Dead Island Preview – The Best Zombie Game Yet?

The trailer for Dead Island took a game that no one was talking about and made it one of the most anticipated titles of the year. With visceral violence and an emotional story, the short video forced people take notice. C&G had a chance to see the game in action at GDC and I am happy to say that this title is looking strong. It is still early but the combination gameplay they have in the title brings something new to the table. It mixes slasher action, RPG, Shooter and co-op gameplay into a singular experience, and though the game will continue to be perfected, if it can retain the excitement from the GDC demo, the game will prove exhilarating.

The game allows you to take control of one of four characters – the Tank (the demo character), the Assassin, the Jack of all trades and the Leader – each with a specific skill set. All these can be played with full drop-in/drop-out co-op throughout the game. This may sound very similar to Left 4 Dead, but the way all the elements work together really separates this game from the rest of the pack. Unlike Left 4 Dead, leveling up determines your in-game actions and play style.deadisland-all-all-screenshot-006The crafting system in the game is another aspect that should make people take notice. Essentially, you build your arsenal out of found items. These items when combined can create very powerful tools of destruction. The things your character constructs seem plausible in a way that reflects the real world. A knife and a battery combined to make an electrified weapon makes sense as does the way such weapons are built. For some this may remind them of Dead Rising – and I would agree half-way – but, in Dead Island there is a unnerving sense of realism.

The real world feel of the game permeates the title. The story, beyond the fact there are zombies, comes across as relatable. The dialog and actions of the NPC’s attempt to remain true to life. In short, they are scared and fighting for their lives. No one wants to step out and risk their own neck and this was painfully obvious in the demo that was shown. In the demo, the NPC’s let the zombies attack a member of their own crew because they do not want to risk their own lives. It is not until you (the player) jumps in that the character gets helped.

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The sense of desperation and struggle runs though Dead Island. I will tell you now that the family that are seen in the trailer are indeed dead, but their story, as well as the stories of others, scatter the island. With scraps of paper, journals, audio logs, etc. you build a narrative of the families and personnel that were on the island and are either dead, or are lusting after deadisland-all-all-screenshot-026your brains. It is a zombie story that takes us back to early John Romero films, and this is refreshing.  The game builds a fiction that is believable and human in nature.

As per usual, the combat looks brutal and bloody, and dismembering is part of the course. To fit with the slasher style aesthetic, you mash heads and shoot limbs with terrifying satisfaction. Your character tears though enemies with a ferocity that would put Predator to shame. Overall, the action looks fun and fast and this reporter wants to see if it holds up when he finally gets his hands on the game.

The demo only lasted around 20 minutes, but the full title aims to clock in at around 20-30 Hours. In the end, the full island is yours to explore, and it was said that some sections can take up to 15 minutes to walk to and from. Vehicle capabilities allow players to adventure with ease across the island, contracting that time considerably.

Dead Island has set some lofty goals for itself and with the trailer that is now running up millions of hits it has some high expectations. If they pull off everything they are hoping for it will be a sure winner. But as with any new title it will need to be seen how many of the things promised make it into the final product. I am excited to see how everything turns out and – even more so – I hope there is a playable demo of the game soon. The title is slated for a Q3 2011 release and will be published by Deep Silver on the PC, PS3, and 360.