It has been a very strange four months for the Techland developed Dead Island. The spellbinding trailer made waves all over the gaming world, and even expanded into the mainstream when a potential movie deal was announced. After building such huge expectations in terms of storytelling and presentation, we were initially a little worried considering the rather empty nature of the screenshots.
Our fears were mostly quelled when Deep Silver showed off some extensive gameplay footage, detailing the combat system as well as the RPG elements in the game. Now Deep Silver is giving us a chance to check out Dead Island for ourselves.
I played Dead Island in a multiplayer setting with three other people, and according to Deep Silver, this is the best way to play. We began in a church and were introduced to the controls and some of the RPG elements. Players will be required to repair their weapons to keep them up to snuff against the very resilient zombies. Sometimes too resilient, but I’ll get to that a little later. There are workbenches scattered all over Banoi that can be used for both repairing and upgrading weapons. We were shown a few of the upgrades, which range from simple damage enhancement to added shock abilities. Watching an electrocuted zombie fly backwards is quite the thrill.
We picked up our weapons, tampered with the workbench, and promptly ventured out into the zombie-infested island. We were on a mission to put up posters around the island to help a man in the church find a missing person. Considering just how dead this island is, I have no idea what the chances were of us accomplishing this goal. Regardless, on we trekked.
The game is gorgeous. We were traversing solely through the city area of Banoi, but the lighting and texture work is top notch. The zombies are terrifying and varied, the weapons are cracked and worn, and the player characters are all lively and detailed. Unfortunately, the graphical capability was not able to outweigh what became a very buggy and frustrating experience. I would like to assure readers that this is not a final build of the game — Techland has several months to perfect and polish all of these problems. Let’s hope they do though, because I was very disappointed in my playthrough.
The first real issue to stick out was the combat. We were given about 7 or 8 weapons to toy with, yet none carried the weight of impact to make the hits feel satisfying. I constantly felt as though I was swinging past or next to the zombies, no matter where I was aiming. Also, since the levels scale in difficulty depending on how many players there are, individual zombies were that much harder to take down. Players only have a limited amount of energy for either running or swinging their weapons, so after a few hits, that energy was nearly depleted. This would be much more manageable with a group of experienced Dead Island players — we weren’t.
Along with regular people-sized undead enemies, some special zombie types appeared in the streets of Banoi as well. We came across an oversized, charging zombie early in our mission with a weak point on its backside. Another of the zombie types had a bulging mass around its head regions, indicating it would need to be taken out from afar. The accuracy of the weapons seemed to be much less of a problem with these specialized enemies that required more specific attacks.
Watching the gameplay walkthrough a few weeks ago, all my initial concerns about the game were entirely alleviated. Ever since that startling CG trailer, I was fairly certain the presentation would not be lacking — and it wasn’t — but the slow, heavy swings of the more powerful melee weapons (which will make up a majority of the game’s combat) just didn’t feel right. Hopefully the combat will receive some major tweaking before the game’s release this September.
As we finished up the mission and headed back for the church, I began to notice that what I thought was the sound of someone shooting a zombie in my headphones was in fact a glitched loop of audio. This loop continued for about 5 to 10 minutes. Needless to say, a horribly loud gun shot followed by a zombie screaming — ON LOOP — isn’t exactly soothing for my gentle eardrums. We made it back to the church, and as our guide debriefed us on our short adventure, I tried to find something I could do to stop the noise.
I went to talk to the church folk. The one I talked to apparently started another quest, as my character opened up a checklist of some sort. I could not exit out of this view of the checklist. So to sum up my end-of-demo experience thus far; a gunshot-zombie scream combo is looping in my ear (I’m on about 30 loops now) and I can no longer move, despite my rapid button pressing all over the 360 controller.
Here’s the thing: Dead Island had great potential. The zombie genre has been run dry in basically every media on Earth, but Deep Silver and Techland had the chance to bring something new to the undead video game scene. I haven’t lost all hope quite yet, but there need to be some serious bugfixes and improvements to convince me that Dead Island deserves a purchase.
Dead Island releases on September 9th, 2011 for the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.