Anatomy of a Blockbuster: Dead Island

Anatomy of a Blockbuster: Dead Island
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

January 9th 2012 at 10:00AM

Develop's monthly dissection of a recent hit game

Dead Island


Publisher:
Deep Silver
Developer: Techland
Format: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
www.deadislandgame.com

Develop's index of all games featured in Anatomy of a Blockbuster can be found here.

THE SENSATION

Zombie slayer Dead Island rose to notoriety when the infamous Axis Animation-produced trailer for the game was released.

Unsettling, glossy and cinematographically slick, the promotional video for the game has clocked in over nine million views on Youtube, and until Dead Island’s release, courted more press attention than the actual game itself.

Then there was the moment the gameplay videos that debuted looked a little too dissimilar to the trailer, prickling consumers and industry members.

Next came the accidental release of the developer code on Steam in place of the final game, and those damning review scores. Whatever people were saying about Dead Island, they were saying it a lot, and the world was fascinated.

The game itself had garnered all the attention again, and on the week of release, it took the number one spot in countries across the globe.

THE GAME

Set on a tourist paradise – if your idea of paradise is spending time on an island populated by biologically identical bikini models and grotesque male stereotypes – Dead Island is a first-person hack n’ slash. It’s an unusual concept, but it is good fun.

The general critical consensus on Dead Island was that despite being bug riddled, filled with contradictions and apparent mistakes, it was thoroughly enjoyable.

If it proved anything, it was that you didn’t need perfection to entertain an audience and make a lot of money.

THE STUDIO

The outfit behind Dead Island is Polish studio Techland, which most famously created western Call of Juarez and off road racer Nail’d.

The company, which started out as a software distributer in 1991, moved into development at the turn of the millennium, and, it is fair to say, has had the opportunity to grow familiar with mixed reviews.

UNIQUE SELLING POINT

There’s a few. The whole concept of a ‘first person hack n’ slash’ is relatively unique, and the idea of taking the Romero-style zombie romp to a paradise island is a fresh one. But ultimately there is one thing that is truly Dead Island’s unique selling point; infamy.

This is the game that has divided reviewers and shoulder barged the idea of ‘it’s so good it’s bad’ into a parallel dimension. It shocked the media and the world with an ultraviolent trailer that saw a father murder his own infected child, and stormed the charts when nobody expected it to go anywhere.

Dead Island is a name that will live on in video game culture, and as a result Techland has an IP on its hands with enormous potential, provided that its infamy doesn’t affect the franchise’s future.

WHY IT WORKS

The reason Dead Island works is because despite its many flaws, it’s really good fun, and distinct enough from its shuffling crowd of rivals.

The density of the crowds of undead is refreshingly light, the setting varied and expansive, and the button bashing sensation of pummelling zombies to pieces rewarding.

From a technical perspective there is more wrong with the game than right. But while it’s easy to shrug off the failings with an aloof smirk, the positives are the core ones; the gameplay is good, and the concept is sound.

TRY IT YOURSELF

Don’t be afraid to make the video game equivalent of a B-movie, as long as you’ve got the budget for a very tidy trailer.

Sure, you want to make something universally praised, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the confidence to break the rules.

Focus on gameplay, and it appears that the consumer that pays your bills might just forgive you, even if the rest of game is… well… not conventional.