Crappy zombies movies have an inevitable scene in which a zombie lunges at someone from just outside a tightly framed shot, presenting the audience with the undead equivalent of a cat scare. It’s a cheap tactic, unbecoming of a zombie. Zombies aren’t known for their stealth. You can see them coming from a mile away. Consider the iconic scene in the original Night of the Living Dead that introduces the modern zombie. A man and a woman at a cemetery see someone shuffling towards them. If they had just strolled away, nothing would have happened. But instead, they goof around. “They’re coming to get you, Barbara. Look, there’s one now!” It leads to the world’s first zombie attack.
One of my favorite things about Dead Island is how well it avoids cheap tactics, but it still manages plenty of surprises and a wonderful sense of danger. When a zombie grapples you (pictured), it’s your fault. You either took on too many at once, or you didn’t check for nearby doorways or bushes while you were distracted, or you estimated distance poorly, or you went someplace with lots of dark tight spaces (pro tip: don’t get too accustomed to the sunny open space of Banoi’s beach resort). When a zombie gets in your face, you have no one to blame but yourself.
Dead Island developer Techland manages this partly with whatever fancy spawning tricks they’re using to populate the world. The how, where, and when of zombie spawning is every bit as impressive as the graphics engine. Look, there’s one now! You check your weapons; you quickly look around you to make sure you’re alone; you advance and hack away with your machete; you miss the swing at its head so you give it a kick and it flies backwards towards some bushes; you look around you again to make sure there are no stragglers approaching; you advance on the fallen zombie, chopping at its legs while it tries to get up; you decapitate it with a carefully aimed swing at its head; you see it’s dropped a diving knife; hmm, the knife isn’t bad, but you can’t use it until you level up, so you check the damage against the cleaver you’ve been chucking–AH, A ZOMBIE CAME OUT OF THE BUSHES AND NOW IT’S IN YOUR FACE BECAUSE YOU WERE CHECKING HOW MUCH DAMAGE THE DIVING KNIFE DID!
Given that these zombies don’t occur in Dead Rising sized hordes, I couldn’t be more pleased with how Techland has made fewer zombies matter more, with whatever spawning tricks they’re using and this deeper combat model. Banoi feels unsafe, but not cheaply so.
And speaking of up close and personal, one of the most valuable commodities on Banoi is deodorant. But not for the reason you’d think. Let’s just say two cans of deodorant and some duct tape can work wonders.