Dead Island came out of nowhere for most gamers with an extremely impressive trailer that has garnered a lot of support. It was a great introduction into the setting and tone of the game, but there wasn’t a speck of gameplay so skeptics were present in full force. I can understand why someone wouldn’t want to get too excited for a game based just off a cinematic trailer, but after seeing the game at GDC I think that all the skeptics will be pleasantly surprised.
The trailer making its way on the internet is actually just the start of the game and shows the initial outbreak of zombies. You play one of the lucky survivors who were able to make it out of the hotel with all your limbs and organs intact. When the game starts up you can choose between one of four different classes: tank, assassin, jack-of-all trades, and a leader character. This choice will affect the skills you have available to you as you level up. The developers like to call the game a Zombie-Slasher/Action RPG and I think the new genre designation is apt. Instead of focusing on the use of guns and ranged weapons like most zombie games, Dead Island is a melee focused game that forces you to get right up in the face of all of your undead opponents. The first weapon I saw was a simple boat oar but as you wander around the island you can find new weapons like mallets or even craft your own using materials found around the island such as a machete with a battery slapped onto it to give it an electric attack or bombs strapped to throwing knives to make “sticky bombs.”
I suggest not getting too attached to any weapon you find though because smashing skulls over and over again has its consequences and your wonderful new machete won’t last forever. Every weapon you pick up has three different stats connected to it: Damage, Force, and Reach. Your weapon’s reach is one of the most important qualities since getting close to zombies is usually very ill advised, but that’s not to say you don’t have some other options. Every weapon you pick up can be thrown and they do a surprising amount of damage even if you throw something as ungainly as a sledge hammer. Every zombie you kill gives experience and once you level up you can unlock skills in a couple of different trees (fury, combat, and survival for the tank class) and your health and stamina increase to take you from green horn tourist to a zombie-killing, Radioshack-loving badass.
The entire island is presented as an open world that you can travel around at your leisure (except for the zombies of course) so although you have a main story and main quest to work through there are also plenty of side quests you can do if you like such as helping a civilian you see trapped in a car surrounded by zombies. Put in some effort and you can even get a vehicle so you can go touring around the island. The demo I saw started at a beach resort and it fully embodied the “Paradise gone mad” ideal that the developers mentioned with blood filled hot tubs and gore stained surf boards but they assured me that there were other environments on the island.
Any zombie game worth its salt needs some variety to the zombies and Dead Island was not found wanting. You have your standard slowly shambling zombies as well as zombies on fire, suicide bomber zombies, zombies with weapons and a number of boss zombies. The developers showed off their Dead Space-like dismemberment gameplay by breaking the legs of some fast moving zombies to slow them down and cutting off the arm of a zombie holding a weapon to disarm him (HA!.....disarm).
Left 4 Dead has shown people how much fun zombie killing can be with a group so of course Dead Island has that as well. You can play with up to four people with drop in/drop out multiplayer. Even though there are four character classes, that doesn’t mean everyone has to pick a different class when they play multiplayer. Instead you choose your character when you start the game and that is permanent for that save file. Once you get yourself situated you can then opt to turn on the online and join anyone who would like the help regardless of their class.
So all in all, Dead Island is looking to be Dead Space, Fallout, Left 4 Dead, and Dead Rising 2 all mashed together into a Zombie-Slasher/Action RPG. No release date has been announced but keep your eye out for this game when it releases for PS3, 360, and PC.