Dead Island Hands-On Preview: The First Hour (Twice)
An open, zombie-filled world
Back when I covered Dead Island at E3, I described it as something of a first-person take on the Dead Rising series. That remains an accurate assessment. The game plays extremely similarly to Dead Island 2 — you’ll talk to NPCs to accept various missions, of both main and side varieties; you’ll pick up all kinds of random objects to use as weapons; and you’ll fashion weapons of your own as you gather blueprints and components with the use of work benches. Most of the time, you’ll engage in melee exploits, smashing zombie brains with whatever’s close at hand.
How you engage enemies is based on your stamina bar. Stamina dictates how many swings you can take with your weapon, how far you can sprint, and other actions. It recharges over time and you can restore it with things like energy drinks, but in a bind, you’ll need to manage it carefully. There’s a great deal of stepping out of the way of zombie attacks — your brain makes you a more effective fighter, so it’s best to use it.
Last go-round we finished Dead Island’s opening two quests: one in which you step out of the tiki hut to rescue Sinamoi, a lifeguard and your rescuer, and one in which you head to the nearby life guard station and clear it of the undead so the survivors can move to the more secure location. Those quests are still your first two tasks in Dead Island, only they’re more involved this time. In order to go to the lifeguard station, you’ll first need to head to Sinamoi’s bungalow and recover his ID card.
You’re the natural candidate to run off and fight zombies, since you don’t instantly turn into one should you get into trouble, but you’re still in grave danger all the time. There are zombies literally everywhere, and they react to your presence by getting up off the ground and attacking you, sometimes rather quickly. How well you fight is dictated by your aim and precision with your strikes, as well as your stamina level — more stamina equals more damage, headshots are more effective than groin shots, and so on. You can also cripple zombies’ limbs by hitting them, which is an effective tactic against the larger, more dangerous varieties, and you can throw just about anything at zombies to attack them at range.
Before you leave the tiki hut on the beach, you can speak with some of the other NPCs and gather up quests from them, which get logged in your journal and can be added to your map to give you an idea of where to go. But Dead Island is a big place with lots to explore (if not necessarily a lot to do), and you’re free to wander. Some areas are more dangerous than others, though.
Heading to the bungalow section, there are two notable events that take place. First is an open building where something weird has gone on — inside, you find a woman in her underwear chained to a bed with two cameras on her, a man crumpled against the wall behind them. Approach him and he attacks you; both are zombies now. You can leave the woman undead and chained to the bed, or finish her off, but it’s definitely a strange moment.
As you approach Sinamoi’s bungalow, you’ll discover a man in a pool with bodies all around him. Listening to him speak, you discover that he’s killed his whole family after they were turned, and he might be going crazy with grief. When you return from inside the nearby bungalow, he’s disappeared.
And speaking of story, inside the bungalow we discover something else: a recording by a reporter about a story he was working on about the logging industry on the island. The journalist has left recordings all over the place should anything happen to him. So now you have an audio diary storyline to figure out.
With the ID in hand, you’re free to return to the hut and speak with the survivors, and after which, you’re dispatched to the lifeguard tower. There you fight your first Thug zombie, which is bigger and more powerful than the regular kind and best dealt with by injuring his limbs. As you clear out the tower after killing it, you hear a radio broadcast from a plane that seems to be going down on the island; when you reach the top level of the tower and clear it, you’ll even see the plane glide past overhead. Looks like you’ll have a quest in a bit.
Finishing up with the lifeguard tower brings the rest of the group along, where they’re safe behind fences. That’s the start of Chapter 2, when you’ll get more quests from the survivors — a lot more. They include finding parts to repair a truck, getting gear to burn some bodies before they rot, helping to repair a radio, locating a lost necklace and more. Every mission gets you a reward in experience points to progress your character, a new weapon or item that might be better than something you already have and some money, which can be spent on trading with certain characters and upgrading your proficiency with specific weapons.
The mission to repair the radio takes the player up to a nearby lighthouse, so I opt to go with that mission and explore new territory. It takes you out to a nearby road, where zombies are scattered between destroyed cars, some of which have the parts I need. Before long, I discover a couple in a bungalow, the door in blocked by a truck. I move the truck — it runs! — and find a woman and her injured, zombifying husband. He gives me a quest to take the woman to the lighthouse for safety, where there are apparently other survivors are holed up.
We drive in the truck, which makes the trip much easier than a walk would have been. Unfortunately, driving in Dead Island is a pretty terrible experience across the board. The cars handle awfully and are hard to maneuver, and if you drive one regularly (which I was toward the end of the demo as I traveled between locations nearer to the lighthouse and the lifeguard tower), pulling U-turns gets irritating in a hurry.