Did you know Dead Island takes place on a tropical island? Did you also know it has zombies in it? Did you also know that it looks as awesome as a baby koala riding a skateboard backwards? Of course you did! Because everybody knew these facts as soon as it was debuted at E3 a mere month ago.
I remember when the Dead Island announcement trailer first hit the Internet, I felt for sure it was going to be this year’s E3 run away winner for best trailer. Not meaning to brag or anything, but that was exactly what happened because the Internet lit up like a fat kid being handed a free cake and has been pining over the beauty of that trailer ever since. Which, rather unorthodoxly, I’m going to post right now because on the 1/1,000,000 chance you haven’t seen it yet you NEED to see it before I tell you exactly what went down this week when Deep Silver let me jump into their exotic paradise for 90 minutes of non-stop zombie splicing mayhem:[youtube width=”650″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZqrG1bdGtg[/youtube]
Did you see it? Did you see it? AHHH! So good. Still makes me sad every time I watch it. Anyway, in the wake of the announcement trailer release we have since been sprinkled with information that Dead Island will: have four-player drop-in/drop-out co-op play, take place in an open world environment, be available for all the leading platforms and have a heavily melee/survival focused gameplay style. Apart from this, though, we were mostly left in the dark for a few weeks to simply bask in the glow of the trailer. Now, however, I’ve got some of the goods on Dead Island!
This past week Deep Silver were generous enough to help chaperon me and two other of the gaming industry’s finest journalists around a section of Dead Island’s beautifully destroyed scenery for 90 minutes of four-player co-op action. We were controlling four survivors who were held up in a church (because it is always a church) with a group of others attempting to ride out the storm. We, apparently, being the only four souls brave enough to go outside and take on the undead scourge. Either that or they drew straws before we took over and we just happened upon the four unluckiest playable characters ever. Our “mission” was to place some posters up around the city for one of our fellow survivors to help find his wife and kid – or something along those lines. I place “mission” in speech marks because frankly I barely remember paying attention to the fact we had any kind of set goal once we wandered out onto the streets of Banoi.
The streets were so long, windy and packed full of scavengable debris (not to mention zombies) that out of the 90 minutes I can quite confidently say that we spent a good 75 minutes strolling off the mission’s path to climb roofs, explore buildings and open every dumpster in the hopes of finding a discarded shotgun. The world is so open and rife for probing that our expert guide had to keep snapping us into line because they were worried we’d play it for 90 minutes and wouldn’t finish a single mission! In the end, you’ll be relieved to know that we did indeed complete ONE mission. Just. The problem is that the game has an almost dynamic mission objective system where when you stumble into an area you can easily find yourself caught up in a totally different mission just by walking down an alley and taking interest in a burning trash bin. It’s a fascinating way to play the game because they feel a lot less like side missions and a lot more like they’re genuinely trying to flesh out the experience of surviving. Not just buying time or adding them in for the sake of an achievement.
That was almost the entirety of my 90 minute experience though. I got so lost and interested in the world I was in that the time just disappeared before my fingertips and I was left begging for a larger fix like Charlie Sheen on a Friday night. I rarely get that immersed in games, especially zombie-based games, because as fun as Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead are, there is a feeling that you are able to either survive easily or follow a simple linear direction and make it to the end. In Dead Island though I found immense pleasure bashing a zombie head in with an electrified spanner, jumping up onto a car to avoid the remaining horde clamming after me, and leaping heroically to a nearby balcony to scrounge through their bins for duct tape while my partners looked up at me with envy. Even despite all this Spiderman, trash-searching madness, when we returned to the church to collect our XP and have a hearty snack of Coca Cola and apples I still stared at a pause menu map that was roughly 70% green. “Is that just the sections we’re unable to get to? Or just the areas locked for this event?” I asked. “Neither,” they responded, “those are just the sections of this area which you didn’t explore.” My jaw damn near hit the desk in front of me. This one area could entertain me for days and it was merely one of many, and I didn’t even see all of it! It sounds too good to be true but the combination of first person melee combat, zombies in many different and varied flavours, huge environments, and well executed RPG elements really do get you hooked on this kind of stupid stuff once you’re unleashed into the Palms Resort.
Now that was my experience while in the game, but this is a Preview Feature! I know that you are all looking for some juicy previously unknown (or at least, rarely known) information about the game itself. Well, panic not, my friends, for I drilled down to the game’s core and snatched as much data about it as I possibly could with the build of the game I was presented with. There are a few basics which I’d like to get out of the way in a quick list just to confirm that these are happening: all characters will share the XP and cash when a mission is completed but XP and cash found/earned in the world will not be; every melee weapon in the game is throwable, should the event call for it, but you will obviously have to go and pick it back up; all limbs can be dismembered and can be specifically targeted; the four playable characters have different skills and different class advantages, and all melee weapons can be combined and customised with other items to make them even more deadly (ala Dead Rising 2). There are some of the basics out of the way, now let’s get down to some of the less likely elements in Dead Island.
No Teammate AI – There will be no friendly AI at all. No, really. It may be four player co-op, but without human players behind the controls you are on your own. Therefore you’d better get some friends going as soon as possible or accept the fact you’re going to be fighting the zombie apocalypse solo, come September!
The Skill Tree – If you’ve played Borderlands, think that system but with more options and move on. If you’ve never played Borderlands, then there are three categories (Fury, Combat, and Survival) which match up to strength, weapon efficiency and health bonuses. Every time you kill an enemy, it contributes towards an achievement, complete an objective or mission and pick a lock, you get XP which helps you level up and build up your Skill Tree as you see fit. It’s one of the strongest RPG elements in the game and I think it’s long overdue in a zombie-based survival game.
The Playable Characters – We’ve already mentioned that each character has different skill possibilities and different special attacks, but the one that caught me off guard was that the zombies react differently to every playable character. For example, I was randomly selected to be ‘Sam B’ who apparently is the most favoured between the zombies because he is big and well built and therefore looks like a T-Bone steak on legs to them. Some of the smaller, female characters however will be happily thrown aside by standard zombies to get their bloody hands on my sweet tender-loin of a right bicep. I found that a beautiful little touch because it not only adds a tiny bit of depth to each character but throws in another strategic element in as well when you’re playing with some buddies. Speaking of which: buddies of the future I play this game with – I am NOT, EVER, being Sam B.
Weapons – Vague title, no? However a game mechanic which I definitely feel is worth mentioning. Weapons appear on the map, are randomly generated for both stats and weapon type, and are even named based on how awesome they are compared to other weapons you have available. Hence why, out of seemingly nowhere, I ended up with an axe with the power of Mjolnir called ‘Weak Ultimate Viking Lancer Axe,’ or words to that effect. This made me really, really happy and proud to hold in my virtual hands.
Human Enemies – As I think we can all predict, not every remaining survivor is going to welcome you with open arms and a warm mug of friendliness. The difference is that you can’t always tell which are which, and the human enemies are purposefully more intelligent than the standard zombies. For example, one survivor we ran into asked if we could help him find a certain box for him; as it turned out the alley he claimed it was in was full of other humans ready to ambush us. It’s another small piece of a much larger puzzle, but I thoroughly enjoyed the unexpected and intelligent nature of both friends and enemy human AI.
This was sadly when I was dragged kicking and screaming away from my controller because I didn’t want to stop. I had barely stood up and thrown my jacket on before I wanted to pick the controller up for an extra minute while nobody else was looking. I felt every hollow thud shuddering down my arm, a look of glee upon my face, as I hammered a steel pipe into each and every undead skull which came across my path. It had felt so good that I was even beginning to question my own mental health, but I was willing to forego the worry in exchange for more Dead Island to to come soon. Believe the hype, the trailer’s intense boost to this game was actually well deserved. Dead Island is going to blow your brains all over the wall and leave you slowly licking it off begging for more when it releases in 60 or so days on September 9th.