No-one really gave a shank about Dead Island till that tremendous trailer.
The game, for all its immediate promise when Deep Silver announced it in 2006 - of a massive, first-person perspective open world a la The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, but with zombies, and the stink of survival horror - Dead Island had been long thought lost to that dead zone known as development hell when in 2011 a stunning CG short film reignited interest in the latest from the Call of Juarez developers.
I was, for my part, skeptical that we would ever see Dead Island on store shelves, and doubtful that if and when we did, it would in the least resemble the touching teaser. Half a year later, the impossible has happened. Dead Island, as it transpires, actually is a game - as opposed to the glorified tech demo I'd expected - and not only that; it's pretty terrific, too.
But that isn't to say it's anything like that trailer.
The zombocalypse begins on the island of Banoi, a fictional landmass supposedly off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Whichever of the four playable characters you pick at the start screen, after a night's irresponsible drinking you - yes, you - awaken in your room in the Palms Resort Hotel with one hangover to rule them all, to find zombies to the left of you, and undead to the right. But here you are. Stuck in the middle of a nightmare.
Thanks to a mysterious voice that guides you over the intercom, you escape the hotel by the skin of your teeth to find spread out before you Banoi, in all its broken, bloodied glory. The island may not be the sheer size of Cyrodil, say, or even the atomic wastelands of New Vegas... nonetheless it is truly a huge place, of incredible, eye-catching environs. First and foremost amongst them: the tropical resort village you find your feet in, with its shallow swimming pools and lavish outdoor bars, where Techland tutorialise the simple mechanics you could spend the next 30 hours getting to grips with.
Which is to say, see a zombie? Kill it dead.
Don't have a weapon? Well find one, why don't you! A lead pipe, for instance, or a machete... or my personal favourite, because I picked - entirely at random - the blunt weapons specialist: the level 7 Baseball Bat. Failing that, there's always your fists. Or a gun, though there are very few of those in the beginning; more's the pity for those players who pick the character with the affinity for arms.
Anyway, next on the agenda - that is presuming you don't have any more pressing business than surviving this beautiful living dead hell - find yourself a workbench and gussy that weapon up some, because the only thing better than a striking stick is a striking stick you've set fire to.
But wait, there's more! When you begin Dead Island, the combat controls default to digital, which equates to a button press that makes your undead slayer flail his or her weapon like a lunatic. Needless to say, this is not so awesome; it makes for flat, pointless combat, with no tactics to speak of, nor any species of player choice. And you're going to fight a lot of zombies over the course of Dead Island, so do yourself a favour: pop into the options, swap over to analogue controls, then let 'em have it.
The analogue controls will be familiar to anyone who's played the Skate series, which had you perform tricks with the right control stick, holding down to charge a jump, for instance, then flicking it straight up to pull off an ollie. In Dead Island, the only difference is you're charging your arms instead of your legs, so when you swipe the stick from left to right, your character does likewise with a weapon. In this way you can lop off individual arms or legs, rendering a zombie practically harmless, or if you're lucky, and you aim your strike just right, explode an undead head.
This mechanic - truth be told only this mechanic - serves to separate Dead Island from the pack. Curious, then, that by default it's inactive. If I hadn't turned the analogue combat controls on, I don't know that I'd have bothered exploring Banoi at all. As was, I completed the very lengthy campaign, as well as almost every one of the sidequests, and I spent an almighty amount of time just traipsing around, too, to see what I could see... looking for loot in all the wrong places.
30 hours of my life later - seriously - I don't regret a second of the time I spent with Dead Island, simply because the combat was so satisfying; so weighty, strategic and visceral. The missions, alas, aren't. Harvest five samples of meat from a certain sort of zombie. Find ten nails so some guy can set up a barricade. Kill all the zombies in a particular area. Well, whatever.
Nor is the world, beyond the small holiday resort you begin in, much to brag about. There's a jungle, a prison and a city, none of which have the strength of character or the freshness in terms of video game aesthetics of the starting area. Also: the voice acting is awful... the graphics get worse the further through the game you progress... and the less said about Dead Island's story - which after all was what that trailer purported to sell it on - the less said about Dead Island's story, never mind its characters, such as they are, the better.
But that combat! There's simply nothing quite like it, and though I expect The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim will be a trump to Dead Island's spade in every other sense, Bethesda Softworks, the undisputed masters of the open world, would be well to take this essential lesson to heart, because with such singularly solid combat, even a mediocre game - as Dead Island would otherwise be - can be great. One can only imagine how incredible a good game would be with Techland's pioneering mechanics to boot.