E3 2011Previews

IVG at E3: Dead Island hands-on

It’s been about four months since the hype train for Techland’s new IP, Dead Island’s took off full-steam ahead, when the games debut trailer went viral. The uniquely edited CGI trailer showed off the plight of a happy family as they battle for survival in a tropical paradise now swarming with zombies. It managed to tug at the heartstrings of gamers worldwide, and in the process, brought Techland under the spotlight. Could the game deliver what the trailer promised? From what I saw on the E3 floor, ‘no’ would be the answer. The game is not what we saw in that trailer, but it does seem to have all the ingredients that go into making a great zombie game.

At first sight, Dead Island seems like a mix of Far Cry’s tropical setting and Dead Rising’s melee system and weapon improvisation for combat. The demo starts off with you waking up from a long night of drinking. While you were on a high, the island around you has hit rock bottom, with zombies swarming all over the place. You realise that you are holed up in a beach shack with some other survivors. Before long, you are asked to grab a wooden oar and head outside to help a fellow survivor who has being ganged up on by a group of vacationers-turned-zombies.

The first time you take a swing at a zombie, you hear this lovely crunch as the oar connects with the mass of flesh and bones. But as you go around hunting for more of them, you will begin to realise that Techland will have to fine-tune the melee system quite a lot. For starters, I just couldn’t figure out how close I needed to be to properly connect with the zombie’s skull. While I would have appreciated a bit more of breathing space, it seemed as if most of the time, I was just barely out of their reach. One misstep and they would grab me in a feeding frenzy. Many thanks to the kick button to keep the hordes at bay when they get too close for comfort.

There is plenty of gore in the form of zombie skulls being smashed and arms and heads being chopped off, all served with generous helpings of curdled up, oxygen-starved, dark maroon zombie blood. Each zombie takes about 2-3 good whacks before going down, sometimes lying on the ground moaning until you put it out of its misery. Throwing a meat cleaver at a zombie rushing in and stopping it in its tracks is very satisfying. Thrown weapons can be picked up again for re-use. While you can avoid many of the undead by running or avoiding venturing near them, it is more fun to smash them to bits with whatever you can lay your hands on.

The demo offered a small slice of the promised island, but had quite a lot to explore. I could hear the moans of the undead around me at all times, making me whirl around in alarm. I’d look around once or twice and just when I would start blaming it on my paranoia, I would be attacked. The constant tension of being attacked, with the claustrophobic sound design, and the incongruity of it all happening on a bright, sandy, sun-lit beach made up for an engrossing experience. The game also has levelling up and skill trees, but I could not get enough time to try that out because the big guy standing behind me was getting impatient.

Dead Island is shaping out to be a great zombie-killing game. Just be sure to leave your expectations based on the CGI trailer at the door before you pick up the controller. With such games on the horizon, no wonder this genre just refuses to die!

Dead Island is scheduled for release on September 9, 2011 for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, but the game will not be officially available in India.

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