While looting the corpse of a bikini clad zombie corpse in Dead Island, I kept thinking “Where exactly did she keep that $9 I just pulled off her corpse”. There are only a few places an undead female zombie in a bikini could store money and let’s be honest, none of them are particularly pleasant and all of which would require large quantities of hand sanitizer before being actually clean. My pondering cost me though as a few of her undead friends snuck up on me and knocked me down.
I have to be honest, going into the preview build of Dead Island I wasn’t sure what to expect. John had played the game at E3 and he kept repeating that the game was a RPG and heavily focused on melee with the ability to upgrade and repair your weapons. After playing the game for a bit I can certainly validate John’s RPG claim to a degree. But Dead Island is is more than than just a RPG, as the game is a huge open world experience with a heavy focus on exploration, crafted drama, and the afore mentioned melee combat..
I wouldn’t quite say that Dead Island is a RPG though as the RPG elements are a bit on the light side.. Sure you gain experience by killing zombies and completing missions but each level just grants you an addition skill point to slot in the character specific skill tree. There aren’t skill points to be spread across attributes and spells to be learned, rather you simply fill out the progression you want for your character each time you level up.
At the start of the game you pick one of four characters. Each character starts off the same way, waking up from a night of partying to find that the island resort has become the site of a zombie outbreak. Your character is somehow immune to the virus but can still be killed by the zombies through biting,clawing, and other zombie attacks.
As you exit the hotel room the game walks you through a short tutorial as you meander out of the hotel before tossing you out into the bright world of Banoi, the tropical island resort the game is set in.
I will admit that I was reminded a lot of Elder Scrolls: Oblivion while playing the game as the world I saw was huge and full of life (well zombies anyway). From there you can either stick to the main plot of the game (trying to get off the island and figure out the reason for the outbreak) or you can explore the island and pick up side quests as you go along. I played through the demo build a few times and each experience was vastly different each time I played it.
One time I explored the island and ignored the main plot, another time I stuck strictly to the main plot line, and another I did a little bit of both and each time I had a lot of fun exploring and fighting off the undead
From what I can tell there’s a huge world to explore. I feel that I need qualify that statement as the demo had a one hour time limit which was incredibly frustrating. There’s really nothing like getting into a groove with a character, finally finding some decent weapons, upgrading them, and then running smack into a “Game Over” message. I’m guessing this won’t be part of the final game and is just there to taunt the media who got the debug build.
There’s an incredible amount of depth to the world as the environment is sprinkled with interesting little moments. On the way to the first mission you’ll pass a survivor in a blood filled pool surrounded by the bodies of his family. He sobs to you about how he had to do it to survive as they were going to kill him if he didn’t. It’s a fairly powerful moment and adds to the gravitas of the game.
In another hut you’ll find a female zombie bound to a bed with a video camera with the insinuation she and her significant other were making a “home video” right before being infected. In another I ran across a power station where four zombies had gotten caught in some power lines.
The other thing about Dead Island is the mood that I felt while playing it. There’s a heavy sense of foreboding and dread which is in sharp contrast to the postcard vacation world the game is set in. As I walked around the game I felt actual tension as I scanned for any undead who might attack me...and this was in broad daylight.
Combat in the game is solid and as John said, very melee focused. You pick up items as you explore the world. The items usually have a type and a description. Since most of the content I saw was the lower level stuff I saw a lot of flimsy knives, tiring wrenches, and other stuff of the “I’ll break right before you need me most” variety. Each character has a specialization (ranged weapons, sharpened objects, blunt weapons, etc) and their skill trees are married to that which means you’ll want to equip the right weapons for your character.
I didn’t get a chance to test the four player co-op at all but I can see where that’s could be two tons of fun in a one ton bag. It’s certainly not going to be as action packed as Left 4 Dead but I could see where playing in a group would be a lot of fun.
The game isn’t without problems though as I ran into a few clipping issues and some odd texture popping issues here and there. Hopefully both of these will be resolved before the game goes gold. It’s also worth noting that you’ll be killing the same zombies in different clothes over and over again.
The comparison to Elder Scrolls Oblivion is apt in that Dead Island has the same ideas about re-spawning enemies in areas you’ve cleared and how the zombies will always be around your current level. It’s not a bad system but it means that you’re never really safe in the game.
It’s safe to say that my opinion of Dead Island has changed a bit after spending time with the game. I’m hoping that Techland can manage to keep the gameplay after the first hour as good as the first hour because if they can I think this could be one of the sleeper hits of the year with it’s unique twist on the zombie genre and it’s nice combination of action and RPG elements.
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