E3 MVG 2011 Selection: Dead Island preview – hands-on with the co-op mode that could be better than Left 4 Dead

After its debut trailer (opens in new tab)shocked countless gamers, we wondered if Dead Island could possibly deliver a game to live up to the surprisingly dramatic video. That video, as well as our previous playtests, focused upon the single player experience. But at E3, we saw four-person cooperative play for the first time. Left 4 Dead with a plot, an open world and create-your-own weapons? Yes, please.

Dead Island’s co-op function supports up to four players, but they move through the same “career” mode as the single-player game. Like Borderlands, if players want to drop into other players’ games, they can, but if one character is a higher level than the other it will be pretty hard to get going. On that note, Dead Island does feature some serious RPG elements such as loot and leveling. You can also gain new abilities according to which character you’ve chosen.

We started in a church that served as a safe zone/hub where we could upgrade and repair weapons, buy weapons, and receive missions. After stocking up on mostly melee weapons and being asked to place posters up in the infected zone, we were off.

Although it’s an island, the small city still has more traditional streets and alleys, giving the game a more familiar zombie game vibe. As we trekked toward the various objectives, we could realistically take any route we wanted to get there. The streets are filthy with sewers we could drop into and ladders we could climb; adding different strategies.

There are four playable characters, each with different abilities and strengths. I played as the female character, who is smaller and more adept with small weapons. I noticed almost immediately that walking felt slightly unnatural and found out this was due to the fact she is wearing high heels. This attention to detail drives home the inherent stress and desperation a real zombie game should incorporate. Even walking through water is maddeningly slow and frightening.

Another great aspect is deteriorating weapons. Not only do weapons become less effective over time, but we could actually see our tools of destruction falling apart before our eyes. One mace we used had bent and missing nails, prompting us to find a new one. Also, one strategy (usually inspired by desperation) is throwing melee weapons to either finish or slow down approaching zombies. Guns are few and far between; and when purchased, rather expensive. It’s clear that Deep Silver wants to place gamers in a situation where high powered rifles and buckets of ammo aren’t simply lying around, and on an island resort this definitely makes sense.

The RPG elements are sure to add hours of extra content, as there are collectible weapons and upgrades available. For example, you can buy an electric attachment for a variety of melee weapons in order to shock/stun zombies. Combine this with random environmental events, like say, rain, and you can expect deadly results.

As with any good zombie game, Dead Island is naturally amusing and everyone sitting in our playthrough was chuckling the majority of the time. The main reason for this was the ability to zombie stomp prone zombies. Some are a bit thick headed and require additional stomps, which led us as a group to repeatedly stomp zombies well after they were dead. You can also remove enemies’ limbs both before and after they are incapacitated, leading to some pretty funny-looking lopsided zombies.

There are also multiple classes of zombie that require different techniques to bring down. Larger zombies called thugs take a lot of damage and knocked us down more than once by swinging their gangly arms. In order to put a stop to this, we machete’d their arms into bloody stumps and then they fell with ease. Another type of zombie is basically a walking suicide bomber that can either take out a swath of zombies or your entire crew when it explodes if you don’t kill it in time.

Dead Island’s campaign weighs in at over 25 hours, not including multiple playthroughs for each character. This; combined with co-op multiplayer, means you can expect to put some serious time into smashing zombies’ faces with your heel. After a few more months of polish, Dead Island has serious potential to be a great game; not just a great zombie game.

Jun 13, 2011

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