Dead Island Hands-On Preview

While everyone was freaking out over the first official trailer for Dead Island, I must admit that I sat back and took it with a big cup of skepticism. Sure, the video looked great, and I always love zombies, but I needed more than a CG teaser to prove to me that this was going to be a good game. A few months later, I saw the newest video that featured 13 minutes of gameplay. For some reason, I still wasn’t wowed, but I didn’t want to make a final judgment until I got some hands-on time with the game. I’m glad that I kept that mindset, because when I got to play the multiplayer demo for the game at E3 I found that Dead Island appears to combine the best elements of fellow zombie series Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead into a highly addicting and gratifying experience.

Upon entering the demo session with GamerNode brother Jason Fanelli and two other companions, I found myself in a church that survivors from this undead apocalypse use as a safe haven. I quickly played around with the controls to get myself situated. Most are standard first-person shooter commands: Run, jump, shoot/attack, crouch, aim, etc. Players will also be able to dodge, heal other players, kick zombies, throw weapons, toggle a flashlight, and enter their characters’ fury modes.

Dead Island‘s fury mode will allow for each player to enter a bloodlust-filled rage that will have them one-hit killing groups of zombies for a limited time. The fury meter must be built up before you can use it, though, and each fury mode is unique to each of the game’s four multiplayer characters. The four playable characters will also vary in their weapon expertise, from knives and other blades to sledgehammers and more. So if you want to play with a certain weapon, be sure to pick the character who’s most proficient with it.

Being that Dead Island is an RPG, I was introduced to the leveling and upgrading systems in the game immediately. As players gain levels, they will be able to pick from branching lines in a skill tree that will enhance various passive abilities or improve their fury mode. The game will also have a salvaging and crafting system that requires weapons, items gathered by looting zombies, and in-game cash. This will allow you to combine all of these into special weapons such as electric machetes, knives that double as sticky bombs, baseball bats with a saw implanted inside, and much more.

My companions and I collected a quest from one of the inhabitants and set out away from the safety of the church. The people who aided us in the demo let us know that although we’d be sticking to this one specific quest, you can grab several at a time from various people at the different outposts in the game world. We were also told that Dead Island‘s multiplayer is a drop-in, drop-out affair. So long as there’s a spot open, any of your friends will be able to jump in and join you on your current zombie-killing engagement.

A few observations about the gameplay and presentation are made quickly after leaving the church. The graphics aren’t the most jaw-dropping you’ll see, but they won’t detract from your experience. The mini-map in your upper right corner will show you a constantly updated red line to guide you toward the next goal in your current quest. When you pull up the main map and decide to move around, the map will become transparent. Also, each player will have a stamina meter. This meter will be used up when you jump, attack, run, dodge, or do anything that would obviously use energy in the real world. As your stamina runs out, you’ll slow down, be unable to jump as high, and your attacks won’t do anywhere near as much damage. It’s a nice system that shows you’re not some sort of superhuman Energizer bunny that keeps going and going and going.

Even though you will have that constant reminder to follow the quest you’re currently on, you have the freedom to completely ignore it and ditch your friends to have your own private adventures on the island. The game is an open world to everyone in it. With the massive number of undead spread through the island, though, it may be smarter to stick with your buddies.

When it comes down to action, Dead Island can be an extremely good time. Hacking, bashing, bludgeoning, and, to a limited extent, shooting zombies never gets boring or dull. Zombies can also be taken out in various ways, as limb damage can take off zombie arms or take out legs, allowing for a wonderful skull-crushing finale. Each undead foe will have a health meter, so the head bashing won’t be required, but if you want to keep it old fashioned, enough blows to the noggin will cause a wonderful splattering of brain matter and a quicker kill.

Teamwork can be an essential element to survival in the game since Banoi features several different types of zombies capable of taking you down. Aside from your typical walker, players will come across smoking zombies, a hulking charger whose arms are confined by a massive straight jacket, larger zombies with a much heartier resistance to your attacks, and a self-destructing zombie that will do just that if you let him get close enough. Having buddies to help you flank, distract, and wear down enemies will make encounters with these various rotting fiends far easier than daring to go it alone.

Combining efforts with your teammates can also bring about some amusing stories of zombie slaughter. One such story occurred during my session. After opening two crates, which will act as random weapon generators a la Borderlands, I discovered a pistol in one, a rarity in Dead Island. Propane tanks, however, are quite common on Banoi, and Mr. Fanelli grabbed hold of one upon learning of my newfound toy. After cautiously approaching a small group of standard ghouls, Jason discretely tossed the tank into the middle of the group. With one properly aimed shot, the tank blew our mindless obstacles into a wonderful shower of fleshy bits.

It may not be the dramatic tale of loss and survival that everyone was expecting, but Dead Island certainly looks like it will provide any fan of the zombie genre with hours upon hours of enjoyment. The combination of first-person action and roleplaying elements create what could very well be a truly unique experience. One thing I can say for certain is this: Dead Island firmly has my attention. Be sure to keep your eyes out for it when the game lands for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on September 6.


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Author: Mike Murphy View all posts by
Mike has been playing games for over two decades. His earliest memories are of shooting ducks and stomping goombas on NES, and over the years, the hobby became one of his biggest passions. Mike has worked with GamerNode as a writer and editor since 2009, giving you news, reviews, previews, a voice on the VS Node Podcast, and much more.

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