island is panicked and freaked out, and is actually just looking for a way out." Since a lot of the ideas at work here have been tried before, there's some automatic potential attached to Dead Island. The game isn't the emotional examination of zombie survival akin to The Walking Dead that I had hoped it would be, but it has some good ideas. I just hope that Dead Island can find a few ideas that can be specifically pinpointed as its own.