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Dead Island: All hype no substance?

A holiday to die for...

It's back. After being lost for three years, Dead Island has resurfaced to shamble its way into the 2011 release schedule. And having originally been billed as Fallout 3 on a zombie-infested tropical island, the project's undergone a few changes.

Dead Island lies somewhere in the middle of the zombie market's two big darlings: Left 4 Dead and Dead Rising. Like Valve's masterpiece it's a first-person adventure with four player coop features.

But instead of making Dead Island a frenetic shooting gallery, Techland's focused more on desperate survival gameplay by forcing you to scrape together whatever melée weapons you can find.

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The game kicks off with you, as one of four uniquely skilled characters all available for co-op, waking up from a heavy night on the booze to discover that the fictional Papua New Guinea island Banoi is overrun by the undead.

With little clue as to what's gone on, you head out into the wilderness in search of a way to get off the island. Things start off slowly enough, with the odd shuffling corpse falling victim to a few swings of whatever weapons you can scavenge.

Broken piping, oars, planks of wood... pretty much anything can be grabbed and used to smash zombie faces into bloody little bits. But it's not long before bigger crowds of stronger monsters turn up in search of fresh meat, at which point you'll need new skills and tools to take them on.

In a similar fashion to Dead Rising 2, items break after repeated use. Luckily, that's not the only similarity, as you can combine tools to make super weapons. We're told this is a more serious title than Dead Rising though so don't expect to be driving a wheelchair with machine guns strapped to the arms at any point.

Those of you with dreams of uncovering a secret armoury filled with rocket launchers need to think again, too. There may be a few handguns and shotguns scattered about but Dead Island's mostly melée, melée, melée...

ISLE OF FRIGHT
Underpinning the weapon side of proceedings is Dead Island's skill tree system. Killing zombies builds up XP and lets your chosen hero access new moves such as curb stomps and dash attacks.

Another feature nabbed from Dead Rising, but there's no harm in borrowing from the best. Once you've started levelling up you'll take on missions that send you deeper into the island.

Banoi's a big place and Techland's promising it's all open to explore. The team behind the Call of Juarez games experimented with openness to a point with Bound in Blood, but their efforts to cram a ruined capital city packed with zombies, mountain pathways, dense jungles and deep cave systems all into one load-free external environment signals a significant intent to up their ambitions.

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Ambition is definitely the right word. Up until now Techland's done a quietly solid job on Call of Juarez without ever breaking into the top ranks of this generation's shooters.

With Dead Island the outfit's aiming their sights higher. It's an encouraging development for the game we'd all written off as a dead joke a few years back, but with all eyes now focused on Techland.

It's going to be interesting to see how the Polish developer deals with the levels of expectation now resting on its shoulders; and how it does so while co-developing another Call of Juarez.

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