Dead Island screenshot
Dead Island screenshot

Dead Island drops us into an open world nightmare, a tropical paradise overrun with zombies. We're not talking about the lovable, shuffling Romero-style breed of zombies, either; the buggers at the Palms Resort have more in common with the fleet-footed Infected of 28 Days Later.

It's a great concept for an action RPG, but as soon as you start playing a new horror comes to light: bewilderingly clumsy handling. Your survivor's awkward movement suggest that their arms and legs have been heavily anaesthetised. Even basic navigation seems problematic, and if you attempt a melee strike your weapon of choice will flap across the screen in an ungainly swipe.

I'm not sure if this is a deliberate affectation on the part of developer Techland, but it's certainly off-putting. Tilt your gaze downwards and you'll see your legs - a rare feature for an FPS game - and yet your feet skitter across the scenery as if they're barely touching the ground. More worryingly, it seems hard to judge when an enemy is in range of your attacks, with blows occasionally missing when it feels like they should connect, and vice versa. These issues seem particularly severe when fighting on an incline; at one point in my recent demo I found myself battling a trio of zombies on a flight of stairs, and here both sides wound up clawing at the air with no apparent effect.

Weirdly, the throwing mechanics are extremely reliable, to the point where it seems that you will always hit your target, unless someone pops up to bite you first. You can only equip two weapons at a time, so after a couple of lobs you'll have to delve into a menu to select another two projectiles, but even so throwing seems to be the combat tactic of choice, in the early game at least.

It's a shame that the core action seems so wonky, because aside from its central concept - and it really is a good one - there's a lot of potential in what Techland is trying to do. Blades that are thrown into the walking dead remain lodged there, so if you're quick you can retrieve a weapon from wounded enemy and then use it again. Stray too close to an explosion, and you won't just get hurt: the force will knock you off your feet, forcing you to struggle back up as your rotting foes close in on you.

Dead Island screenshot

The skill trees for each of the four classes are also promising, suggesting that there's no shortage of depth to the combat system. Certain abilities unlock critical hits or temporary speed increases, while others poison your targets (can you poison a zombie?) or make them bleed over time. Mind you, none of this will do much good if it's hard to hit the zombies in the first place.

The four-player co-op and class system is clearly inspired by Borderlands, which is no bad thing. However, Dead Island also appears to have pinched the latter game's respawn system, to the extent that death is just a minor inconvenience that costs you money. While this certainly gets you back into the action swiftly, it somewhat removes the sense of risk from your adventures.

Despite all these obvious problems I'll admit that I did find myself getting drawn into the action, dashing about a beach, securing a new base for other survivors, then hunting for car parts to fix up a beefy-looking truck - sadly I didn't get this running before the close of the demo. While the voice acting is a mixed bag, the rest of the audio design is very slick. And while the game suffers from pop-up and a number of other graphical issues, the Palms Resort looks an environment that will be fun to explore.

Whether this will be enough to save Dead Island from its apparent clumsiness remains to be seen. Release day is a month away, and it's hard to imagine that the game we'll get then will have any more finesse than the graceless one we've just played.

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8 Comments

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Gollum_85's Avatar

Gollum_85

Hmm, I had high hopes for this game after "that" trailer. I feel a bit let down after this preview. I'll be waiting for the review before I decide on this one!
Posted 14:48 on 13 August 2011
pblive's Avatar

pblive

Still keeping an eye on this as a possible purchase. Hope the developer can listen to criticism and react to make the game better.
Posted 16:33 on 07 August 2011
Wido's Avatar

Wido@ mydeaddog

Cheers for the reply.

Hmmm, may need to look further into this game than I thought. I still find hitting a Zombie over the head with a fire axe, baseball bat, whatever the melee weapon to be more superior.
Posted 19:47 on 05 August 2011
Chaza_snake's Avatar

Chaza_snake@ mydeaddog

the throwing knife and sticky bomb looks like a very fun weapon
Posted 19:34 on 05 August 2011
mydeaddog's Avatar

mydeaddog@ Wido

Thrown weapons seem to work far better. It's a bit weird that you can (seemingly) hit your target every time, but as I mentioned, this is somewhat offset by the fact that you obviously lose your weapon!

There's a class that specialises in throwing, although his skill tree seems more focused on making him an all-rounder.
Posted 02:04 on 05 August 2011
FantasyMeister's Avatar

FantasyMeister

I was watching a gameplay feed of this on YouTube, doesn't look that bad, kind of The Club crossed with Dead Rising, lots of points scoring going on, and looks like kicking a zombie in the chest to knock it away and then whacking it with a machete works quite well. As does using the environment (at one point a machete was thrown into a gas pipe which ignited all the zombies near it, then the machete was retrieved).

Maybe the clumsiness is due to the character waking up with a hangover or something? I'll watch out for the review first before buying, and thanks for the preview in the meantime.
Posted 20:36 on 04 August 2011
Wido's Avatar

Wido

Question Neon.

As you have stated you were experiencing issues regarding with the melee weapons. What about the thrown objects? Have you noticed any late reactions and so forth?
Posted 16:28 on 04 August 2011
Wido's Avatar

Wido

Hmmm, regardless of the issues you have experienced via the demo. I'm still very interested in this game, simply because there isn't a game out that is offering what this does. I very much doubt this will be a first day purchase mind like Dead Rising 2: Off The Record, but I will certainly be picking it up. Most probably Christmas time, though it all depends on the reviews, as this is also sitting in the same boat as Rage at the moment.
Posted 15:48 on 04 August 2011

Game Stats

Release Date: 09/09/2011
Developer: Techland
Publisher: Deep Silver
Genre: First Person Shooter
No. Players: 1-4
Rating: PEGI 18+
Site Rank: 2,497 1292
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