After all the hype surrounding it earlier this year, Techland's zombie survival game Dead Island is fast approaching its planned September release. We had the opportunity to sample its multiplayer components back at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, but now we've spent some time with the game's single-player storyline and got to experience what it's like to deal with the zombie apocalypse surrounded by a group of sissies. For starters, though there are four different characters you can choose from, the initial story is the same regardless of which one you choose. You'll begin with a prologue, which gets you familiar with the basic controls and movement and puts you in a brief combat situation.
Combat is heavily focused on melee attacks. Available weapons are not easy to find, and keeping them functional can be quite a task. Wooden items break relatively quickly, while metal weapons, such as knives and wrenches, become less effective after some use. The game promises the ability to use firearms, but in the first hour of playing, the opportunity to use one was not available.
Most items can be repaired and upgraded with the right amount of money. Early on, the cost of improving smaller items doesn't break the bank, and in most cases, you can fully upgrade thanks to the fact that cash is very easy to find. Unfortunately, the first portion of the game doesn't give you the opportunity to create new weapons, so that aspect of the weaponry was not experienced.
There also wasn't much of a difference between the four characters in regard to their abilities. The one specializing in firearms didn't even have the opportunity to get hold of one. Also, these characters, including the football player, lose their stamina very quickly in the beginning. As you progress and level up, they do improve, but early on, you will have more luck in "hit-and-running" rather than attacking head-on.
After completing the brief prologue and meeting the first group of non-player characters, your initial task is recovering an ID card that opens up the lifeguard station. Once there, you'll face off against some zombies, and once the area is secure, it becomes your early base of operation. For an open-world game, the opening sections are extremely restrictive; the first missions are limited, but thankfully quite short in length. Once you do secure the location, multiple mission types become available, and the island becomes yours to discover.
Even with the limitations for this preview, there is a lot available to discover. Missions themselves are what you'd expect: recover items, find people, and defeat as many zombies as possible. You can accept all missions or just follow the core storyline and progress that way. Considering there is a very robust leveling system in place, the best course of action is to take on as many missions as possible.
Vehicles are also available if you can find one in drivable condition. You can either complete an early mission that makes one available to you, or you can search for one on your own. With this early look, the driving wasn't that enjoyable and took a bit of time to get used to. Thankfully, though, the car can take quite a beating; even when we launched one off a cliff, it was still very drivable.
We played with each character for an hour, and it seems that Dead Island will be much more appealing to play with a group of people rather than on your own. Early cutscenes show the four together, but when you're playing solo, the three other characters don't fight alongside you. Also, since there is no evidence of there being any differences in the story, you may be more inclined to play through a single story rather than seeing four potentially different tales. Hopefully as the in-game story progresses, more individuality is introduced to each, especially since each character seems to have a reason for being on the island. Dead Island is scheduled for release in September, so we will just have to wait to learn more.