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E3 2011: Dead Island (Hands On)

Posted by: John at 6/8/2011 12:16 AM
Game: Dead Island
Developer: Techland
Release Window/Date: September 6, 2011
What's polished: Atmosphere, weapon system, co-op play
What needs polish: Melee detection, bugs

The trailer for Dead Island really started the hype for the zombie killing game. It was moving and very well done. At E3, I was able to sit down and play an early version of the game on the Xbox 360 and as a heavy player of Left 4 Dead, it's quite different.

For the demo, I was able to play with three others in a co-op session. You can jump in and out, which is always great feature for co-op games. We started out in a safe area with other humans where we could purchase new weapons and items.

A workbench provided the ability to repair, build, and upgrade new weapons. Throughout the game, you'll get blueprints to be able to take various items you find around the island and make new zombie killing tools. All weapons degrade when used so you'll need to repair them on the bench. If you want to, you can add abilities to some of the weapons you own. In the demo, I was able to add a chance to shock a zombie with electricity when struck. There are a thousands of variety of upgrades so you can have a lot of fun increasing the ability of various weapons in your arsenal.

The game seems to emphasize a lot on melee combat. While there are guns in the game, it seems you're more effective using some hand held weapon to kill zombies. Fatigue is a big factor as you can't just swing away carelessly. When to attack as well as where adds some strategic element to combat. Throwing your weapon seems to be a very good way to kill zombies as well, but you'll have to retrieve it after you've hit them. If you are being overwhelmed, you can kick them back in order to get away from their attack. If a zombie grabs a hold of you, you can do a button combination/quick time event to push them away. From the half hour playing session I had, the most effective way to get through the horde is with some melee weapon.

Dead Island has a very RPG feel to it with the ability to level up your abilities and build your character via a skill tree. There are three distinct skill trees that you can upgrade throughout your time on the island. To further differentiate your character, each playable character has their own distinct strengths and weaknesses so you can replay the game using someone different and have a different experience.

The island is huge and has plenty of areas to explore and zombies to kill. There are different zombie types and even the same zombies you meet can attack you differently depending the level you are. You'll even meet up with looters who aren't zombies and they'll attack you on sight giving you another type of enemy to deal with. With over 200 side quests and miles to explore, there's just a ton of things you can do. You'll get dynamic weather to change the mood of where you're walking. You'll be spending a good 20 to 30 hours playing Dead Island alone or with friends.

While comparisons to Left 4 Dead are inevitable, Dead Island plays so much different from that game and it's a refreshing change for the zombie killing genre. I'm anxious to see the final build and get some more time surviving an island zombie apocalypse this Fall.