Video Game

Dead Island: Comic-Con Preview

Everyone’s favorite weekend of the year, SDCC, was three weeks back, and already a lot of the information that was divulged in those tightly packed panel rooms has been posted, discussed, and editorialized. I attended a number of panels and previews, and now, before SDCC 2011 becomes ‘old news’, I’d like to post my take on what I saw. My Friday night panel schedule closed out with a panel called, ‘The Science of Zombies: How Possible is a Zombie Virus?’.

I’m a self-proclaimed zombie enthusiast, so obviously the title of the panel attracted me immediately. Furthermore, Max Brooks was listed as one of the panelists, and The Zombie Survival Guide is like a bible to me. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet the author – but I got way more from the panel than I’d bargained for.

The panel was chaired by Max Brooks (author of The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z), Haris Orkin (Dead Island writer), Steve Schlozman, M.D. (author of The Zombie Autopsies and an assistant psychology professor at Harvard), Brad Voytek, Ph.D. (Post-Doctoral Fellow of Neuroscience at UCSF), Bruce Geryk, M.D. (Resident Physician in the department of Neurosurgery at University of North Carolina Hospitals), and Adrian Goehn (editor of Gamepro magazine’s “Real Science”).

As they read out the credentials for each of these ‘zombie experts’, my jaw dropped. Harvard? Harvard? I remember thinking, “Everyone who came to this zombie panel is about to get SMART.”

Based on the cheering, everyone came for Max Brooks. But over the course of the panel, the interest shifted entirely to the esteemed doctors who could answer such questions as, “Can a body really bubble up into boils to that extent, without the skin breaking?” (No.) or “How closely does a zombie virus resemble some kind of super rabies?”

Turns out, pretty closely. The major exception is that people who are afflicted with rabies generally aren’t hungry. It hurts for them to swallow, so they avoid eating. Unlike zombies, obviously, who are known to, ah, rather enjoy the other other white meat.

The primary focus of the first half of the panel was a teaser for the upcoming video game, Dead Island, coming to PS3, Xbox 360, and PC next month. Based on the trailer, the gameplay videos, and the panel, it seems like a game that doesn’t fit neatly into any particular category. It’s from the first person, but the combat seems more melee- than shooting-based. It’s a free roam, open world, but there’s a definite RPG element in the quest system and interaction with the NPCs.


Wikipedia says that a “special class” of zombies has been confirmed, but at the panel, a few sneak peeks at these special zombies were shown and then analyzed for real medical plausibility by a team of doctors and neurologists. Namely, the ‘Butcher’, the ‘Suicider’, and the ‘Drowner’.

The Butcher (shown on the left in an image from the Dead Island Wiki), also known as the Bezerker, is a formidable enemy with a heightened sense of sight and hearing, incredible strength, and forearms which have been worn down to the bone. The doctors attributed this to nerve death. This class of zombie feels absolutely no pain, unlike some of the other ‘breeds’ in the game, so it didn’t notice its fingers, hands, and wrists being rubbed away until its protruding bones were sharpened into points. Haris Orkin, the writer for Dead Island, advised players to shoot these guys from a distance before they could hear them, because trying to fight them up close probably wouldn’t end well for your character.
Next was the Drowner (right). This handsome fellow purportedly turned from human to zombie under water. Hence the waterlogged appearance. This guy is bloated and coated in a lovely mucus and apparently comes with the added ability to obscure the player’s vision by vomiting on them. Delightful, right?
Furthermore, Orkin said the Drowner’s squick juice is corrosive, so beware close contact with him. The doctors attributed this to diluted stomach acid entering the bloodstream, and then talked about how drowning victims or corpses which have been left in the water are always the ‘grossest’. The Drowner appears to be a pretty good representative of a real dead body bloated and stretched from osmosis and water damage. Science!

A lot of people have noticed the similarities between the Drowner, and Left 4 Dead’s Boomer. So, going into the game, my initial strategy will be the same for the Drowner. Shoot it from afar, try not to get coated in its… gunk.
Last, but not least, we have the Suicider (left). While not necessarily scientifically accurate, the psychology behind the Suicider really tugs on your heartstrings. The Suicider is one of the more cognizant species of zombie in Dead Island. Orkin talked about how aware it is of its situation; it’s in tremendous pain due to the massive boils that swell on its skin, which will, in time, violently erupt, causing pain to the player and killing the zombie.
That kind of attention to detail almost makes me want to see Dead Island as a novel, to really be able to get into the implications of a zombie that knows what it is and what it’s doing. Does the Suicider have any control over its actions as it runs headlong into its victims? Or is there a sort of resentful dynamic between the Suiciders and the survivors – does it consciously want to drag others down with it?

Schlozman, the Harvard psychologist, spoke about how on a basic level, the zombie virus is still exactly that – a virus. Its only desire is to propagate, and extend the lifetime of its species. So there’s one explanation for the Suicider – and something to keep in mind as you move through the game’s sandbox world. The zombies may be common infected, or special mutant infected, but they share one common goal: killing you.

Pre-orders for Dead Island have been up for a while now. Call your local Gamestop, go on Amazon, get the Steam bundle. The game comes out September 6th, and while I won’t receive it for a while, you can bet I’ll probably be posting another review for Dead Island sometime in the relatively near future.

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About nearlyheartlessnatalie

toujours et toujours, des explications.

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