Jimmy Buffet Meets World War Z
There are a lot of zombie games out there these days, but none of them are quite like Dead Island. Blurring genre lines, this upcoming game from Deep Silver throws survival horror, action adventure, and RPG features into a blender and pours them out in an open world setting. This ambitious project hopes to appeal to role-players via a class system, customizable weapons, and a large number of quests to take on while surviving the zombie apocalypse. Action and horror fans should be interested as well, as the game promises the kind of intense and gory combat that zombie aficionados enjoy.
Dead Island is set on the fictional island of Banoi, which is off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Playing a guest or employee of the luxurious Royal Palms Resort, gamers will wake up to find that instead of a dream vacation, they’ve stumbled into the middle of a sudden epidemic of undeath, and they’re being called upon to save themselves and the island’s remaining humans from the shambling hordes. Rather than confining the player to the kind of linear path that’s typical for zombie games, Dead Island instead features an open world with quest hubs, rather reminiscent of its shooter/RPG hybrid cousin Borderlands. The island is free to be explored, but the game’s more difficult zones will prove very dangerous to low-level characters.
Players will choose between four characters to portray in the game, each with a unique background story and a specific character class that is taken on after the catastrophe. Xian Mei is an intelligent and active hotel clerk who came to the island from China in order to meet new people. Interestingly, she bears the “assassin” class once she is forced to fight the zombie hordes. Sam B is a fading one-hit wonder rap star who jumped at the chance to play a gig on Banoi, and is the game’s “tank” character. Logan is a bitter former football star with a bum knee who becomes a jack of all trades after his vacation at the resort is rudely interrupted by the zombie apocalypse. The final character, Purna, has yet to be fully revealed by Deep Silver, but she is apparently a bodyguard who is good with guns.
Once the player has jumped into the action, Dead Island features first-person action combat with a focus on melee weapons. Although firearms have been spotted in the game’s trailers, it’s much more common to see objects such as bats, oars, knives, golf clubs, and other improvised weapons in the hands of the hapless protagonists. Combat is both brutal and bloody, with damage showing on the zombies as they are stabbed, slashed, beaten, or shot. While decapitating a zombie is the quickest way to kill it, players may wish to dismember more difficult foes in order to reduce the risk they pose. In a nod to the survival horror genre, the game’s characters can’t fight forever like the Energizer Bunny. They have a stamina bar that must be carefully managed, as they’ll be unable to fight on if it runs out.
The game’s role-playing elements will become apparent after some zombies have been dispatched. Characters gain experience and level up by killing enemies and completing quests. Each class features a branching skill tree that allows the character to spend points and obtain skills and perks at level-up. As there is a level cap, players will need to choose between perks in a way that will make even two of the same character play differently from each other. Weapons can be modified as well, with the player finding blueprints that can be used to alter the game’s basic weapons into MacGyver-esque implements of mayhem.
Visually, Dead Island has a relatively realistic look to it. The sun-washed island of Banoi features lush forests, pristine beaches, and, of course, the decadent resort. This lovely scenery contrasts sharply with the grisly actions of the zombie horde and the gushing gore of combat. This game is absolutely not for the weak-stomached or faint of heart, as it’s obviously been designed to appeal to an audience that enjoys slasher flicks and revels in the visceral nature of the human versus zombie struggle.
Dead Island can be played solo, but also features 2-4 player drop-in, drop-out multiplayer co-op. Co-op parties can choose to be well-balanced or double up on characters, creating a different team experience depending on the party composition. Characters who jump into a different game will keep any experience, money, and items they earn during the session. High level characters can group with lower levels, but a higher level character will cause the zombie opponents to become tougher and more numerous.
Dead Island is definitely more than just another zombie game. Between the unique setting, the customization options, and the co-op appeal, it is poised to capture the hearts even of gamers who feel like they’ve had their fill of previously living dudes who hunger for brains. For anybody who can handle the gore, this game certainly seems worth checking out once it arrives in stores this September.
Left 4 Vacation
Zombie outbreaks are a bit like the Spanish Inquisition. No one ever expects them. You could be just strolling through the park, minding your own business, and then WHAM! Zombies are coming from the swing sets to gnaw on your flesh. Constant vigilance is required, if you are to survive any and all zombie apocalypse scenarios that might come your way. Unfortunately for four vacationing tourists, someone fell asleep at the switch, and their tropical paradise haven has turned into a zombie free-for-all. What’s a hapless party of tourists to do?
Well, if you are the four main characters of Dead Island, you are going to fight back. Naturally. Now I know what you’re thinking. Four survivors, a deserted landscape, and countless opportunities to work together to fight the zombie horde sounds like little familiar setup. But stand down, cynical gamer. Dead Island has been in development long before that OTHER zombie shooter ever appeared, and truthfully, they don’t really have a lot in common other than their stick-together-to-survive premise.
First off, Dead Island has an open world structure, which will allow you to move through different areas of the island resort to uncover the truth about what happened there, and of course, survive and find rescue. And since the game takes place on an island, don’t expect to find many guns laying around. Sure, there will be the occasional firearm strapped to a zombie-fied security guard, but on the whole you will have to get up close and personal with the zombies using melee weapons you can find around the island. Improvisation will be a big factor here, and though you can’t really combine melee weapons the way you could in yet another well-known zombie series, it looks like the people behind Dead Island are going for a “realistic” take on the zombie genre, which could be a refreshing take on a genre that’s, quite literally, been done to death.
In addition to focusing on melee weapons, Dead Island will also use visuals to lend some realism to the game. Instead of hacking and slashing your way through countless bodies and seeing the occasional blood spurt fly, Dead Island’s zombies will be made of flesh, bone, and muscle, all of which will be visible as you take them out piece by piece. Although the recent cinematic trailer was full of pre-rendered footage, the in-game damage system will be similar to what was shown in the trailer. Zombies will have a real-time damage system that will act uniquely to different weapon and strength combinations. This game definitely won’t be one for the faint of heart.
Though there will be plenty of carnage to be had in Dead Island, developer Techland has said that, at its heart, Dead Island is going to be a story-based experience. The game will probably be best played in a co-op setting, but if you decide to go it alone, your experience won’t suffer for it. This is in great contrast to titles like Left 4 Dead, which can barely even be played in a single-player setting. Though not much is actually known about the game’s plot at this point, it is being billed as a focal point of the game, so here’s hoping it includes more than the usual “evil corporation” trope that has plagued the zombie genre since the original Resident Evil.
It’s hard to look at games like Dead Island in a fishbowl, as the zombie genre is so saturated. However, this isn’t necessarily a negative thing. If Dead Island can manage to combine all the best aspects of series we have already come to know and love with some fresh ideas and a great story, then this will certainly be a vacation worth taking. Dead Island currently does not have a firm release date, but should be arriving sometime this fall. Are you ready to cast away?