When I was younger, I loved nothing more in the world than a bacon double cheeseburger from Burger King.  It had to be plain, just bacon and meat and cheese.  I ate that burger at least four or five times a week from when I was seven years old to when I was still in high school, and then one day… I never wanted to eat one again.  And I haven’t.

That’s how I feel about shooting zombies right now.

Zombies, more than any other enemy in the history of video games, seem perfect for the medium.  They want nothing but to kill you, they present different challenges depending on their numbers, and they can be a metaphor for pretty much anything.  I’ve seen zombies used to decry everything from mindless consumerism to fascist ideology to the difficulties of sustaining an aesthetically pleasing garden.  Zombies can be shot, stabbed, bludgeoned or burnt.  They can be mowed down by anything from an M1 Abrams to a…well, lawnmower.  The best thing about zombies, however, is that they’re already dead, so you don’t feel bad when you kill them.

The problem is that after a while, you don’t feel anything.

The first Dead Island was a breath of fresh air in a genre that was already beginning to feel stale when it came onto the scene in 2011.  It announced that it would be something different by a Memento style trailer that detailed the last grisly hours of a family on vacation, and the movie rights were scooped up on the strength of that trailer alone.  When the game came out, none of the emotional nuance of those three minutes made it into the game, but it still had something up its sleeve that made Dead Island stand out from the horde of other undead titles already on the market: the Royal Palms resorts on the island of Banoi.

The Royal Palms Resort was the real reason for the success of the first Dead Island.  A picturesque island resort overrun by the undead is a good idea on its own, but what really made the opening of Dead Island stand apart was how real the resort felt. Bars and swimming pools and palm trees were all laid out as you’d expect, but so were parking lots, lifeguard stations and bathrooms. I wandered around that opening level for hours not because I was hunting for a rotting skull to bury my machete in, but because it was such a nice place to explore. It was like having the run of the Royal Hawaiian in Honolulu, with no velvet ropes and no time share meeting you couldn’t get out of attending. Most importantly, the first Dead Island offered me a twist on survival horror by giving me a new place to be horrified (and in beautiful weather, no less).

I tried playing Dead Island: Riptide this week, hoping that it would recapture the thrill of one of my favorite zombie games from the current console generation, and immediately I felt disappointed. The gameplay was essentially unchanged, the main characters were all back, but the spark was gone. I shot some zombies, I stabbed some zombies, I ran some over with my car…and I felt nothing. What I think was missing was a sense of connection to where I was, which was an anonymous fishing village populated by people who clearly wanted to survive, but didn’t want to do any of the work themselves that would ensure that survival.  To make things worse, the zombies you had just killed would respawn in the same place the minute you turned your back on them, giving the entire game a feeling of Sisyphean emptiness.  Where the first game was a tasty Big Kahuna Burger, cooked to perfection with all the right toppings, this new offering was something you sunk your teeth into joylessly, because you’ve been conditioned to do so by what’s come before.

When a zombie game is working, the visceral feel of it is transporting. You’re not who you really are, you’re who you just know you would be if circumstances ever pushed you far enough.  That’s not the feeling I get from Dead Island: Riptide.  Instead, I feel myself sitting on the couch, numbingly mashing buttons, accomplishing nothing, feeling nothing. It makes me feel like a zombie.

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