E3 2011: Dead Island Hands-On Preview – Undead Nightmare
Written Thursday, June 23, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Zombies, zombies everywhere and plenty of weapons to mash them up with. That's Dead Island in a nutshell and what a nutshell it is. We saw Dead Island in a hands-off state a few months ago, and while it looked good, we weren't expecting all that much from it as we prepared to get our first hands-on with the game at E3. In a quiet room with 4-player co-op set up and ready to go, we're in for a pleasant surprise as it turns out, because Dead Island is shaping up to be a delectable decaying treat that defied our expectations.
Frankly, we figured that Dead Island would be something akin to Condemned with zombies and a few RPG elements thrown in, but the reality is that it's a whole lot more, as our extensive hands-on with the game behind closed doors at E3 amply demonstrated. Starting off ensconced within the safe haven of a small chapel on the outskirts of what was once a lively holiday town packed with tourists, we're given the chance to prepare for the onslaught of undead holiday makers awaiting us outside. Given a randomly selected character out of the four on offer, we're assigned Logan, the mohawk-sporting, lean and mean Jack-of-all-Trades, who joins Sam B the Tank class, Xian Mei the Assassin and Purna the Leader class.
Like all of Dead Island's safe zones, there's weapons traders peddling their wares, weapons chests filled with rubbish, disposable blunt instruments and workbenches for repairing and upgrading your arsenal. First port of call for our party is a visit to Rodrigue the resident weapon vendor who has a massive array of exotic melee weapons for sale, so with a copious amount of cash in our account for the purposes of this demo, we load up on throwing knives, sickles, machetes and whatever we can afford. Weapons are colour coded and named accordingly based on their condition, so you know that a feeble wrench is going to be a lot less effective than say a formidable or tough wrench marked out in blue or purple rather than plain white text.
Armed to the teeth with more sharp metal than a Gillette factory, we head to the workbench to boost a few of the better weapons so that they'll last longer and we create some explosive throwing knives by strapping miniature bomb devices to a set of blades. In Dead Island, you'll be able to acquire a range of blueprints that will enable you to assemble makeshift custom weapons like the electric machete or a simple nail bat at any bench in the game, and goodness knows you'll most definitely need them. With the team together and raring to go, Purna leads the way and we exit the church into the glaring sun, snaking down some steps onto a trash-strewn street where a few regular zombies shamble around aimlessly.
Asking no questions, we take out one of our sickles, hold the L2 trigger to wind it up for a throw, aim and pull the R2 trigger to send it spinning through the air. We score first blood as it thumps into a zombie's brainpan and floors it. We sprint to the carcass with our sickle sticking out of it and retrieve it for a repeated use, then follow the team into the chaos ahead. While carrying out these few activities, we notice a red bar at the bottom centre of the screen, which represents your character's stamina. Every action you perform, whether it's swinging a weapon, jumping, sprinting or kicking, you'll expend stamina, which means that you can't go wildly flailing around, or you'll wear yourself out. Besides, you can save on stamina by stomping the heads of floored zombies and enjoy the bloody mess while doing so.
Dead Island's mini map has a white line that marks out the optimum route to your primary, story-driven objective, so we're under strict orders to stay on track. There's numerous side streets and nooks that just beg to be explored though, but we resist temptation and stay the course. Back at the church we could have chatted to survivors to take on side quests, but time is at a premium meaning they're off the table for the demo. Forging on, we come across another group of undead among several burnt out vehicles scattered across the street, as a Thug zombie emerges from behind a van. Then another one joins him. It's time for some teamwork, as we hold the R1 button to bring up the weapon selection wheel and choose something a bit more suitable for the job at hand. Throwing a steel rod at one Thug, we run at it with a wooden plank and start beating the hell out him, before switching to something shaprer then holding circle to unleash Logan's Fury state, which temporarily gives him much greater accuracy with his 'Bullseye' ability. All it takes is a few well-placed thwacks with the 2x4 and the Thugs get taken down.
Each character has their own unique Fury ability that can be upgraded through their skill tree, where you're able to spend XP to bolster proficiency in combat, survival, stamina and other key skills. These skills will come in handy fighting the tougher classes of slavering undead, such as the Ram who we encounter later into the demo. He's the straitjacket-wearing maniac who charges at whoever is antagonising him the most, which is incidentally where the multi-directional jump comes into play. Jumping and pressing any direction enables you to make evasive hops forward, left, right and backwards, so as the Ram runs at us we're able to leap to one side and attack his relatively exposed back. Once the Ram is dealt with, we carry onward, raiding weapon chests and trashcans for weapons and supplies, finding a pistol with a few clips along the way. We pump a few bullets into some zombies, with a few headshots having the desired effect. One of our teammates then sets up a gas canister and we shoot it prematurely amid all of the hubbub. There's no friendly fire, but splash damage from an explosion can damage an ally we find out.
We find the pistol comes in handy again as we run into looters going on a rampage and attacking anyone on sight, which shows that it won't be just zombies you'll have to worry about. The uninfected human race is bad enough as it is. And so our hands-on session draws to a close as we loop around back to the church where we began. Stopping to look at the in-game map of the fictional island of Banoi, we can see the green sectors that have yet to be explored, showing that we've only visited around 8 to 10 percent of the entire island. Dead Island confounds our expectations as to what we thought it would be like, blowing our last look at the game out of the water. It's not only a remarkably brutal first-person melee actioner, with kicking melee attacks, punching, shooting, masses of sharp and blunt weaponry and head-stomping, but Dead Island appears to have all of the requisite RPG aspects firmly in place too. If Techland can deliver the kind of well-paced action we've played through thus far, with RPG depth and an interesting enough story, Dead Island could be another worthwhile entry into the annals of zombie gaming history.
Dead Island will be whisking you away to a zombie paradise on September 6th, 2011.