"I must arm myself to fight you by making weapons out of my imperfections. ... But I'm dead inside." - Henry Rollins/Tool, "Bottom"
The zombie genre isn't what it used to be. Once the star of the show, it has now been somewhat overexposed and has entered into its post-rehab second-rate reality TV appearance phase. All signs point to it dying of an overdose in a bathtub after falling offstage, drunk.
When the solace and terror of the certainty of death is taken away, all that remains is the pursuit of life.
Yet into this slightly fading limelight walks Dead Island, begging you to stay for just one last song and doing so with such verve and panache that you just might be tempted. If so, then what you will experience in the game's 40-plus hour single-player/co-op campaign (and refreshingly open-ended multiplayer component) is nothing short of a reimagining of the way the zombie story is told in games. Not through a reimagining of the zombies themselves, nor really even the game, per se, but rather by turning the traditional model of zombie story-telling upside down and using the infection apocalypse as an opportunity to take a videogame experience deeper into the larger questions of human nature and society itself than almost any game ever made.
What Dead Island knows is that the zombie story has never been about the zombie itself. The zombie is and always has been a metaphor for the creeping, insatiable fears lurking just under the surface of our "everything is all right" culture. The zombie story is a reflection of our darkest terrors that forces us to focus on what really matters most in life. For when the dead rise up and begin to assail the living, what really matters anymore? Death is the one true certainty of life. It informs, enriches and overshadows all of our hopes, dreams, grand plans and petty irritations. Take that away, and what's left? What survives the upheaval of the most basic fundamental principle of life?
All zombie tales, in their own ways, attempt to answer this question, but there is really only one answer: When the solace and terror of the certainty of death is taken away, all that remains is the pursuit of life. Survival, in other words, is our most important goal, the first order of business, and sometimes it takes the uprising of a horde of walking, formerly-living beings to remind us of that fact.
In Dead Island, you face the challenge of survival and meet it with an array of weaponry that gives you an incredible sense of joy when you use them to decapitate, eviscerate, crush, stomp, electrocute and set fire to the walking dead. You, as a character, however, are also presented as part of the puzzle in that you are mysteriously immune to the infection turning most everyone else into zombies. Your overarching mission is to help find a way to cure the zombie plague by seeking out the cause of your own (and others') immunity, thus giving some of your life, in a very literal sense, to safeguard the lives of others.