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Sometimes the trailer for a game is better than the game.
And sometimes, like it was in the case of the original Dead Island, it’s the only thing worth really remembering. Yeah, it managed to sell well, and a sequel is on the way, but I found that the game was a pale clone of the much greater Borderlands, which had more interesting classes, better story and more importantly DIDN’T MAKE WEAPONS BREAKABLE! But before I played the game, I was enthusiastically preparing to pick it up thanks to a wonderful, heartbreaking trailer, which taught me two lessons: don’t trust a trailer and trailers now have a golden standard to follow.
The trailer opens with a hauntingly beautiful, simple but elegant, piano verse. Coupled with a melancholy violin accompaniment, the music immediately tells you you’re gonna be sad. Then the video shows up, and you’re looking at a young girl, dead on the grass, tragic already. A zombie in flames appears outside of frame, and you notice something weird about the fire before the screen flashes to a hallway, a young girl’s exhausted breathing dominating the audio. Flash back to the girl, and the zombie is literally moving backwards. In time. This video is literally playing backwards. Flash to a young girl’s legs running past the screen, forwards and not backwards. Back to the girl on the ground, and then back to the hallway, where the girl we saw dead on the ground is running towards a door. It sinks in: we’re seeing this girl’s last moments alive.
The girl on the ground rises up into the air in reverse time, broken glass rising up with her to a shattered window, reforming as we see her reattach herself to a thirty-something man, who was the one who threw her out the window. Meanwhile, we watch the girl in normal time running away from the camera, the first person view of the zombies chasing after her. Inside a hotel room, the story unfolds: now a 30-something woman is in the hotel room as well, and a group of zombies moves backwards from assaulting the couple to preparing to attack, the young girl settling herself down on the bed. In normal time, the zombies are catching up, and soon start biting the little girl’s leg. Your heart sinks a little as the rest begins to make sense.
The zombies move in reverse time again, retreating through the hotel room door and healing their battle damage as the young man’s axe un-buries itself, while in real-time flashes, it digs in as he defends the little girl, trimming limbs and pushing them back. The man carrying the little girl in reverse, from the hotel room to the hallway, the zombies falling back as the man puts the girl down and their hands go from an embrace to reaching out for each other, inching further and painfully further away as the screen fades to black, the words “Dead Island” fading in on the screen. As it fades out, we see home video footage of the man, the woman and the little girl, arriving at the island. They’re happy, they’re smiling and they’re enjoying their vacation at a fantastic island resort, all the while we, the audience, can do nothing but wince in pain knowing how it all turns out.
It’s unpleasant to watch, especially if you’re not a fan of horror and/or zombies, but the combination of creative use of forward- and reverse-time, the small twists in realizing what you’re seeing and a complete lack of dialogue, paired up with a haunting instrumental that I may have bought on iTunes make this a great moment in gaming, if not trailers in general. Shame I can’t say the same about the followup.