Published on June 8th, 2011 | by Ken Yarbrough, Editor
E3 2011: Dead Island Multiplayer Hands-On
One of my most anticipated games coming into this year’s E3 was Deep Silver’s open-world zombie-fest, Dead Island.
After having nearly a full hour playthrough of the multiplayer, I can safely say that my anticipation has, like the dead, risen.
I was seated at a four player station, with two fellow gamers, and a guide from the team. We were being given the opportunity to play four player co-op, taking place shortly after the end of the recent single-player gameplay trailer.
The demo started off inside the church. The church serves as one of the “mission hubs” throughout the campaign. We were quickly informed that the single-player campaign and the co-op campaign are identical, with the exception that the difficulty obviously scales with more players. When in single-player, we were told that there were no AI partners, which, given the “intelligence” of most AI partners, is just fine with me.
Anyway, we started off in the church, where our guide explained to us how the crafting worked, as well as suggesting we purchase a few new weapons to play with, and perhaps upgrade our existing ones. We were (thankfully) given near limitless funds to do this, so I was able to purchase plenty of different weapon types, as well as craft quite a few nice weapons to play with.
After we were given the explanation, our guide advised us that she was going to accept a mission for us to complete. I quickly asked her if we could harm the innocents within the hub. Hey, I wanted to kill innocent people BEFORE we left the church. Sadly, the answer was no. There will be no killing of innocents in this game. There is no punishment for trying, however, and soon all four of us (including our host) were kicking people’s faces, and trying to hack off limbs. But I digress.
To be honest with you, I’m not entirely certain what our mission was. Something about putting up posters for a missing child I think. The reason I don’t really know, is because I wanted to explore. Yep. I’m THAT guy. You didn’t want to read the same old impressions you are going to get anywhere else right? I wanted to see what the game had to offer. Try to break it a little bit.
So as my three teammates began following the rules and heading towards our objective. I decided to hang back, and explore the area, see if there were any really cool weapons or items I could find. What I found, was way too many walking dead trying to kill me. The key to this game is survival. Normally, I’m the guy that goes out of my way to get as many kills as possible. In Dead Island, that kind of tactic will get you nowhere. You should be trying to stay away from zombies when possible. There are lots of them, and ammo/tools are not always at your fingertips. While, as I said before, we were given limitless funds, I quickly found myself with only a single blade left in my inventory, while I was being surrounded by a mob of angry ex-lifers.
The key to the co-op is definitely working together. There is strength in numbers. There were plenty of times throughout my demo that I would think that all the enemies around me had been killed, only to find that somehow, a zombie had managed to get behind me, ready to eat my brains. With my teammates near me, that zombie would generally be caught before he got to me. That’s part of the magic I felt with this game. I never felt in Left4Dead that I was playing a game of survival. Maybe in that game it was just the focus on multiplayer that threw me off, but in Dead Island, I truly felt like I was starring in a zombie movie. Moving from location to location trying not to attract the attention of the rotting corpse only a few feet away.
While exploring on my own, I had some fun throwing red barrels at groups of zombies (as well as the wall in front of me), throwing cinder blocks at zombies’ heads and climbing all over the destroyed village. You can seemingly go just about anywhere in this game. I was able to make it all the way out to the shoreline, and I scaled many a building. Everywhere I turned there were more denizens of the undead.
Eventually, my demo did come to an end, as the rest of my party arrived at the church, with me a few blocks behind them. I’m still not entirely certain what our mission was, but apparently our guide helped us to complete it, while I was off goofing around. Before our demo was finished, however, I asked if I could try something out with one of my co-op buddies. I had them pick up a red barrel, and I shot it. Normally, there is no friendly fire in the game, but red barrels seem to be the exception. Any environmental hazard will cause damage, friendly or not. One of the designers saw me setting up and began laughing, explaining to me that, internally, they had kind of created their own little mini-game of “hot potato”, where everyone tries to shoot the red barrel out of their teammates hands. Sounds like they need to make this part of the inevitable DLC packages.
So now that I’ve told you my story, I thought you might appreciate it if I touched on a few bullet points of information.
-According to the designers, they are aiming for around 25-35 hours of gameplay.
-There were at least 5 different zombie “types”. Flaming zombies, regular zombies, “poison” zombies, who radiated a green cloud, and “The Ram”. A giant zombie in a strait jacket that rushes you head on. Each zombie had it’s own feel, and each begged to be taken out using different means. There was also a zombie covered in boils who would explode on contact known lovingly as “The Suicider”.
-There were three different “types” of weapons. Bladed, Blunt, and Firearms. Each of the four characters has a specialty. Purna’s specialty was firearms, Xian Mei was our bladed beauty, Sam B’s choice of weapon was blunt, and finally Logan, who was more of a jack-of-all-trades. Each character excelled at using their specific weapon type, but was able to use any type available.
-Ammo is EXTREMELY rare. This game is not meant to be a shooter.
-In my crafting experimentation, I was able to craft an electrified machete, a throwing knife with an explosive conclusion, and a baseball bat with a circular blade at the end. Though there were not any other options for use in the demo, it’s clear that the team has planned for plenty of customization.
-While levelling was present in the demo, actually allocating points was not. That said, we were able to look at the skill trees. There seemed to be three major skill trees for each character. Two of these trees were universal among the characters, while the third was character specific.
-Plenty of standard-fare skills were available, such as decreasing the amount of time it took to fill your special meter (more on that below) or how quickly your character could move. Again, we didn’t have access to allocation, so I didn’t spend too much time studying the skill tree. Suffice it to say, there’s plenty of depth.
-By my quick glance, I estimate the number skills available to be around 45-90. Some skills however, would allow up to three levels.
-Each character has a different special ability. The character I was playing with used something called “Rage”. When rage was activated the screen would go black and white, while my enemies appeared bright red. The visual was something very similar to Assassin’s Creed’s Eagle Vision. While active, my character moved at nearly twice the speed, and nearly every attack was a one shot kill. It was very satisfying running through a group of enemies with “Rage” activated. Cutting a deep path of destruction while decapitating my enemies.
-Speaking of decapitation: You should always make sure your zombies are dead. A curb stomp is available when a zombie has been downed that will finish them completely, though any other means of decapitation works just fine as well.
-The developer told us that weather would have an effect on certain weapons, such as rain affecting the lightning-enhanced machete, for example. I was not able to see these effects in action.
-The game does feature “drop-in/drop-out” gameplay. During the demo, I encountered a bug which left me unable to switch weapons. I was advised to drop out, and then drop back into the game I was in. This of course fixed the problem, but also showed just how seamless the gameplay was is someone leaves the co-op match.
-I told the designers that I felt it was extremely hard to determine who was friend of foe while playing. While there is no friendly fire, it is frustrating to swing at a teammate, only to be attacked from behind. The designer told me that it was something they were already working to correct, but did not elaborate any further.
-“Looting” is a big part of the game’s draw as well. With so many crafting possibilities, it behooves you to check every dead body, and every nook and cranny. While the demo didn’t hold a lot of content outside of the mission, it’s easy to see that there will be plenty of exploration to be done when the game ships in September. Loot whores rejoice!
When my playtime was over, I asked when we might get a little more information on the already announced: Bloodbath Arena DLC. After a few rounds of “what are we allowed to tell them?” I was told that it is basically a Horde/Firefight/Survival mode, in different arenas. While the team would not tell me what the storyline was behind it, they did let me know that there was a seperate explanation for why there was an arena type survival game going on on the island.
While still in development, Dead Island has plenty of polish. The gameplay was exciting, and fresh, the graphics stunning. I’ve never played a zombie game that actually made me feel like I should stop playing “hero”, and just stick with my team. Dead Island does exactly that. If they continue to throw polish on this title, it will be a must-have for this holiday season.
As an aside, I would just like to add that the team over at Deep Silver was one of the most accomodating teams I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with. They were quick to answer any and all questions I asked, and were obviously willing to put up with my…rebellious nature. While I wasn’t able to catch everyone’s name, there were two designers hovering around, who were both extremely helpful, as well as the producer, who went out of his way to get me an answer regarding the DLC. Finally, Stephanie, our guide was especially fun to play with. Not only was she able to put up with me throwing red barrels at our team, but she genuinely seemed to be enjoying herself as well. Thanks again to the hospitality showed to me from the team.