Penned by British author Mark Morris, who has also lent his talent to Doctor Who and Torchwood in the past, Dead Island is a direct tie-in with Techland’s impressive action RPG zombie slaughterfest which launched back in September. We’re used to seeing novels employed as instruments used to inject colour into the backstories of big franchises such as Halo, Gears of War, and Warcraft, but in Dead Island’s case the book should be considered more of a supplement or companion to the game itself.
Situated just off the coast of Papua New Guinea is the island of Banoi, a hot-spot for thousands of holidaymakers who flock to the resort every year. There’s something for everyone here, from the morning beach walkers to the nocturnal party-goers, Banoi is as close to paradise as one can get. Fresh off the plane are another wave of tourists and revellers, three of the game’s protagonists, Sam, Logan, and Purna, amongst them.
Hip hop artist Sam B, known for his one-off chart topper “Who Do You Voodoo Bitch?”, is hoping to become a star again in Banoi, having been booked to play a gig at the resort’s nightclub. Logan, having won an all-expenses-paid trip, arrives at Banoi with different intentions. After losing his career as a professional football star due to a drunken car accident that claimed the life of his female passenger, he’s been struggling to recover, using alcohol as a means of escape.
Purna has also won a trip to the resort; an ex-cop who left the force after killing a known child molester. Before travelling to the island she used her talents as a bodyguard for the rich and famous, who she soon came to hate.
The first section of the book is focused on building the characters and their relationships. There is an instant clash between the womanising Logan and quasi-feminist Purna, whilst Sam takes a no-nonsense approach to everyone.
The four of them are eventually forced to unite under circumstances that are a little more dangerous than might be expected of a beach resort. Following Sam B’s live performance a number of hotel guests begin to fall ill, some of them attacking their fellow holidaymakers.
Putting it down as revellers getting out of hand our protagonists return to their rooms, waking up to a violent epidemic. Tackling their way to the ground floor the unlikely foursome find refuge with native lifeguard Sinamoi, also discovering that they had been brought to the island by a shady blood trust; a mysterious doctor promising the four of them answers if they manage to find him.
The book takes time to find its footing but when it gets going Dead Island is a good read, especially during the final chapters. There is the occasional sag in pace but for the most part Morris keeps the action coming, also working in a number of secondary characters.
One of the biggest complaints launched against the video game was the lack of narrative drive and fairly bland protagonists. The novel does address the latter, though not to the extent that you actually feel any sense of attachment towards them.
Whether or not Dead Island is worth reading will heavily rely on how much of the game you’ve made it through. Having played up to about the half way mark reading Dead Island felt like retreading what I had already experienced, and what I hadn’t played was then revealed through reading the second half. It certainly isn’t a criticism of Morris’ writing which holds up throughout, but basing the book so closely on the already watered-down plot of the game was a bad move.
With a different panel of characters and perhaps set elsewhere on the island this novelization would probably have been a more interesting read and one that wouldn’t impact the reader’s experience of the game.