Dead Island: No dead cert to be dead good

Opinion: Don't be fooled by slow-motion and strings, says Tom Pakinkis...

The cold, vacant eyes of a frail little girl, lying dead on the grass.

The creative team behind the Dead Island trailer could have left it there and still managed to whip up something of a mini-whirlwind.

But watching her fragile body slowly twist towards the shattered window she was thrown from; every morsel of pain on a child's face stretched out and exaggerated to an excruciating degree: whether right or wrong, it invokes more than just controversy - it tugs at the heartstrings.

Then there's those flashes of the girl's panicked scramble down a hotel corridor, and the way her parents gather her like a baby... just moments too late.

It's all bound to set off deep-rooted, primitive pangs whether you've got little 'uns or not - compounded by that conclusive candid footage of a happy family, oblivious of the violent horrors to come.


What's almost inarguable is that Scottish studio Axis Animation has masterfully married brutality and emotion to create something memorable. It's smartly put together, too: the melancholy piano chords, the solemn strings accompanying a tale told in reverse, tricking your brain into thinking there's a chance to change what's been laid out as inevitable from the very beginning.

A pulse-racing trailer for a lot of reasons, then - but it's important we remember that guaranteeing a game of similar quality as an end result isn't a foregone conclusion.

Dead Island the game, if reports are anything to go by, will be a first-person zombie survival horror. A heavily doctored slice may have sent the internet into a tailspin - but does the product itself really sound like anything at all thrilling or new?

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The reason the trailer made people feel something more than most game trailers can muster wasn't because of its content, it was because of its construction. It used evocative cinematic techniques that just wouldn't work in a game.

Indeed, it's tough to think of a video game package that's managed to sustain an emotional line throughout. Heavy Rain had some real moments of stomach-knotting tension, but these were broken up with long periods of mechanically driven dialogue and detectives looking over their shoulder as their legs walked into a wall.

You can craft some of the most powerful cut-scenes ever etched onto a disc, but the best part of the gaming experience still has to be placed into the players' hands - at which point options are limited as far as creating human emotion is concerned.

That's not necessarily a problem if you have some killer gameplay to go alongside the drama-driven narrative - you only need to look at Bioshock to see how awe-inspiring atmosphere can be seamlessly weaved into breakneck button bashing.

You have to wonder, then, exactly what Dead Island can actually do to become more than just another by-the-numbers zombie shooter.


The zombie genre has been handled incredibly well and in a number of inventive ways already.

Dead Rising has the whole creative head-bashing covered, whilst Red Dead's Undead Nightmare also offers a pretty compelling zombie infested open-world. If first-person zombie blasting is your bag you're probably already into the Left 4 Dead series - or mowing down reanimated corpses in Call of Duty's famous Nazi Zombie side-romp.

We don't even need to go into the influence the Resident Evil legacy will have on your perception of anything based on the undead - and, as if the competition wasn't fierce enough, Sega's Yakuza series has jumped into the brain-hungry mosh pit as well.

Even Dead Island's graphics are an unknown entity at this point. With a totally CG trailer pushing up against us like a surgically enhanced blonde (licking her lips as a distraction while her boyfriend pinches our senses from our back pocket), it's important to remember that in-game visuals could yet be a disappointment.

So what can we actually assume from the Dead Island trailer? Well, take away the emotive direction, tearful piano and sumptuous CG work... and all that's left is chopping up zombies with an axe.

Unless we're actually doing that backwards and in slow-motion, Dead Island has offered us little to get genuinely excited about just yet.