Dead Island Book Review

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.

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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.

[drop2]The fourth and final protagonist is Xian Mei. Following in the footsteps of her murdered father, she joins a special female police unit and finds herself working undercover at Banoi’s grandest hotel. Much to her disappointment there has been no activity and after working as a receptionist Xian Mei begins to contemplate the path she chose in an attempt to restore her father’s honor.

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.

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4 Comments

  1. It must be really hard for authors to find that perfect mix between following the sotry of the game while still adding new things. If the author strays too far away from the original, hardcore fans will bash it because it’s something completely different and if the author sticks to the game it gets downrated for being too similar.
    I must say judging from the cover, where it clearly says “Dead Island THE BOOK”, I would expect it to follow the story of the game.
    I see this more as an alternative way to experience the story than an addition to the game for people who already played it.

    I’m still going to play the game when it hits the bargain bin so I wouldn’t read the book and spoiler all the story beforehand. :)

  2. In parts I loved this book, but found it often lost momentum. Still worth a read though.

  3. On topic of the actual game I thought it was so emotionless and badly scripted, which made it just a bad game for me. Seems the book also suffers from this without you actually feeling anything for the characters. In a short 3mins teaser trailer I connected to the characters more than playing for 10hours. Perhaps the book tells the story better than the game at least

  4. i read this last week, game were selling the book for £2.99.

    i enjoyed it, i haven’t played the game yet so the whole story was pretty fresh to me.
    the plot is a little thin on the ground, and even if you didn’t know it was based on a game the fact that most of the time when the group find somebody who can help them they essentially get given a fetch quest to do first.

    but i don’t feel that’s the fault of the writer, more likely because he had to stick close to the game’s plot.

    though there were a few points where the book just jumps forwards past an event for no adequately explained reason.
    i expected those missing events to be told in flashback later or relayed to another character through dialogue, or elaborated on in some way later in the book, but they never were.

    but other than that it was an enjoyable read.
    like i’ve said before, i prefer tie in books that don’t just retall the story of the game but show another side of the events, so maybe if i’d played the game i might not have enjoyed the book as much, though i would have still enjoyed it.

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