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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 got my first look at Dead Island

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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. 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.

Xav de Matos was previously a games journalist creating content at Shacknews.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    March 4, 2011 8:30 AM

    Comment on Dead Island Preview, by Xav de Matos.

    • reply
      March 4, 2011 8:53 AM

      [deleted]

    • reply
      March 4, 2011 9:00 AM

      [deleted]

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      March 4, 2011 9:13 AM

      I love how the developer says that you can't put together 'wacky' killing machines, and you placed that comment directly above the picture of the guy about to kill a zombie with an electrified machete. It's always good to have a reminder that electrified machetes are NOT wacky! They are only for those serious, real world kind of zombie killers.

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        March 4, 2011 9:36 AM

        what good does electrifying it even do?? :(

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          March 4, 2011 9:57 AM

          I don't know. Assuming these are virus/infection based, then technically their still living flesh and muscles would react to electricity. If they are voodoo magic (which I don't think they are) then nothing!

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          March 4, 2011 5:41 PM

          +3 electrical damage.

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            March 5, 2011 2:05 AM

            just be careful when you put it back in your pocket!

      • reply
        March 4, 2011 10:02 AM

        amen!

    • reply
      March 4, 2011 9:49 AM

      I like to think that in the same way Darksiders used ideas from many other games and was still awesome, this game can do it. Still, the makeshift weapons on workbenches is a little on the nose.

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      March 4, 2011 9:50 AM

      I want it so very very much

    • reply
      March 4, 2011 10:02 AM

      [deleted]

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        March 4, 2011 1:55 PM

        [deleted]

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        March 4, 2011 4:38 PM

        I agree. Will keep an eye on it, but after the many hours spend on Left 4 Dead and Dead Rising, it just doesn't seem like it does enough to separate itself from the pack.

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      March 4, 2011 10:04 AM

      4 player COOP? AWESOME!


      showing us THAT cinematic trailer, and then derailing with classes, dead rising 2 style combinating weapons (okay, so no chainsaw paddle, but an electronic machete? i dont want to STUN, i want to DISMEMBER!!!) and L4D-like special zombies?

      not cool, bro.


      still, awesome game? cool, bro.

      • reply
        March 4, 2011 11:07 AM

        Yah, you can't have a trailer like that and then not have a story-driven game.

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        March 4, 2011 11:49 AM

        Yeh bro, brotally whay you said. BROOOOOO

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          March 4, 2011 1:34 PM

          I hear ya, hella tight bro. gonna commit some major brotrocities in this game. it'll be a regular zombie brolocaust.

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      March 4, 2011 10:07 AM

      I didn't realize this was an FPS.

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        March 5, 2011 7:19 AM

        Yeah neither did I, disappointing

    • reply
      March 4, 2011 10:43 AM

      The main character is a rap star and he's white? So this is Eminem on undead spring break?

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        March 4, 2011 10:44 AM

        [deleted]

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        March 4, 2011 12:09 PM

        No need to go with cliches, I like that decision. There's lots of good white rappers, e.g. R.A. the Rugged Man, Selph Titled or Copywrite. Okay, I wouldn't consider them "stars" yet, but I'm sure we will see more white rappers taking over the charts soon...

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        March 4, 2011 5:07 PM

        I believe they said washed up white rapper, so think more Vanilla Ice than Eminem.

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      March 4, 2011 10:56 AM

      wow, this is probably the BEST trailer I have ever seen in my life.

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        March 4, 2011 12:11 PM

        It is! Worth to note though that the trailer was produced by completely different studio specialized in trailers as contract work. So the Dead Island developers have pretty much nothing to do with it. Still the game sounds awesome!

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      March 4, 2011 11:01 AM

      This is what I was afraid of: the emotion-laden trailer implied that the game will have a good story, but judging by this preview, the actual gameplay is your typical kill-everything action game. I do hope the developer lives up to their promise of capturing more emotion. It'd be a shame if the trailer was the only thing unique about the game.

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        March 4, 2011 11:03 AM

        how did the trailer imply a good story? It was just a zombie attack.

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          March 4, 2011 11:22 AM

          The comments in this thread are hilarious. I can't believe people read into/got so hyped by a CGI trailer having nothing to do with anything.

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          March 4, 2011 11:23 AM

          It had good cinematic direction, which is one way of telling a story, it appears the game itself will be a little more void of that.

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            March 4, 2011 11:41 AM

            This. Sure, the trailer featured zombies running around chomping on people, but it also told a beautiful story that made me think (and hope) that the game might focus on the personal struggles of the playable characters. I mean, that's not something zombie games do too often, so it would be interesting.

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              March 4, 2011 11:49 AM

              DR2 had a pretty good story IMO.

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              March 4, 2011 11:53 AM

              Yeah, I agree with you here. As an avid zombie fan I was hoping this would be more Walking Dead style story telling rather than more arcade zombie action. While I love any addition to the zombie universe, Xav sure makes it sound like they are just taking the best parts of previous games and slapping them together to create some zombie fun rather than tie together an connective story that immerses the player far more than just making it a FPS.

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        March 4, 2011 11:42 AM

        a game, even a zombie game, can have kill-everything-action-romp and still have endereing characters. it depends on how it's written. look at left 4 dead. that game would have been a different beast were it not for how well the characters interacted

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        March 4, 2011 11:43 AM

        i have the same fear and have bet a very fancy dinner that the devs cannot deliver on that emotional promise. i cannot believe OverloadUT bought that trailer completely!

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      March 4, 2011 11:54 AM

      This trailer's popularity is reason enough to believe that Quantum Dream's next game will be a sure fire hit - (emotional war game).

      • Zek legacy 10 years legacy 20 years
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        March 4, 2011 12:13 PM

        Yeah, it worked for Gears of War.

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          March 4, 2011 12:37 PM

          I guess I meant that a game could be a hit if it didn't have action like Gears of War - what I was trying to say was that adult gamers are being drawn to more emotional experiences, rather than twitchy / adrenal gland squeezers.

          I wish the actual game was more like the trailer in this case. A Heavy Rain-esque zombie title. And I don't even like zombies , I am just craving something more mature!

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      March 4, 2011 12:16 PM

      sounds all too typical in design, like it will be fun for a few weekends until you've exhausted funny zombie killing spree ideas.

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      March 4, 2011 12:58 PM

      why dont developers put children in open world games?!?!?

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        March 4, 2011 12:59 PM

        They don't want to deal with all of the major networks making sensationalist stories about "Child-killing Simulator Game Marketed to Children"

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          March 4, 2011 4:18 PM

          Also they would have Adults Only for a rating and no one would carry them.

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        March 4, 2011 1:46 PM

        fallout 3/new vegas had them.

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          March 4, 2011 2:27 PM

          And they were immune to being killed without mods.

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            March 5, 2011 7:53 AM

            I thought this was some ESRB rule - the no killing kids thing.

            At the very least it's one of the unwritten rules of most horror movies - the children are never in any real danger. So you generally don't see them in horror movies. Once they hit High School age though, fuck 'em. You have sex once in a parked car and Freddy's gonna get your ass.

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        March 4, 2011 3:32 PM

        Many countries have laws prohibiting depictions of violence against children in any form of media. If they wanted to have child zombies they would have to make it so the game replaced the child zombies with adult zombies depending on your country.

        And there are also the "child killer simulator!" accusations as others have mentioned.

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        March 4, 2011 4:15 PM

        Ultima Online had them originally - but the subsequent killing and dismembering had them removed pretty quick.

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        March 4, 2011 4:20 PM

        i always hated how you couldn't kill the little kid king in Stormwind

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          March 5, 2011 8:07 AM

          Or that FUCKING little boy who took that girl's doll. What a douche >:(

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      March 4, 2011 1:31 PM

      I cant wait for this!

      Also, I dont get the hate on Dead Rising 2. I really really like that game, also DR1. Yes, the game is wacky and full of satire and dark humor, but it is definitely not boring. The only thing that is hurting the game is that the timed missions/gameplay that feels too fast/rushed. Why design a super duper big mall/casinos that you cant explore because you're rushed from A to B, cant even play around in between. Yes, you need to replay it in order to get the full enjoyment, but cant you enjoy it in one sitting without feeling rushed?

      Anyway, back to Dead Island: This game seems to take all the good stuff from DR series and L4d2 series like the article said, and made it into its own game. I dont mind FPS/RPG zombie game, at all. We need more of this kind of game :)

      PS: Too bad the multilayered skin damage is taken out :( That was actually a great cool features...

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        March 4, 2011 5:25 PM

        I don't get the hate for Dead Rising 2 either. It was fantastic, though I agree with you about the timed element being annoying. Either that should go, or the save system, as it's particularly frustrating having to choose between saving the game or getting to a boss fight (in which you know you might die) on time.

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      March 4, 2011 5:28 PM

      It sounds like the developers are taking a more involved approach to the game's story, I just hope that zombie shooters don't become the new WWII fps.

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      March 4, 2011 5:45 PM

      Can't wait for this, I'm hoping that they can really capture some survival horror in this game and not just straight up action.

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      March 5, 2011 5:55 AM

      So in a nutshell -- the trailer is in no way an indication of the actual game, and is merely something cool the CGI guys came up with.

      I can accept that, but it makes me really not care about the game. If I get around to it I'll play it kind of thing.

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        March 5, 2011 7:22 AM

        [deleted]

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        March 5, 2011 7:37 AM

        yes

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        March 5, 2011 9:32 AM

        At least you're familiar with the name of the game, and you may follow it up later on.

        If not for that trailer, you wouldn't know the game existed. Even if the game itself is really good.

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      March 5, 2011 7:35 AM

      I'll buy this on steam

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      March 5, 2011 1:09 PM

      Sounds like bad news. Ah well.

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      March 5, 2011 1:27 PM

      [deleted]

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      March 7, 2011 6:46 AM

      they probably got wind of "dead rising" and "left 4 dead" when they were originally toying with their concept. then 4-5 years later - "oh let's just put it out and see what happens". should have gone back to the drawing board and amended the concept. they could have done so much more. now we'll have to wait and see what telltale bring to the table with "the walking dead" game.

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