Dead Island Exclusive Preview - Zombie Species, Vehicles, and Electric Machetes

We get an exclusive look at this action-packed zombie hack-and-slash game at the 2011 Game Developers Conference.

The 2011 Game Developers Conference is underway in sunny, beautiful, windy, freezing cold, traffic-congested, overpriced San Francisco, and the halls of the city's Moscone Center are full to brimming with large men shuffling aimlessly to and fro. It's appropriate, then, that one of the games on display is Dead Island, which is also about large, shuffling men, though some of them also come running at you screaming, some of them explode on contact, and all of them are already dead. You're no doubt familiar with the CG trailer that made the rounds recently and seemingly got everyone talking. Since then, we've had the opportunity to sit down and watch a hands-off demonstration of the beginning of the game and have much to cover in this exclusive report.

Dead Island, as the trailer suggests, takes place on a resort island where a sudden, unexpected zombie outbreak takes the island's population--mainly regular people on vacation--completely by surprise. The events that unfold in the much-talked-about trailer chronicle how the bloodthirsty undead ambush the guests, leaving only a handful of survivors in and around the resort. This is where the game begins.

Dead Island lets you play as one of four characters, Xian Mei (a former hotel employee), Logan (a surfer), Sam B (a former hip-hop artist), and Purna (an as-yet unrevealed character). These characters will essentially act as four different character classes, described by publisher Deep Silver as a "leader," a "tank," a "jack-of-all-trades," and an "assassin." But every single character starts out the same way--suddenly attacked by zombies at the hotel, knocked out, and dragged to a nearby pool house converted to a shelter.

You don't have to have an electric machete to survive Dead Island…but it helps!

We began our demonstration session with our character, Sam B in this case, lying on a slab inside the pool house, fading in and out of consciousness and only vaguely aware that the survivors had dragged him in while frantically fighting off another raging zombie that had somehow made its way inside. When we came to, one of the survivors, a frenzied man in a really loud tropical shirt, was standing over us with an upraised baseball bat, screaming at us to nod our head to acknowledge that we understood what was being said (presumably to prove we weren't another zombie) or he'd crack open our skull. Our character complied, and the crazed man set down the bat with a sigh of relief, remarking that he was a doctor and not cut out for caving people's heads in anyway.

As we came to, we found ourselves surrounded by distraught tourists in swimming trunks and bikinis who begged us to venture out of the shelter to look for Sinamoi, the hotel's tattooed Polynesian lifeguard and the man who had dragged us to safety in the first place. Our character grabbed the nearest melee weapon, a beaten-up oar, and made ready to venture outside and whack some shambling corpses. While Dead Island has some role-playing elements in the form of different, unlockable attacks and abilities organized into skill trees, it's fundamentally an action game--not a slow-paced survival horror game where you encounter one or two zombies at a time and fumble to aim your gun. As a matter of fact, guns will be hard to come by because all the playable characters in the game are tourists on vacation rather than soldiers on a military base.

For much of the game, you'll be lucky to find a discarded policeman's pistol and maybe a fistful of precious, precious bullets. Later on, you may find--for as-yet-undisclosed reasons--better guns, such as rifles and shotguns. But in many cases, much of what you bring into battle will be improvised melee weapons with varying levels of damage, swinging speed, and repair levels. Weapons will degrade over time and must be repaired at workbenches. But if you're lucky, you may also recover blueprint schematics for more-powerful improvised weapons. Duct tape, wires, batteries and such can turn a simple club into a zombie-stomping death machine.

This tiny ship was tossed for much longer than a three-hour tour.

However, because we were starting out at the very beginning of the game, the broken-down oar in the pool house was the best we could get. We sauntered out of the house to find the beach an absolute mess. The pristine sands and deck chairs were stained with blood and there were mangled corpses all over the place. We found Sinamoi fighting for his life against a pair of zombies but encountered problems of our own when another zombie launched itself at us out of our periphery. This triggered a quick-time event that had the monster getting right in our face, doing its best to pry the oar out of our hands while we desperately mashed the "A" button. Finally, we won out and knocked the zombie down, and Sinamoi helpfully shouted to us that the best way to defeat our foes was to aim for the head. We did just that on the downed zombie. Dead Island has a variety of finishing maneuvers that can be performed on downed zombies, including a series of brutal stomps that popped open the ghoul's cranium like a watermelon.

After we pummeled those last few zombies into the surf, our lifeguard savior explained that there were zombies all over the island and that we needed to get the lighthouse on the other side of the beach to set up a base of operations. And to do that, we'd need to fight our way across the beach to clear a path for the rest of the survivors. Before leaving, we decided to check our surroundings for anything we could use and turned up a lead pipe, a few oars, and a monkey wrench. All were in varying levels of disrepair, but even the world's rustiest monkey wrench is better than nothing when you're up against the zombie apocalypse.

The only thing these zombies understand is a good beating.

Along the way, we encountered plenty more zombies of several different varieties. Dead Island will include several different classes of zombie, including your basic slow, shambling types; infected zombies, which are far more aggressive and can break into a full sprint; and suicide zombies, which, when injured, explode like walking bombs and deal damage to any humans or zombies nearby. In addition, the game will spawn these different varieties of zombies at different power levels, and you'll also have to fight boss zombies. None of these zombies seem to be immune to blunt force trauma, though you can't keep swinging for the fences because your character has a limited amount of stamina that depletes quickly if you're attacking nonstop.

Fortunately, the game lets you perform a quick kick attack that knocks back nearby enemies and gives you some breathing room. You can also make any melee weapon a ranged weapon by throwing it, which may let you knock down or finish off a zombie at a distance. In addition, if you've gained enough experience points to unlock a new power, you can use those in battle. Each character has three different skill trees--Sam B's are fury, combat, and survival. Our demonstration version of Sam had a few fury skills unlocked, including a rage skill that tinged the screen red and let him smash open zombies with his bare fists, which was not unlike the old berserk pack from Doom.

Throughout the course of our journey, we met Hank, a truck-driving fellow who was being attacked by zombies. By rescuing him, we were able to gain access both to his truck, which he would use to pick up survivors to ferry to the lighthouse, and to his shack, which contained several types of crafting supplies and a workbench. Because we had picked up the schematics for two different types of weapons--an explosive sticky bomb and an electrified machete--we wasted no time building both. And we had plenty of opportunity to use both weapons on the next wave of angry zombies. The sticky bombs--little more than simple explosives taped to a throwing knife--worked well at clearing clusters of zombies; the machete messily severed limbs with successful hits. Deep Silver producers explained that this property of the latter weapon will become crucial in latter parts of the game when you're being overrun by slower zombies who can't all be killed quickly but can, at least, be stopped in their tracks by hacking off a leg or two.

There'll be plenty of chopping to do in Dead Island.

We finally made it to the lighthouse and were greeted by a cutscene of Sinamoi arriving on the truck with the rest of the survivors to set ourselves up at a new base of operations. Throughout the game, as you reclaim more and more of the island, you'll set up new hub areas from which you can pick up quests; buy black-market items from unscrupulous survivors who assume that rescue is right around the corner and will charge through the nose for everything. While reclaiming the island isn't going to be easy, you have a few things working in your favor. One, for some reason, your character is immune to the deadly virus that is turning people into zombies; and two, the game will support four-player cooperative multiplayer with full support for no-strings-attached drop-in/drop-out play. Dead Island looks like it will have tons of zombie-smashing action. The game will be released later this year.

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Discussion

462 comments
YouShouldKnow
YouShouldKnow

Pre Ordered! this game is zombie heaven cant come fast enouph!!!

killerkandykorn
killerkandykorn

man that trailer was so majestic... Is it finally happening? A decent game is actually gonna come out?

madg23
madg23

two words : cant wait!

xxxxTRISTAMxxxx
xxxxTRISTAMxxxx

Zombies just don't die....talk about over kill when it comes to games...the most over used character in games.

Jamo12
Jamo12

Looks great, a Dead Rising with RPG elements, defiantly getting some of that!

ChocoboJockey
ChocoboJockey

I sincerely hope for a split-screen co-op....

Phil_Maholynn
Phil_Maholynn

There is a zombie MMO coming out called Class4. Although Class3 comes out first which is a wide open city and 4 player co-op, they mentioned something about class4 in an interview.

digimon360
digimon360

they should let you make a custom character, then pick your class. Sense the two girls? appear to be the assassin and something else.

LeoLex_
LeoLex_

I just found this game on PSN store oh my s*** i was impressed with the trailer. another awesome game ill be adding to the list that is full of AAA games already. what a year for gaming...

WhatsY0UTUB3
WhatsY0UTUB3

@CruiserCaptain Zombie Theft Auto? Didn't think that one through did you?

FOBlO
FOBlO

zombie boss? hope there's a final boss unlike L4D.

CruiserCaptain
CruiserCaptain

@BrianB0422 I agree man. Or at least I'd like to see some sort of ZTA ( like GTA with Zombies ) that has a strong 4 player co-op feature and more investment in navigating a huge openworld city of ruins and ever shifting hordes of the dead. Just something that really involves a lot of navigating on foot with the use of real tactics besides unloading thousands of bullets into a crowd, not that that ain't fun. And strong co-op features.

BrianB0422
BrianB0422

Can someone just come out with a zombie-themed MMO already? Zombie action games are getting old.

Giglioroninomic
Giglioroninomic

So regular people don't have guns. Obviously regular people can't fly with guns, and you can't drive to an island, but that seemed to me a bit of the snarky, ill-informed crap that GS and PC gamer always print, because they have no idea what they're talking about. Normal people own guns, I don't know many that don't or aren't going to. On a different note, I have seen the trailer twice and this is the first I've heard of the actual gameplay. The trailer was very well done and although cliche, easily one of the best trailers ever - though it made the game seem like it would have more heart than what now seems like Dead Rising: Spring Break. Either way, that game is excellent, so this should be.

Big_To
Big_To

Great! Now the only question is who has to play the girl?

Gliave
Gliave

What an amazing introductory footage. Now that's aiming for the sky's limit. Expecting the same level of dedication to the rest of the game, so I'm sure looking forward to it.

gavininco
gavininco

@ Johny 47. I agree, I love zombie games and this one has potential. hope they can take cues from the leaders of zombie play and make it nothing like dead rising or resident evil which are both boring IMO.

TheGamerClubber
TheGamerClubber

It's very funny...althoug everybody is turning into zombies...the main character never turns into one when bitten...right Resident Evil and Dead Island? Anyway, this game seems amazing.

quiksilver9563
quiksilver9563

personally i love the zombie genre i think all games should be in some zombie version at one point any way, so im excited to have even more zombies to destroy cus it never gets old bashing in a skull!

sblazed
sblazed

oh cmon , all of you whinning about : uhhh its like dead rising or w/e ! No , just no , why dont you cry about it being a video game while you're at it. If they deliver an awesome game i can only be happy , you bunch of babies lol

BetardxFoosier
BetardxFoosier

@BDL91 Every Halo game (besides Halo Wars, I think) has had a M rating. Dead Rising and Left4Dead have had M ratings. This will be no different, since it's dead people trying to eat human beings, those human beings tearing apart the zombie's bodies. It's a 'M' rating for video games too, not R (that's for movies).

vadagar1
vadagar1

hmmm sounds very "fresh" time will tell :P

Noah-Phoenix
Noah-Phoenix

Sounds like a load of crap to me. Might look good, and that trailer is very well directed, but its all just Dead Rising on an Island. Nothing new, inventive or innovative and every idea borrowed from other games already (and recently) out. If, however, it does take its cues more from L4D than DR, and is attempting to mix the two, then it could end up being alright. Not a pre order for me.

Johny_47
Johny_47

Honestly, this looks like a better looking version of dead rising and I hate dead rising. I would much prefer it if it was like a more survival version of Left 4 Dead, just nice co-op elements, good gameplay and you would have to improvise with the surroundings like with explosives or fire =/ Hope it's not like dead rising and I'm a bit sorry for seeming like a 'kill joy' =P

DAFTArticuno
DAFTArticuno

trailer was amazing, cant wait to play the game!

killip
killip

Christ, that trailer was well done. Hope the game itself is just as slick.

caityful
caityful

Regardless of whether the gameplay is anything like the trailer... that's one heck of a well composed teaser.

BDL91
BDL91

lol theres no way this game will have an R rating. its violence and thats all... not like theirs drugs or nudity.. or anything sexual lol

skeleme
skeleme

Zombies that are actually scary...

skeleme
skeleme

Zombies that are actually scary...

josh_d_gun
josh_d_gun

you tell them Tanman77_au. Australian stick's in the mud. they need too harry up with there R rating.

tanman77_au
tanman77_au

@Vaultboy-101 I know yeh!! damn stupid Aussie Rating goodie goodie 2shoes...Or they're doin is stoping me spending money in aus.... Instead I gotta go buy it from other countries.. Not playing a game with censorship on it!! Make us adults feel like babies.... Stupid Aussie Rating system!!!

hossok
hossok

WoW .. What a video Clip ..

megakick
megakick

um reading a lot of,"the trailer is nothing like the game." dead raising is good and simple.

Vaultboy-101
Vaultboy-101

Also, I think I can hear the Aussie Banhammer coming for this game. I hope not but it's likely.

Vaultboy-101
Vaultboy-101

@Toocka21 That is a possible theory for the games setting and it's different to the usual zombie infection sort of thing. o maybe they already have that idea in mind.

Ivory-Dynamite
Ivory-Dynamite

Yeah I think that amazing trailer has set this game up for a massive failure (can't live up to the hype) but on the other hand a lot of crap games have sold well (not saying this game is bad way to early to tell)

DJ-Wolfman09
DJ-Wolfman09

@AJC3317 oh good, so i'm not the only one who thought the same thing. why do we need more of an already overrated game? but i guess we've yet to see what exactly sets them apart (if there is anything...)

AJC3317
AJC3317

so... how is this any different from dead rising? i suppose if it's actually good that would make it different, but i'm skeptical

DJ-Wolfman09
DJ-Wolfman09

it sounds interesting but...is it me or...this seems alot like Dead Rising?

Toocka21
Toocka21

My theory, all the zombies are all Kava Zombies. Since the game does take place on Papau New Guini right? And PNG is an island that kava is a prominent substance so. They must be kava zombies!!!!!

puppeteer
puppeteer

Atleast it's a different type of Zombie game with some RPG type element and not the average run & gun gameplay. I'll give it a try hopefully they release a demo 1st lately devs think it's just fine to not realease them. But then complain because people are Torrenting the full game. Sorry working Devs no one in this economy is gonna cahnce wasting $60 first to only find the game sucks. While reviews help they are not how everyone may feel about the game or elements of the game.

jackdeath
jackdeath

take a breath people trailers have let us down before, bring on game play

jackdeath
jackdeath

take a breath people trailers have let us down before, bring on game play

bateman77
bateman77

Totally agree. Hard to say something about the game, but the trailer is catchy.

beardrewz
beardrewz

please gamespot...talk about the graphics!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! omg!! dont just story tell!