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Dead Island First-Look

If a trailer alone can make a game into a hit, then Dead Island is poised to be one of the biggest hits of the year. Created by the third-party animation studio Axis Animation, the Dead Island trailer was a massive hit, and drew attention to the game—so much so that Hollywood wanted a piece of the action, and reports of the property being sold were announced, then withdrawn, and now various negotiations for the game could lead to a bidding war for the property. Basically, the trailer rocked.

But for as fine a trailer as it was, it was developed by a company that created all the animation themselves, and it did not show anything from the developers, nor did it really hint at what to expect from the gameplay. The new popularity also marked a stark change for the game, which was originally announced in 2007. Ironically, a lack of interest nearly killed the game, but now that the interest is there, could it possibly live up to the hype? Time will answer that, but from what was shown at GDC last week, the game has a lot of potential.

Dead Island is a zombie-slasher/action title with an RPG twist. The game will offer a healthy dose of zombie-centric scares, but that is secondary to the nature of the game which will be based around combat. It might startle you to have a zombie jump out and attack you, but after you bash its head in with a sledgehammer, the fear isn’t really an issue. Action takes precedence over suspense.

The story will take players across the zombie-infested open world island, with four characters available to you. Each character will have their own storylines, each will have their own strengths and weaknesses, and each will approach the events differently. For example, the character being highlighted at GDC, the rapper Sam B, is a tank like character with a dose of bravado and dark humor about the whole affair. He will crack one liners as he pummels zombies, and his viewpoint is generally less intense.

Although not shown, the other characters are: hotel staffer Xian Mei, surfer Logan and Puma, who will all view the situation differently.

The game has a heavy emphasis on melee combat, and you can combine items to create more powerful weapons. But Techland is quick to point out that they are not trying to compete with Dead Rising, which took weapon combining to ridiculous extremes. Instead, there will be a logic to augmenting weapons. Two examples of weapon combining were shown, with the first involving a machete, a battery and wires. When combined at a workbench, it created an electrified machete. The second example combined C4 with a knife, which created a sticky bomb that could be used to slash, then thrown to explode. All weapons are subject to decay, and you can either repair them, or abandon them when they break and find another. Firearms become available later in the game, but they are few and far between, plus ammo is scarce.  The real emphasis is on up close and personal combat.

In general, weapons are plentiful, but to make them more powerful you might need to involve yourself in sidequests where you may need to do things like rescue survivors. They in turn will give you items, or give you access to the workbenches, or they might unlock other sections of the island to explore. Each weapon has a rating, and the combinations available can create some powerful items.

The setting itself is large and features varied terrains that you are free to roam through–at your own risk. You begin at a resort, but that is only one part of the island. Jungle terrains and mountains are also available to explore, as is a full city on the far side of the island which is visible at the start of the game. As it burns, you become keenly aware that the infection is everywhere, and nowhere is safe.

The game is all about the combat, and you earn experience points which help to unlock better attacks, and stronger combos. As you gain experience, you can somewhat tailor your upgrades to match your play style. The type of weapon you use will also make a difference, as sharp weapons will cut and slice enemies, while blunt instruments will smash them. There is no right or wrong way to play the game, which leaves all the choices in your hands.

While it is still too early to get a real sense of the game, what we have seen looks very good, and Techland and Seep Silver may just have a bona fide hit on their hands. Look for Dead Island on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 sometime in Q3.

[Warning: this trailer may not be appropriate for all ages]

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