Dead Island


Written by Chris Price
Photos and illustrations by Dead Island
04 Sunday 04th September 2011

Dead Island wants to be as realistic as it can (within the context of a zombie outbreak). It sprang back to life after two years of radio silence at the beginning of this year, by threatening to convey the human costs of a zombie outbreak, a la The Walking Dead with this trailer. Yes, there’s no doubt that the zombie play studied ennui has become just a trifle complacent as of late. Dead Island is the final title in a crop of zombie-resurrection titles that started with Valve’s twitchy co-operative firs- person shooter Left 4 Dead, took refuge in the ordinance of Housemarque’s top-down Dead Nation and got all silly with Dead Rising’s toybox shopping-mall adventures. Would this be an undead Heavy Rain?

European trailer

It’s a first-person action game, in the most up close and personal way. It’s gore-soaked convalescence of the sharpened weapon in your heads-up display and targeted strike locations on a squishy zombie - cue clacking of splintering bone and cleaved flesh (and exclaimed notifications of 'Break!' and 'Cut!'). Not since Soldier of Fortune has an action game encouraged such satisfying butchery on the battlefield. The close proximity battle adds to an undercurrent of panic running throughout Dead Island, exacerbated by the cumbersome controls and unwieldy combat.

Whereas other zombie titles have been more focused on high-powered weapons turning groups of zombies to crimson confetti, survival in Dead Island is about picking off the individuals: luring them away from the pack with temptation of your juicy brain and dispatching of them appropriately with machetes, baseball bats, beach balls and kitchen knives. Repeated kicks score a knockdown allowing time for a downed attack on the basic zombie, whereas tougher zombies require explosives to assist their dispatch. Simple role-playing game elements unlock upgrades of more reliable weapons and new skills, and new weapons can be assembled at work benches throughout each level from scavenged debris. The 4-player co-operative multiplayer mode (via LAN and Xbox Live/PSN) helps even the odds, but feels superfluous to the single player experience.

But Dead Island further conspires against itself with the basic game mechanics. From the rough-hewn graphics and waypoint navigation system with a mind of its own to repeated consequential missions and an unruly mission system, each quest ends up as a confusing list of sub-missions, and waypoints muddle in the map. But there is a naivety at the heart of Techlands game. Beyond the graphical tearing and floating weapons, they have succeeded in pulling off the most authentic zombie-survival experience to date. Mashing both the manic snarling ‘infected’ of 28 Days Later and the totemic Romero ‘walkers’, Dead Island revels in the tentpole of the zombie-myth; strength in numbers. An ambling zombie near a deserted petrol station may idly wander past or alert others to your presence once triggered by stimuli. It might have reneged on its promises from the emotional slow-mo of the teaser, but it cuts to the core of the zombie movie legacy.

The island setting, the Vaseline smeared viewfinder, the farcical accents and even the futility of your missions all aspire to a recreate a dilapidated exploitation flick worthy of Lucio Fulci or Lamberto Bava. Which, we should all bear in mind, were often the home of farcical soap-opera drama, Z-grade acting and deliciously over-the-top latex & corn syrup special effects. Each section requires assessment and inventory micro-management to ensure safe pass. Before you know it, it you end up thinking like a survivor would.

The game might not adhere itself to the masses and it’s visibly straining at the seams with inconsistency - but the zombie genre itself has always been niche (and many forget that it’s only recently emerge from the vaults of cult onto the wider cinematic circuit). Dead Island succeeds in bringing something new to the zombie table – an authentic experience which goes to the very root of genre that spawned it, with a messy yet highly enjoyable chunk of hyper-violent undead entertainment.


Dead Island is out on Friday 9th September for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

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