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Dead Island  

One hour (and more) on Techland's Dead Island

5:30 PM on 08.12.2011
One hour (and more) on Techland's Dead Island photo

Save your now-tired complaints about the over-saturation of undead flesh eaters in videogames: Dead Island is definitely a game to keep an eye on.

I've come to this conclusion after exploring a one-hour timed Xbox 360 preview build of the game... and then immediately turning around and spending one more hour to see what I had missed. Then I did it again. And when I'm done writing this, I may very well head back in for some more.

As a long-time fan of basically anything involving zombies, Dead Island is a pretty easy sell for me. It's Left 4 Dead and Borderlands in equal parts, set on a beautiful resort island swarming with infected ghouls. If that doesn't do it for you, how about this scenario...

I'm armed with two weapons: a hunting knife and a large, wooden paddle. With the knife in my hand, I'm backing away from an approaching zombie, attempting to keep my distance. I pull the left trigger on the Xbox 360 controller and take aim with the blade. I toss it into the shambling creep from several feet away, the pointy end digging deep into its chest. Quickly swapping to the wooden paddle, I dash towards the zombie and shatter its skull into chunks. As it falls backwards, finally and truly lifeless, I reach out and quickly retrieve the blade before the monster hits the ground. All of this, in only a matter of a few seconds. Dead Island, it seems, promises to be full of these "Holy crap, that just happened" moments.

While I made comparisons to Left 4 Dead and Borderlands, that's only partially accurate. Certainly, the game's four-player cooperative zombie killing reminds me immediately of Valve's stellar shooter. And like Borderlands, Dead Island is as much about quest completion and leveling up as it is about finding loot scattered all over the game's fictional Palm's Resort. But unlike both games, it's not fair to call Dead Island a shooter, because in my first hour there was nary a firearm to be picked up.

Instead, Dead Island is more about finding whatever you can -- knives, wooden planks, the aforementioned paddle -- and cracking it upside the heads of the undead. It gives the game a different feel, forcing you to get up close and personal with your attackers. It's a visceral experience, with well-placed hits capable of crippling a zombie or even completely obliterating their rotting faces.

Whereas Left 4 Dead features seemingly endless hordes of zombies, within the first hour developer Techland shows some restraint. It didn't take the undead brush and liberally paint them in every nook and cranny of the island. In one area, I walked along a quiet, seemingly empty beach. Suddenly, off in the distance I hear screams. And moans. And grunts. And gurgling. The dead, they're somewhere... and suddenly, one is upon me. A quicktime event (the left trigger, followed quickly by the right) knocks them back, and I regain my composure before delivering a few brutal, crushing blows.

Dead Island also made me feel a bit like a kleptomaniac. The game begins with you waking up alone inside of a hotel room. As you step out into the empty halls, you find luggage and other objects strewn all over the place. You just pick through them, finding money and other random items that you can later sell or combine with objects to create weapons. With only an hour to play my preview build, I still couldn't help myself from picking through everything I found: trash, guest bags, corpses, the trunk of an abandoned car.

From the game's start, you can choose from one of four characters: Logan, ex-quarterback and master at throwing stuff; Purna, a foul-mouthed female bodyguard who's a crackshot with a firearm; Xian, the Asian sharp weapons expert; and Sam B, king of the blunt weapons and internationally known hip-hop star. If there's one negative thing I'm ready to level at Dead Island before its release, it's about this collection of stereotypical nincompoops. (Yes, I said "nincompoops.") Long story short, every one is annoying in a different way, and will incessantly say stupid shit while you try to get down to zombie-killing business. 

Fortunately, I was able to look past that, and focus on the gameplay abilities that will make each character unique. For example, Purna is more effective with guns, and her unique XP-based character progression and skill tree reflects that. Remember how I said I didn't find a single gun in my travels? That's true, but Purna keeps one at her side; it's part of one of her "Rage" attack abilities. By simply smashing dead things to bits, you'll build up your "Rage" meter. Once full, a single button press let me pull out a small handgun and bust caps in zombies for a limited amount of time.

Given I've only played through a single hour of the game (several times, mind you), it's hard to get a sense for how Dead Island's story will play out. The plot appears to be "zombie outbreak, resort island, we gotta get off this rock." Whether Techland can even come close to striking the same emotional chords of that now-infamous initial trailer is questionable. Even so, there are hints in the first 60 minutes: at one point, I find a man sitting in a swimming pool tainted red with blood, sobbing over the lifeless body of his girlfriend. He's completely shook, rambling and in tears as he recounts how he had to put his infected girlfriend down at his own hands.

But hey, even if Dead Island is simply a violent romp around a tropical island that has me killing zombies for 20 or more hours... I think I'm cool with that, too.

Dead Island preview code personal statistics (for a single playthrough)

Overall Time Played: 1h
Quests completed: 8
Explored zones: 5%
Distance traveled: 7.18

Challenges: 1%
Achievements: 2%

Items modified: 0
Medkits Used: 1
Food consumed: 22
Deaths: 2

Walkers Killed: 93
Infected Killed: 15
Humans killed: 1
Floaters killed: 0
Butchers killed: 0
Suiciders killed: 0
Rams killed: 0

One hour (and more) on Techland's Dead Island photo
One hour (and more) on Techland's Dead Island photo
One hour (and more) on Techland's Dead Island photo
One hour (and more) on Techland's Dead Island photo

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timeline following:
Dead Island

10:15 AM on 01.29.2013
It's 'ridiculous' to call Dead Island trailers misleading

When Dead Island first got our attention, it did so with a bang. The infamous CGI video presented the game's zombie apocalypse as something tragic, personal, and deeply affecting, a far cry from the reality of a game that's m...more

11:00 PM on 01.26.2012
Dead Island's new DLC trailer goes forwards not backwards

Anyone who was looking forward to Dead Island for a narrative that focuses on the emotional side of the zombie apocalypse probably walked away from Techland's latest effort at least somewhat unfulfilled. But if blu...more

2:30 PM on 01.16.2012
'Ryder White' add-on next for Dead Island

Assuming you haven't grown tired of dismembering the undead, Dead Island would like to ask you back for another visit to Banoi. The game's "Ryder White" downloadable content is scheduled for January 31 on PlayStation Network ...more

3:30 PM on 11.29.2011
Shock: Dead Island banned in Germany at last

In news that will surprise only people who have never heard of Germany before, it has come to light that Dead Island's been banned ... in Germany!  Deep Silver is not surprised, gamers are not surprised, and I doubt the ...more

8:00 PM on 11.14.2011
Bathe in blood with Dead Island's new DLC

The new DLC for Dead Island, Bloodbath Arena, will be out November 22 and will feature four arenas to play alone or in four player co-op. Waves of zombies will throw themselves at you and your friends to kill for XP, items an...more

11:00 PM on 11.09.2011
New console patch for Dead Island bumps the level cap

Techland has issued a patch for the console versions of Dead Island which should be live by the time you read this post. If it's a level cap, someone's inevitably going to want it raised; players can now progress up to level ...more

2:30 PM on 10.12.2011
Dead Island PC patch arrives, still no Bloodbath DLC

A new patch has arrived to fix a number of outstanding issues with Dead Island on PC, including corrupted save files. The long-awaited "Bloodbath" DLC is still unavailable, due to Techland working on all these fixes. Oh, Tech...more

9:30 PM on 10.10.2011
Dead Island 'Bloodbath Arena' DLC aiming for mid-November

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12:00 PM on 09.27.2011
Dead Island movie is a go, Lionsgate acquires rights

That badass trailer worked! Movie get. Lionsgate announced today that it has acquired the film rights Dead Island, and that they've begun working on a movie.  Sean Daniel ("The Mummy") will produce the zombie flick, says...more

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