LOS ANGELES--The last time somebody tried to make a first-person shooter with zombie-oriented enemies, that game was Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler's Green (and we all know how atrociously that turned out). Undaunted by such past colossal failures, Polish developer Techland is currently working on Dead Island, a first-person shooter set on an island teeming with walking corpses. The demo was available at Techland's E3 2006 display, and we got to take a quick look at it. While this might not sound like the biggest compliment in the world, we can safely say that after seeing the game in action, it doesn't look like it's going to be Road to Fiddler's Green all over again, and it actually looks like it could be a pretty good shooter.
The premise of Dead Island is that you are the lone survivor of some kind of crash. You're washed up on a mysterious island, and your wife is missing. Did she survive? Is she somewhere else on this island? Oh, and what's the deal with all the freaky zombies walking around? The game promises to deliver an engaging mystery surrounding the zombification of the island's residents amid all the purely visceral shooting. However, don't expect this to be the next great piece of high-art zombie fiction. First and foremost, Dead Island is a quickly paced shooter.
The demo we saw of the game included some basic combat through a jungle environment. Armed with a pistol, we made our way through the thick foliage, as zombies would often creep (and sometimes run) up from hidden places. There will be multiple types of zombies in the game--slow ones, fast ones, you name it. The zombies will feature real-time deformation, so you'll be able to do progressive levels of visual damage to them as you blast them back to the grave. Dead Island actually runs on the same graphics engine as Techland's Western-themed first-person shooter, Call of Juarez, so you can expect some nice visual bells and whistles in the character models, environments, textures, lighting, and physics.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the game is that you'll have to use random objects around the gameworld, both as weapons and methods for basic puzzle-solving. Most any object that looks like it can be picked up can, in fact, be picked up. Oil drums, boxes, you name it. In combat, one example we saw of this involved us climbing up to high ground with zombies coming at us up the hill. On the peak, we had a few random drums full of anonymous chemicals nearby. All we had to do was pick up a drum, roll it down the hill toward the forthcoming zombies, and shoot the barrel just before it reached them. Bam, instant zombie death. From a puzzling standpoint, there was one scenario where, in order to get to a nearby ledge, we had to pick up a box from a nearby area, move it underneath the ledge, and hop up. Supposedly there will be more-involved puzzles in the game, but this was just the one we happened to see.
Zombies and first-person shooters ought to get along just fine--it's just that the concept hasn't been done especially well thus far. Heck, closest one to be recalled is the old House of the Dead games, and those were light gun games! Dead Island doesn't look like it's aiming to be anything more than a solid shooter with the sole purpose of bringing mad amounts of zombie murder to your PC. If our demo was any indication, it could do just that, and do it pretty well. As of right now, Dead Island has no US publisher, but like Call of Juarez, Techland would like to get it to the North American audience. We'll bring you more on the game as it becomes available.