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GDC 2011: Deep Silver's Aquatic Adventures

I knew I had notes for one more GDC article in here. Silly notes got lost in my hard drive. This last, and belated article covers two offerings from Deep Silver: Dead Island and Risen 2: Dark Waters. One has you on a tropical island battling the undead, the other has you sailing from island to island fighting world-shattering evil. Clearly the company's message is, "Wear sunscreen."

Dead Island

Dead Island puts you in the shoes, or rather sandals, of one of four lucky survivors on an island resort in Papua New Guinea after a breakout of some kind turns the majority of the residents and vacationers into slavering undead horrors, so it's up to the player to take control, clear out the infestation as best as possible, and lead the remaining survivors to safety. Like ya do.

I feel jaded saying this, especially after all the hype the admittedly phenomenal trailer received a month ago, but there wasn't anything all that remarkable in the game itself. With what Drand and I were shown, the graphics were nice, the environments bright and colorful, reasonably good voice acting, and pretty solid gameplay mechanics. There was nothing new, though. You pick up random items to use as weapons, bludgeon zombies over the head with them until they break, and get blueprints to combine a battery, knife and C4 into an exploding dagger. It's basically Dead Rising: Cabana Boy Edition, minus Frank West and Chuck Greene in speedos and square-cuts. The story also seemed milquetoast compared to the trailer, but I'm also fully mindful of the fact that we were shown a 15-minute demo and that a good story can take time to develop. Still, could they have made former rapper Sam B any more of a cliche stereotype? If he were a gay character he'd have been walking around in his D&G shades and his special attack (oh yeah, different characters have different special moves) would've been a vicious backhand followed by a cutting remark for bonus damage.

Dead Island appears to borrow very liberally from Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead and Far Cry with a Bacardi floater. This is not necessarily a bad thing; if you're gonna use elements from existing series, might as well go for the good ones. I have no doubt that the released game will be an enjoyable experience that's worth the financial investment, it just means that the final product doesn't seem to be anything to get too worked up about.

Risen 2: Dark Waters

Several years ago , Deep Silver released a generally well-received but largely ignored pirate title by the name Risen. The sequel will be taking place several years after the events of the first game, and titans and creatures of the deep are once again causing trouble and terror for the inhabitants of the game world's various islands.

Though presently in alpha, the game looks very polished. There is a high level of detail to character models and animations, and the designers are clearly wanting to make characters as interesting as possible - which they have done by creating the most HORRIFYING GIANT SPIDER IN THE HISTORY OF EVER- as well as convey information to the player. For example, if you get in a swordfight with someone, his or her stance tells you what you need to know, not a stat bar with a difficulty level. If s/he is really guarded and seems to have a poor grip, they're an easy match; if s/he's standing with a carefree posture and taunts you to attack while their sword is still pointed towards the ground, you might want to reconsider your actions.

To deliver a smoother experience than the game's predecessor the devs took a technical trick from an unlikely source: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Since this is a seafaring game, the designers opted to chop the game up into a bunch of smaller islands instead of keeping the action confined to one large one like they did in the original. What this means is that the console has to deal with less data at once and can deliver a higher performance with what is being used. It also means that there are no loading zones as the data for the island you're leaving gets spooled out while your sailing and the one you're traveling to gets spooled in as you get closer. It's not unlike the technical function of the mist in Silent Hill as well as the vast stretches of ocean in Wind Waker. As an added bonus, it allows for a more plausible variety in island terrains instead of having to rationalize how swamps, tundra and volcanic activity all exist in harmony on a single small landmass.

It's still early to get a fair analysis of how Risen 2 will be as a final product, but the demo we saw showed great promise. It looks like it'll be just the thing for people who prefer peg legs over mana potions and for those who may have found Dragon Age 2 a bit ... wanting. We'll keep our periscopes trained on it and let y'all know of any interesting developments.

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