Dead Island - skull-smashing preview

Much hullabaloo surrounded the recent release of the artfully constructed trailer for Dead Island, but as the internet knows all too well, a little CG trickery means naught for actual gameplay. Well, we’ve now seen how Dead Island plays, and it’s definitely promising, even if what we’ve seen didn’t have anything to do with the characters from the trailer (and we still don’t know if that actual family or those events are in the game at all). The important detail we took away from our demo is that Dead Island wants to bring the “survival” back into the horror genre.

Above: In Dead Island, this scenario will not make you say, "Oh, goody"

This is no game where you carry five different guns and mow down the hordes of the undead. Hell, you don’t even carry any guns most of the time, because realistically, how many guns (or bullets) would there be on a tropical resort? Well, exactly how many you’d think: in some instances you’ll come across a dead security guard and find five bullets in his revolver and maybe one in his skull. That’s all you get. See, Dead Island is a first-person melee RPG. Or, as the devs call it, Zombie-slasher action/RPG. Perhaps they took a cue from Left 4 Dead 2’s melee weapons, but they want you to know this is not a Left 4 Dead knockoff, and we must say it doesn’t feel like it at all.

Yes, Dead Island will feature four-player drop in/drop out co-op, and yes, it has different types of zombies that might resemble Left 4 Dead’s infected, but the look, tone, and pacing of the game make it seem not at all like Valve’s preeminent zombie co-op game. Even in the daylight sections of Left 4 Dead 2 the game has a hazy, somewhat dim appearance, while Dead Island is as bright and cheery as a tropical island should be, with crisp visuals to bring out the horror in clear starkness. It looks more like Far Cry than what you’d expect from a zombie game.

Above: You'll be getting to know these dudes face-to-face quite often. Also, nice necklace, brah

Another factor that keeps it separate from its competition is its RPG elements, including a full-on class system. When you first start a game, you’ll choose amongst specific characters, each of which is tied to a specific class. The four classes are Tank, Assassin, Jack-of-All-Trades, and Support. So far the devs aren’t sure how the classes will be integrated into the co-op, like whether there will be restrictions on how many of each class there can be or how characters will be depicted if they’re the same class. In our demo we saw just one class, the Tank, which is tied to the character of Sam B., a rap star and generally angry fellow (we didn’t see that stereotype coming).

Each class has a unique skill tree in which you spend points earned as you level up. In Sam’s case, the three branches of his skill tree are Fury, Combat, and Survival. Purchasing skills can provide bonuses to certain abilities or unlock new combos or finishing moves – yes, Dead Island features some seriously nasty zombie executions, which we saw many of during our short demo. Sam also has a special Fury meter which builds up as he kills zombies. Once it’s full, he can activate Fury, dousing the screen in red hues and allowing him to one-shot zombies with hyperkinetic punches.

Above: There are different types of zombies aside from the common slow-shufflers, including fast-running "infected" and this fat guy, who does... something

Despite sounding like a button-mashing brawler, Dead Island is very much a methodical, tactical game in its combat. As we mentioned before, guns are a rare commodity, but melee weapons are not at all a “swing wildly into the zombie crowds” affair. First of all, and most importantly, is that you have a stamina meter. Swing a weapon too much and you’ll get winded, becoming zombie-bait. Also larger weapons, like the sledgehammer, take wind-up time to pull off a swing (but also have greater range than say, a knife or even a boat’s oar). Since zombies prefer close encounters to just about anything in their miserable existence, a crucial move is the kick, which pushes zombies away to give you room to swing the bigger weapons or to pull a bit of the ol’ zombinoes (zombie dominoes).



Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000
  • Cruddi - March 17, 2011 2:42 p.m.

    Is this third or first person game? Or can you choose
  • Agent79 - March 8, 2011 5:34 p.m.

  • UberNoob - March 6, 2011 2:36 a.m.

    I hope the story makes sense. Not just some virus secretly developed my the US government, is then carried on a plan to some country for some reason, crash lands on the island, and is then accidently released on a to resort island.
  • Yeager1122 - March 5, 2011 1:23 a.m.

    Wasnt much intrested from the trailer just thought oh boy another zombie game but after reading this im Excited about this game and kinda do want.
  • EroticInvisibleMan - March 5, 2011 12:43 a.m.

    Trailer, five years of nothing, then a teaser and screens and previews and crap. The fact that they're now jumping right into it, while making me happy, is somewhat unsettling. Feels very DN:F to me.
  • GamesRadarMatthewKeast - March 4, 2011 11:32 p.m.

    I'm guessing the Assassin's a rogue type: you know, faster, less resilient... maybe you can backstab zombies?
  • Crypto140 - March 4, 2011 8:48 p.m.

    You can play as an "assassin" class? I was laughing so hard when I saw that. How could that work? Mabey it will help you give you an edge in killing humans? Humans can pose a threat during zombie invasions too( I mean besides Dead Rising when they are walking flak jackets, that killed the game for me) but who knows? Seriously who does, I want to know.
  • GamesRadarMatthewKeast - March 4, 2011 5:49 p.m.

    The game has a main storyline to follow, but because it's open-world, there are tons of sidequests and general exploration you can do. The devs estimate the game will take 20-30 hours to finish.
  • Manguy17 - March 4, 2011 5:03 p.m.

    hmm...not sure, seems to have the right idea with realistic zombies, but i would prefer if you could make your own characters, because frankly i might not want to play as an angry rapper type. also the rpg elements seem a bit odd, when i first heard it i was thinking they meant ME2 style with some focus of characters and dialouge when its quite, not having to gain xp and the like. i suppose they would get better at survivng over time but they wouldnt just level up and allocate skill points, perhaps if your just naturally got better at the things you did the most..
  • DeepIsh - March 4, 2011 4:57 p.m.

    Meh, boats are too mainstream.
  • CitizenWolfie - March 4, 2011 3:20 p.m.

    I didn't buy into the hype from the teaser trailer as I thought I'd wait until a proper preview. But this looks preally promising. I felt that L4D was a bit too arcadey and I wanted something a bit more "realistic" from a zombie game. I hope there will be moments like in RE4 when you could fortify a shack and defend it until a certain point. Do you know how the single player will work? I'm guessing maybe a timescale where you just have to keep alive like in Dead Rising but maybe the devs will go a different route.
  • Vulneratus - March 4, 2011 11:15 a.m.

    Hmmmmm... with both this and a Walking Dead game coming out further down the line, surely one of them is gonna nail the "survival" aspects... Could be good indeed
  • Mooshon - March 4, 2011 10:59 a.m.

    Starting to tweak my interest. Really want a bonefide, gritty zombie film type affair - without too much slapstick.
  • Peguin - March 4, 2011 8:49 a.m.

    sounds really exciting. Just hoping they come through and its as exciting as it sounds :)
  • CoktorBloktopus - March 4, 2011 8:45 a.m.

    Oh me likey i do prefer a more serious side to my zombie massacring game so Dead rising never got my vote. And time limits on a game is just stupid seriously
  • hllywd212 - March 4, 2011 5:47 a.m.

    @Hobojedi Yes they will release it for the pc. It already has its own steam store page.
  • IceBlueKirby - March 4, 2011 5:30 a.m.

    Wow, I thought the trailer was just a buttload of pretentious BS, but now I'm excited for this game. Let's hope it's as good as it sounds like it will be.
  • Sy87 - March 4, 2011 4:22 a.m.

    This is a zombie game I been waiting for. Looks really good and if I get to hack off heads and maim other body parts it will be great. I can not wait till this comes out and the coop aspect got me excited even more.
  • Hobojedi - March 4, 2011 1:53 a.m.

    Are we going to see this game on the PC?
  • TheRandomFool - March 4, 2011 1:52 a.m.

    If they can pull it off, this will be wicked as can be. If they mess it up, then anything similar will be killed for the next few years. Lets hope they get it right.