Historian trapped on Dead Island, surrounded by Undead Hordes, must collect fruit juice packages and canned goods to survive

Yeah, so, like horror nerds everywhere, I’m playing Dead Island, the new zombie “adventure horror game.” The setting is the resort island of Banoi that suffers a pretty nasty case of zombie outbreak.

Unlike a lot of zombie games, this is not a simple shooter (the line between zombie aficionado and gun nut seems fuzzy to me at times). For the most part, especially early in the game, you are forced to wield shovels, wrenches and pipes, as well as do a lot of running away.

I almost always read lots of reviews before I buy a game. I broke my rule on Dead Island for the wrong reasons. The heartbreaking trailer that suggested that this was a different kind of zombie game reeled me in like a fish.

What was I expecting? I thought we were getting a zombie game about loss, regret and moral indecision. In other words, I thought it was Bioshock with zombies.

Sadly, I was mistaken

This doesn’t mean it’s a bad game and my purpose here isn’t to really review it in terms of gameplay. I will say that it has a bit too much repetition for my taste. Too many quests involving driving places to whack zombies and take canned goods and fruit juice only to be sent out for more canned goods and fruit juice.

Not that you wouldn’t be doing a lot of that in a full-on zombie apocalypse.

Having said that, I’ll admit that this game delivers on story, much more than most zombie games out there. This is not the run and gun of Left 4 Dead. Also, it’s a much darker game than the Dead Rising franchise. It captures more of the spirit of Romero even than games that have sought to copy some of his plot points directly.

What is missing is the sense of apocalypse. This is in part because the action is taking place on an island, with the feeling that this is a mini-apocalypse that can be escaped (I’m wondering if this changes). At least early in the game, you don’t get that sense of the entire world collapsing into ruin. And isn’t that what gets our pulse up about zombie fictions?

Why is that? What’s so fun about the zombie apocalypse?

In Monsters in America, I connect the zombie narrative to notions of the apocalypse that have become an important in American culture. I’m convinced that this apocalyptic sense of the world has pretty deep roots, going back to the beginnings of the Cold War and really blossoming darkly in the 1970s and beyond with the increased influence of Christian millennialism in popular culture (thanks Hal Lindsey).

Does this mean the zombie genre is a simple outgrowth of our apocalyptic fears? Nope. In fact, I think it’s in some ways a reaction against these fears. Zombie narratives are narratives of survival and community, the effort to build or maintain ties in the face of the complete destruction of everything we think is stable and secure.

So, while I’m probably going to continue whacking zombies across the head with my shovel on Dead Island, I am missing the kind of narrative about human loss and yearning and fragility that could have transformed this from a good game into a mythic game. Also, I’m pretty tired of collecting canned goods.

Stay tuned, later this week I’ll be posting about the first episode of American Horror Story.

And, lots of fun over on the Facebook page. We’ll be posting some of the reviews of various monster DVD’s I’m writing about for PopMatters.com during the Halloween season. And starting October 15, you’ll get a microblog called “Armchair Horror.” This will clue you in to fun stuff to watch leading up to Halloween that you can stream right from Netflix without ever having to walk in the world of humans.

What I’m Watching: Beth was out of town over the weekend so there was a Friday the 13th marathon. Friday the 13th: The Ultimate Collection is out this week, and I received an early review copy from PopMatters.Com. We’ll post my review on Facebook when they publish it.

What I’m reading: Just read Scalped #52. Can’t get enough of Jason Aaron’s dialogue or the moody atmosphere of R.M. Guera’s art. But, sadly, it appears the series is ending with issue 60.

I’ve gotten started on Junot Diaz’ The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It’s as good as you’ve heard.

What I’m Listening to: John Lee Hooker’s “Best of” album on the Crescendo label. This is more of his repackaged stuff but it’s a good repackaging that contains some great live performances. Also wondering if I should pick up “Join Us” the first non-kids They Might Be Giants album in a while. Excited to read about The Decemberists forthcoming EP as well.

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