Since no one had heard anything about Dead Island since its unveiling at E3 2007, the long in development zombie game was thought to be dead. That changed a few days ago with the reveal of a rather depressing CG trailer that was equal parts heartbreaking and incredibly exciting. Now that much of the shock the trailer no doubt left many of us with has faded a bit, I feel this is a fantastic time to take a look at this promising new IP and talk about what could make it great.
A paltry handful of details have been revealed about the game, including its four-player drop-in, drop-out cooperative play, scarce guns and ammo (its mostly melee based) and minor RPG elements. We also know it takes place in and around the fictional Royal Palms Resort on an (equally fictional) island called Banoi in Papua New Guinea (that last one’s definitely real). But that’s what we already know, what about our hopes, our dreams, our aspirations? There’s a very good chance we won’t be seeing this game for some time, the soonest being the end of the year, so that’s ample time to toss in some community submitted ideas. It’s not common for a video game to show a child being harmed. This medium is still fairly new, at least when compared to its often equated sibling the film industry. Sadly, all new mediums go through a phase of criticism where people who aren’t terribly familiar with it tend to condemn it for doing something they think it shouldn’t be doing. Harming children in virtually any way is one of those things that can bring controversy, but that certainly didn’t stop Dead Island’s debut trailer from using the last breathing (and flesh hungry) moments of a young girl as its main focus. Sure there are going to be critics who blast them for doing this but I think it was a fantastic idea. It was the perfect way to show this game isn’t the type of zombie game we’ve grown used to this generation.
Dead Rising is campy, even crude at times, but its rarely a series I’m able to take seriously. I don’t play those games for their deep stories, I play them to slice and dice my way through thousands of the undead. Then there’s Left 4 Dead, which definitely takes itself more seriously even though its severely lacking in the story department. That series is more about teamwork and stellar gameplay. There are a dozen zombie franchises I could list off but few of them provide the player a grown-up story, something for adults to enjoy while still being a fun game. If Dead Island can make me feel even a fraction of the emotion I felt, and going by your feedback on the trailer you felt as well, then this will be a memorable game.
So if the story is everything I desperately hope it will be that leaves the gameplay. We know it includes four player coop, so looking at what Left 4 Dead did for cooperative post-apocalyptic play (only void of guns) there’s much this game can glean from what Valve’s done. First, make us rely on each other. No one should be a walking tank, and while the chances of someone being too powerful in a game that forces you to get up close and personal in combat are low this is important for this type of game. That said, if someone finds themselves in the midst of an abundance of badass weaponry, let them share it with their friends easily and intuitively.
Another thing Left 4 Dead taught us is its all about the variety, at least in the combat. A horde of zombies has been done, some might say to an excess, so throwing in a few wild cards like zombies that are insanely fast, big, or ones that explode into a neat burst of red, chunky confetti keeps the experience from getting dull. I can only fight the same type of zombie for so long before it gets old. But Dead Island isn’t taking a gamey, arcady approach, its trying to be more realistic. The recent Dawn of the Dead remake took the same approach but they also introduced the undead in varying states of decay. The ones that had been dead for awhile were slow and quiet while the fresher ones were loud and fast. This could work here too. And since the game won’t bring with it a substantial armory of ranged weaponry that means there better be some Dead Rising-esque melee options available to give me plenty of options. Hell, you could even go further and give players the ability to craft more powerful weapons.
We know there are four playable characters in the game, Xian Mei who works at the hotel, Logan, Sam B and Purna. Now if you really want to make each player feel important you could bestow upon each character a unique skillset, like in Resident Evil: Outbreak. In that game each character had something to bring to the table, ranging from the ability to craft weapons to pick locks. If there’s a player who’s adept at craftsmanship let them be the guy (or gal) that assembles the weapons. You could also have someone who’s a skillful healer, or since Xian works at the hotel perhaps she comes with an in-depth knowledge of the nearby environment in the form of a map of the area. Classes have been confirmed for the game and the only confirmed class is something called ‘Assassin.’ Granted, no one knows exactly what that entails, but it sounds like something you’d find in a fantasy game, not a zombie game trying to depict an outbreak fairly realistically.
Speaking of the RPG elements the game is touted to include, I love the idea of having my character feel noticeably stronger and more capable as I progress through the game. It’s a fantastic idea that more games should incorporate because it makes the player feel like they’ve accomplished something along their adventure. I am a little worried that if the RPG side of the game is too expansive (apparently there’s a skill tree) that it will take away from the gritty, realistic approach Techland has taken for the game. Instead of putting points into different skills or “leveling up” I think it’d be best if we simply became more adept at the every day tasks we have to perform throughout the game. After crafting so many levels I should start to do it more quickly and after running from a legion of zombies I should become more agile, for example.
If the trailer is anything to go by Dead Island certainly looks to be shaping up quite nicely. This is obviously a game they’re investing a ton of love and creativity into and that heartwrenching introduction to the world they’ve created has my nether regions all aflutter. And I don’t know about you but there can never be too many zombie games, especially great open-world ones with fantastic stories and superb gameplay. Yeah, that’s pretty rare.