The bright sun, the sound of the pounding surf, the endless supply of fruity drinks. Ahhh, paradise ... or it would be if it weren't for the constant barrage of infected guests trying to eat you. Luckily, you happen to be one of four characters on Dead Island whose backgrounds not only make them particularly well suited to doing battle with legions of the not-quite-undead, but who also happen to be immune to whatever horrible contagion has run rampant over the island. Other people can aid the survival effort in other ways, but when it comes time to leave cover and brave the deadly streets, it's pretty much up to you.
Other survivors will give you quests not only to improve the odds of rescue, but also to make everyone safer, happier, or more comfortable while they wait for the cavalry. Dead Island isn't rich with narrative, so don't expect the quests to satisfy your craving for story. What you see is what you get: Zombies are on the island, people are dying, and hey, could you go find my infected daughter and kill her for me? Great, thanks, have some money and this sickle I found. The main story quests do follow some basic survival logic as you're asked to do things like repair the lighthouse or get the water running again, but the side quest can be a bit ridiculous. Tracking down lost necklaces and teddy bears when you're in the middle of a zombie horde seems moderately foolish but the rewards you get make them worth the effort.
Every time you set foot outside one of the game's safe house hubs, you'll be faced with swarms of ravenous zombies, who vary in speed and ferocity. Dead Island lacks the claustrophobia of other horror games, but walking the streets with an ear cocked for the telltale groan that announces a zombie's proximity is a marvelously tense affair that contrasts beautifully with the frantic combat as you're rushed by a small squadron of undead. There are no puzzles to solve, no morality to consider as you pick your way to your next destination; it's kill or be killed, simple as that, and your survival will rely as much on your deft fingers as your ability to make the most of your environment. I felt like I'd earned my merit badge in Zombie War when I realized that when I perched on a car I could slash at the zombies with my shock machete while staying out of their range. I shouted in triumph as I ran as fast as I could from a small army of undead, leapt to a ladder, clambered up to a balcony, and dropped a brick on their heads. Dead Island is full of such moments of small victory that add up to make you feel like you're not just fighting, but surviving.