Sure, there's plenty of stuff to to see on the floor at E3, but if you've got "Co-Optimus" on your badge, you can get into special behind-closed-doors sessions and really sink your teeth into a game. That's just what I did at the Deep Silver meeting room, where I got an hour of play time with Dead Island.
Deep Silver Brand Manager, Peter Brolly, greeted me and two other members of the media. We entered a room set up with four TVs and headsets. A large Dead Island mural covered two of the walls, while a bloodstained straw mat adorned the floor. I was informed that I would be playing the role of Xian-Mei, the blade specialist. You see, the four characters you can choose from are actually character classes. Sam B is the tank, Logan's an expert with thrown weapons, and Brolly was playing as Purna. I didn't catch her specialty, but I think she may be a medic. Every class-based game has a medic, right?
Behold! The grainy photo of the Dead Island BCD demo!
Our game began in a dimly lit church. This isn't like Left 4 Dead, where it's four players fighting from safe room to safe room. It felt more like Fallout 3. There were about a half dozen NPC's in the church, and they could offer side quests for our characters. Brolly accepted a quest from a man who was looking for his lost wife and child. We were asked to hang posters at specific points in the area. A white guide line would lead us to these points in our mini-map.
Brolly then accentuated that the co-op game is the same as the single player campaign. You can play through the whole game as a single player experience, or you can have up to three friends join you online. Sadly, no local split screen is supported. All experiece points, loot, and money would be attached to your gamer profile. The game will have a built in mechanic that will prevent power-leveling. It seems that if an early level character is introduced into a high level game, they won't get experience points. They haven't quite decided on exactly how that will work yet, or what the level cut off will be.
He quickly showed us a workbench which would allow us to repair and upgrade our weapons using money and materials that you will find out in the world. For the demo we had a surplus of cash and parts. I quickly upgraded my simple gear into an electrified machete and an explosive knife. The weapons are pure prefixed RPG goodness. I think my machete was called a "Weak Electrified Machete," and the knife was a "Dull Explosive Knife," or something thereabouts. Loot will be color coded in the familiar white, green, purple, etc. scheme.
Brolly then ran us through the controls, pointing out a stamina bar that decreases each time you attack. You won't be able to continually swing for the fences in Dead Island. Players will need to back off the attack every few seconds and let the bar replenish itself, or they'll become exhausted and helpless. The bar seemed to refill quite quickly, so it will take a little timing and finesse to work through, but it shouldn't be detrimental. He also showed us how every melee weapon is throw-able. Simply hold down the left trigger and your character will go into their throwing pose. Pull the right trigger to launch your knife, machete, or sledge hammer at the targeted undead attacker. Yeah, you can hurl sledgehammers at zombies. Squish.
As soon as we left the confines of the church we were greeted with a bright island paradise. It was a bright island paradise crawling with zombies, but it looked beautiful all the same. We were in an urban area of Dead Island. Since the title has been billed as an open world game I asked if we could get to the nearby mountains. Sadly, the answer was "no." Dead Island isn't really open world like Fallout 3. Think of it more as made up of zones, like Borderlands. I was told that the barriers would be quite natural. I didn't notice anything hindering exploration. There were no invisible walls, or things like that.
Brolly was explaining the mission, I was looking at the scenery, and the two other members of our party charged the first zombies they saw. Brolly asked us to stay together, but to no avail. I decided to screw the mission and jumped into the fray, and it was AWESOME. My electric machete went zippity zap, Logan whipped throwing weapons into rotten maws, and Sam B just tanked up the place. The game will scale for multiplayer, but we seemed to have little problems with the zombie horde. For a good idea of the combat, think of melee fighting in Oblivion or Fallout 3, only it's faster, and more in-your-face. You have to get up close and personal to take the zombies down. Together we were a roving zombie slaughtercide, but if one of us got separated, we were brain bait. We could also each heal each other with med kits we found in the environment, if it was called for.
I even let my inner sadist fly and hacked at a downed zombie. It literally went to pieces. Gooey isn't a word I throw around lightly, but it was pretty damn gooey. Throwing weapons allows for beautifully gory scenes. You can toss a machete into a zombie, run up to it, pull the machete out, kick it away for distance, then hack it's head off. The downside to throwing a weapon is that anyone can reclaim it. Make sure you're playing with friends! I took all of Logan's good stuff. I got very good at taking off zombie heads with a hand sickle I "found." Occasionally I'd miss, just a little bit. This led someone to ask, "Zombies keep coming even with half their head gone?"
"Of course," Brolly replied, "Why wouldn't they?"
We eventually reached a bottle neck made of concrete road barriers where zombies continued to pour forth. Brolly informed us that this constant flow of the undead was the subtle hint that we weren't meant to go that way. We would eventually wear out our weapons. It wasn't an annoying invisible wall, but I think we found the edge of the "zone."
Brolly urged us on, and we completed the mission. We saw other types of zombies, each requiring a little more strategy than a simple hack and slash. "Thugs" are large damage sponges that can quickly ruin your day. There are other blistered, swollen zombies that explode when hit. The awesome sickle I stole, er, "borrowed" from Logan popped them quite savagely when used as a thrown weapon. At one point an impressive map was brought up. It looked like something you'd see from the satellite view in Google Maps. We eventually made our way back to the church to collect our reward. Prizes for completing missions could be money, XP, or new weapons.
In all the mayhem I took a glance at Xian Mei's skill tree. She had three categories, Bullseye, Combat, and Survival. They appeared to have active and passive traits. I don't expect any supernatural abilities, but I did activate a special power that let me kill zombies even more efficiently.
Dead Island is shaping up to be a complete co-op experience for fans of the zombie genre and action RPGs. The single player campaign is completely open to four players who want to quest for loot, enjoy the story, and level up their characters. The game is looking very good right now, and I'm more than a little excited for its September 6 release.