Having announced its arrival with a stunning FMV trailer back in February, we’ve been tracking Dead Island with plenty of interest. It’s certainly shaping up to be an ambitious title, mixing the zom-pocalypse of Left 4 Dead with larger, open world tropical environments and a healthy dollop of RPG elements too.
Perhaps the most eyebrow raising feature is Dead Island’s approach to its single and multiplayer options, combining the two into a drop-in, drop-out co-op experience for up to four players. It’s a bold move that aims to mix the narrative of a single player story line with the co-op zombie smashing we’ve all come to know and love.
Much like Left 4 Dead, there are four main protagonists that make up Dead Island’s crew of survivors. However, there’s a much greater feeling of progression, because characters in Dead Island develop and improve as the game progresses, earning experience and levelling up by completing quests and smacking zombies upside the head.
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In this way, Dead Island shows its RPG roots quite clearly, as each character has unique traits that can be unlocked or improved, which make them more suited to certain styles of play.
There’s the muscle bound ‘tank’ character that’s able to draw in zombies, taking the pressure off other players, a ranged expert who’s handier with firearms, a ninja-like close combat specialist who’s deadly with knives, and a fourth character who’s more of an all-rounder.
There’s no word on whether two of the same character-type can co-exist in the same co-op game should you and a friend both choose the same character to level up. We imagine this won’t be possible, though, for the sake of balance and in-game canon, which could cause some arguments. However, the RPG elements and four different main characters do open the door for repeated play-throughs.
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We got our hands on the game mid-way through the campaign, teaming up with three fellow players to complete a mission that involved sticking up posters throughout the zombie-infested city area of the game’s tropical paradise setting. The players aren’t the only survivors of the zombie plague though; there are plenty of NPCs holed up in safe houses, and in the demo we played the central hub for this was a barricaded church. NPC survivors offer missions, while also serving merchants who can sell you better weapons.
There’s also a nifty crafting option, which enables you to modify existing weapons to become deadlier, or add extra zombie-slaying effects. For example, adding a battery and some wire to a blade makes for an impromptu electro-prod that can briefly incapacitate foes, while adding a saw blade to the end of a baseball bat makes it even better at caving in skulls. These added benefits are balanced by the fact that Dead Island's weapons visually degrade the more you use them, becoming less effective and dealing less damage too. That master-murder-stick might make mincemeat of zombies for a while, but it’ll soon need to be repaired, or swapped out for a different weapon in the confusion of a fight.