Dead Island GDC 2011 PreviewBy Stephen Johnson - Posted Mar 04, 2011
Of all the games shown at GDC 2011, nothing came into the Con with more hype than Dead Island. The game, from developer Techland and publisher Deep Silver, announced itself with an amazing teaser-trailer that blew everyone away when it showed up on the web a few weeks ago. To say expectations are high for this title is an understatement. I was fortunate enough to take a look at this "Zombie Slasher Action RPG" at GDC, and got a deeper understanding of what we can expect when it launches for PS3, PC and 360 when it launches during Q3 2011.
The first thing that's clear from the eyes-on demo from GDC is that this is first and foremost a first person game. Just in case you were wondering. What was also impressive, however, was that the heartbreaking, emotionally resonate tone of the trailer is not the only note the game hits. Dead Island's demo level seemed chosen specifically to show off a more light-hearted approach to the island. In it, we get to know rapper Sam B, a facially-tattooed music star who traveled to the tropical island of the game's title to celebrate the success of his first hip hop single. The celebration ends early when the dead rise from the grave to eat the living.
After a a cut-scene where B. is mistaken for a zombie and nearly murdered by an NPC doctor, the zombie fighting action begins in earnest, and we're introduced to the core gameplay at the heart of Dead Island.
Our hero is immune from zombification for some yet-to-be-discovered reason, so he must battle the hordes and save the few remaining non-immune people on the island. Sam's reaction to the outbreak is very action-movie -- he's funny and badass-- but he represents only one of the viewpoints playable characters will have. Other protagonists will live through more "serious" storylines.
Upon leaving the game's first safehouse, players will be immediately struck with the setting -- the idea of a vacation heaven gone, literally, to hell creates interesting tensions as well as providing Techland's artists with limitless graphical and design options to explore. Swimming pools filled with blood, macabre corpses in bikinis, and gore-spattered palm fronds are the norm here. It's paradise gone mad.
Sam's mission is enter the hellish resort and battle his way to a better safehouse, a lifeguard station far down the beach. Along the way, of course, he must fight zombies. Lots of zombies. Some ghouls are fast, some are slow, and there will be a variety of special monsters when the game releases. The unique zombies we saw included flaming zombies -- stay away or take fire damage-- and The Suicider, a slow-walker that explodes, so he can be used for offense by getting him into a swarm and watching the explodey chaos happen. The game seems to reward strategy as well as reflexes. You can push zombies away, attack them from afar with thrown weapons, and even target specific body parts, so if you're faced with a fast-walker, take out his legs and slow that sucker down.
For most of your stay on Dead Island, you'll be bashing zombies apart with the objects you find laying about. In the demo, Sam B. starts out with a bloody kayak paddle, then finds a machete, a hammer and a sledgehammer, all of which are applied to deadly effect. The gore and blood are lovingly rendered, and the focus here is on action, with undead of different kinds rising up to attack while Sam slams them down and throws out one-liners.
Later, you'll find guns, but only where they might actually be, were a real zombie outbreak to happen. For example, you might find a six shooter on a dead policeman, but you probably won't find carefully placed ammo drops in trashcans. The takeaway: Use your bullets sparingly! Melee weapons take damage, so eventually your oar will break apart and become useless if you don't repair it or switch it out for some other implement of zombie-death.
Dead Island is an open-world game, so there will be plenty of optional side-quests to accompany the main story line, as well as areas of the map that you are not "directed" to travel to, but will reward you with objects, weapons, collectibles, and, hopefully, cool scenery and encounters. The game will take between 20 and 40 hours to complete.
Sam is a tank type character, where other, yet-to-be-revealed characters include assassins and a jack-of-all-trades class. The character class system will really come into play when you hit the co-op with your friends. You'll be able to play four player, drop-in, drop-out with your pals, mixing any classes you'd like. This gives you the option of completing parts of your island adventures solo, and teaming up for other sections of the game. As yet, the developers are still tinkering with how to make the RPG elements work with the co-op elements so it's fun for over-powered, zombie-killing veterans to team with level-one noobs. No word yet on how that's going to work, exactly, but we've been assured it will be "seamless."
Characters have skill trees, and gain experience by completing quests. Level up and you'll be rewarded with special moves. The example from the demo found Sam B. choosing the "Fury" tree which gave him a recharging special move that makes him go berserk and one-shot any shambler unlucky enough to cross his path.
It's not just characters that are customizable. You'll also be able to upgrade, repair and build your own weapons at workbenches throughout the island. For customized weapons, you'll need blueprints and building material. The demo featured a couple of custom weapons: A sticky grenade composed of a knife with explosive taped to it, and an electric machete -- a blade with a battery -- that shocks and slices.
When you take into account upgrades to weapons, there will be literally thousands of possible combinations, but the developers stress that the weapons in Dead Island are not meant to be "wacky" in the way that combo-weapons in, say, Dead Rising 2 are. They're all plausible combination (well, as plausible as anything in a zombie game, anyway.) When you combine environmental weapons like exploding propane tanks, there will be many, many way to dispatch hordes of marauding deadites.
Like any self-respecting open-world game, Dead Island will feature collectibles for those obsessive compulsive types who have to see everything in a game. I was most interested in the audio tapes laying around, as they will give other people's backstories, and hopefully provide creepy atmosphere to the game.
Also: vehicle travel has been confirmed. In pointing out the advantages of completing side-missions, the developers mentioned a quest that involves helping a (living) islander fix a car. Once the car is repaired, you'll be able to tool around the island and even give your pals a lift in co-op.
The demo ends with a boss battle, where Sam B. squares off against an oversized zombie in tropical board shorts. After some liberally applied sticky grenades, the Big Kahuna zombie gets blowed up real good, and thus ends our first look at Dead Island.
It's not the game many expected after seeing the teaser trailer, but the combination of zombies, action combat and an open-world looks like it will add up to a butt-load of video game fun. I can't wait to actually get my hands on this one, hopefully at E3 this year.