Release Date: TBA
To be nice, recent attempts at the mixture of zombies and the FPS genre have been a little less than remarkable (see: Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler's Green), and it seems that oftentimes, the mix of the two spawns a title that is so derivative of older zombie movies that it's not even worth a passing glance. Thus it was to our surprise that at E3 this year, Techland showcased their upcoming title Dead Island, which was not only a zombie-themed FPS but looked and played surprisingly differently than previous titles on the market.
In the build we played, we started off presumably near the beginning, with precious little backstory, given the game's early stage of development. We found out very quickly that although the story arc of Dead Island is your traditional one (zombies have came back to life, and your goals are to both figure out why and survive while doing so), Techland is really aiming to bring a more edgy and faster-paced feel than what would originally come to mind. Enemies can come from anywhere at any time, and ammo is to be considered a precious commodity. One look at pistol and the mere two clips we had on hand and the lush, foggy landscape, and it's clear that Dead Island has the survival-horror FPS idea down pat.
Techland's three games in development (Call of Juarez, Dead Island, and Chrome 2) all utilize the same engine, though in Dead Island, it is used in a much different style. Initially, we were finding our way through a foggy, forested bog filled with knee- to shoulder-high undergrowth obscuring what wasn't already shrouded by the fog. As we progressed, we would hear a moan or splash and immediately see a zombie at close range lunging for us. As one would expect, headshots are quite important, both to deal massive damage to the enemy and to conserve ammo. While dispatching the zombies can be pretty straightforward, there is always the feeling that every time you panic and have to unload point-blank, you are that much closer to running out of ammunition.
There are zombies that will always be in the same areas each time you play, but more often than not, zombies will also continually come at you at random intervals and equally random directions. Essentially, you can expect a few encounters to happen in specific places on multiple playthroughs, but you always have to keep alert even in areas you've previously cleared out.
Later on in the level, we stood on a cliff that overlooked a construction area down below. Thanks to the game's physics engine, we could use flammable containers to send debris raining down onto the zombies below, making things a little easier for us. Of course, wild wolves that suddenly jumped onto the path from the forest on our left cut short our little pleasure cruise. At one point, we walked onto a bridge, when suddenly zombies began pouring onto it from both sides, giving a very enclosed feeling to the action. More than once, we had to use objects to our advantage, such as stacking boxes to reach a broken ladder while dispatching the occasional zombie that would run towards us from the undergrowth. Finally, at the end of the level, we had to open a door leading into a tunnel while occasionally stopping to defend ourselves against zombies.
Dead Island uses its engine quite well, and even at the current stage of development, the title has a fairly high degree of detail. The textures on the characters look pretty spot on, and the zombies all have their fair share of wounds and blood covering them. Explosions kick up a satisfying amount of dirt and debris particle effects from the ground, in addition to fireballs and smoke. The title's audio is sufficiently creepy, and though the ambience of E3 doesn't exactly lend itself to aural clarity, we could still hear the moans, groans, and gunfire amidst the sounds of the damp, foggy forest.
Zombie-themed titles are truly a dime a dozen, but where other titles are more of the same, Dead Island unexpectedly kept us entertained throughout the duration of the preview. We weren't given a release date, but the game has a great deal of life left in its development cycle. Among all of the titles that E3 had to offer, Dead Island was one of the few that genuinely left us wanting more. Keep an eye on the news for future developments and, hopefully, a specific release date on this rather interesting upcoming title.
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