Again, this is a well-worn path through zombie horror, and its inclusion here is not extraordinary apart from the deft handling of its implementation. What sets Dead Island apart from the teeming multitude of zombie-themed entertainment options is in how much further it sets its sights in telling the tale of living versus dead, how much more it has to say about our world, and how expertly it tells it. How it grabs you with the visceral thrill of using MacGyvered tools of death and then whispers into your ear about questions of life, death and social hierarchy. Come for the bloodshed, stay for the philosophical enlightenment.
Dead Island oscillates between the conflicts of individuals and the conflicts of society, where the stark division between the Haves and Havenots is glaringly apparent.
Start with the game environment itself. Most zombie tales take a familiar setting and then subvert it. A shopping mall. A high school. A small town, or a big city. Places we inhabit every day without a thought. A subversion of these spaces is a reflection of ourselves and how we interact with others like us, but little more. To get a more complete view of ourselves, it's necessary to to leave the world we have constructed around our Western needs and beliefs and see how we appear in the eyes of those without such beautiful lives. Dead Island sets out to do just that, oscillating between the conflicts of individual humans and the conflicts of the global society, where the stark division between the Haves and Havenots is glaringly apparent .
Instead of setting its story in one of the well-trodden structures of the Western World, Dead Island drops you into the less-familiar environs of a tropical resort, a place built for prosperous Westerners in the heart of an impoverished tropical wasteland. It then takes you to the third world shanty town just out of sight from the sculpted gardens of the resort, the place once inhabited by those who built your island paradise and served your vacationer's whims. Next it takes you into the heart of the island itself, into the jungle wilderness, a place inhabited by natives, refugees and outcasts, before showing you the island's hidden secret: the laboratory where a wholly different category of Western needs are tended through the harvesting of the secrets of the jungle's natural bounty. Finally, your journey ends on an island detention center, where you learn the truth of Dostoyevsky's assertion that the level of civilization in a society can be discerned by entering its prisons.
What you will learn on your journey into these spaces is that, in addition to the fact that zombies explode real good (and catch fire and electrify, etc.), the world outside the bounds of where we normally trod is pretty fucked up - and, for the most part, we helped make it that way. Yet even in the nooks and crannies where Western avarice hasn't yet stained the culture of the native peoples, there's still fucked up shit going on, because people, in general, are fucked up. We were fucked up before the zombies came and will be fucked up after they are gone. The wealthy white Westerners who lived and ate like kings will be the first to fall to the brain-eaters, the inhabitants of the island nation will contribute to their own ruin afterward. Even the natives, sheltered in their jungles fastness, will be revealed to have terrible hearts of darkness, contributing perhaps more than anyone else to the fucking of this once beautiful paradise. You will also learn that in the real world, it is often hard to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad, because, on some level, everyone is both.