Dead Island had a lot to live up to.  The buzz created from it’s teaser trailer was immense and had gamers wondering how long it would be until we could get our hands on the game.  Then a release date was announced and it seemed like it was way too soon for the game to be ready.  The cynicism kicked in and people started to wonder if developer Techland had rushed the game to completion to cash in on the momentum of interest created by that trailer.

And If I’m being honest, I’ll admit that I was a little worried that it might just turn out to be a zombie bashing visit to the mall, AKA Dead Rising, or because there were four characters it would be dumbed down to a Left 4 Dead clone.

What’s worse is that after my first session with Dead Island I was far from impressed.  This wasn’t a game I was going to be playing for long.  Indeed I picked up a copy of Bad Company (which for some reason I had never played) and played that the following night.  Half way through my gaming session however, I chastised myself; I had reviews to write and I’d better get on with them.  So I slipped Dead Island back into my XBox, adjusted my Turtle Beach headphones and settled in for some more mindless zombie slaughter.

After my first session with Dead Island the last thing I was expecting was to have fallen in love with the game by the end of the night.  It was as if the first session had just be a training exercise, a get everything you know about zombie games out of you system so you can sit back and enjoy a real zombie game type of a thing.

I fell in love with Dead Island in the same way I, a self confessed hater of RPG games, fell in love with Fallout 3.  And now I’m hooked.

Dead Island and Fallout 3 both have quite a lot in common.  Both have graphical issues and cut scenes that just aren’t up to scratch.  Both are immense open world games with a main mission populated with numerous side quests.  Both allow you to choose how you level up your characters.  Both encourage exploring, but punish you for not watching your back or rushing into a fight without making sure you’ve got the upper hand.

Where Dead Rising gave you a world over populated by zombies, Dead Island gives you a resort island where most of the population are either dead or zombies.  Sure, I’ve read that the further along you get – especially when you get to the city – the zombie population gets a bit crazy, but in the beginning it’s more – and I this is going to sound a little crazy – real.  There are plenty of zombies to deal with, but you don’t have a couple of thousand zombies all bearing down on you.

And it’s scarier this way.  You’ll be creeping around never quite knowing when you’re going to see a zombie, and if you do, half the time he – or she – is focussed on the meal in-front of them and will only look up, and start towards you if they sense you.  Sometimes it will be solo zombies, other times you’ll have to contend with multiple zombies.

As with Dead Rising there are weapons to be found around the place, and each weapon will have different strengths.  More importantly, each weapon will wear out with use, till it breaks.  Weapons can be fixed or modified if you find a work bench, but you’ll soon figure out that not every encounter requires a weapon.

One on one with normal zombies and you can kick and stomp them to death.  Sure it’ll take longer and you won’t have the satisfaction of taking their head off with a meat cleaver, but it will save your weapons for a time when you need them.  If you’re careful you can even sneak up on a zombie whilst they are feasting on a corpse and stomp them until they are dead without giving them the chance to get up.

Even two or three zombies can be taken out with kicks – just be aware of your environment and keep moving away from them so you can take them one at a time.

Of course kicking zombies might sound a bit dull – it’s not – but after you’ve rushed into a group of zombies and broken your only weapon because you didn’t realise just how weak it was, you’ll soon be thinking of creative ways to kill the living dead.

Unlike Left 4 Dead, Dead Island isn’t a first person shooter.  Sure you can throw things at zombies, even aim and throw, and you will have access to a limited amount of guns and ammo as the game progresses, but in essence Dead Island is a dirty, hands on approach to the zombie apocalypse.  And it’s a refreshing experience, because lets face it, outside of America most homes just don’t have an arsenal of automatic weapons.  hell, I don’t even have a baseball bat.

You can however buy stuff when you find the right people – it’s about this time that you’ll wish you’d spent more time going through people’s abandoned luggage and, yes, looting dead corpses.

There’s plenty to do on Dead Island, like Fallout 3 you can probably rush through the main story-line, but I’m taking it easy and seeing where the side quests take me.  Whilst on one side quest, where I was able to collect items for another side quest I can upon an altogether new side quest that saw me rescuing a lady, and driving her to the lighthouse where I met with another group of survivors and a whole lot of new side quests.

And yes, I did say drive.  After creeping around, weapon in hand and boot at the ready, it was refreshing to jump in a ute and tear off down the road, swerving to hit as many zombie as I could – though after I hit a zombie shambling towards me, at high speed, knocking him flying over my bonnet and taking out my window, I decided to ease off and take things a little easier lest the next zombie come through the window and eat me.

And I was really worried about being eaten by zombies.  Not because the game would end and I’d loose points, but because I had immersed myself in the game so much that this resort island, running rampant with the living dead had become my reality.  That’s just how good the game was.

The combination of the atmosphere, the open world environment and the sound all combined to make Dead Island a believable world to me.

Sure there were some graphical issues, but the varied locations and the sound (I was wearing my Turtle beach X41’s so I was lost in the dolby digital sound) made up for that.  Zombies would vary in shape, size and ability, and some would make the most unearthly screams when they saw you, giving you a moment of panic that they might be calling upon a horde of their brethren to come down on you a tear you to shreds.

In short, Dead Island may not live up to it’s teaser trailer graphically – though it’s in no way a visually shabby game – but it does present a living breathing vision of the zombie apocalypse that just feels right.  It’s gruesome, deadly and in places distasteful, but it just does it right, creating an experience that sets the standard for all zombie games to be judged by.

Dead Island is the definitive zombie game.

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