Neither of the Dead Island games were able to live up to the hype that was put on them when they launched several years back, with both of them being pretty standard zombie survival games when all was said and done. However, some of the issues that many had with the games were technical ones, and perhaps with a bit of retouching and updating the games can get a bit of second chance. This brings us to the Dead Island: Definitive Collection, which is a remaster of both Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide that comes with all DLC and patches, plus a new little bonus game called Retro Revenge. While much of what plagued the original games still stands in the remasters, both of them still have their strong points and the new Retro Revenge is an entertaining diversion.
It all begins with the events of the original Dead Island, where a tropical resort called Banoi that is packed with people suddenly finds itself in the midst of a zombie outbreak. Many are killed and everyone else runs for their lives, and it’s up to you and your band of survivors to stay alive and escape the island. What the game really boils down to is exploring this chaotic island that is filled with varied locations to explore, while also helping other survivors along the way. You can choose between one of four characters that each have their own strengths and weaknesses, with four-player co-op allowing you to take on the zombie hoards with others. This scenario is duplicated in Riptide, though it’s noticeably more difficult and adds in some tower defense segments to shake things up a little.
The core gameplay of both Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide remains the same with this new collection, as you will once again be taking on endless hoards of zombies in frantic first-person combat that is more melee focused than shooter focused. You come across everything from planks, hammers, machetes and shovels to bash zombies with, and these weapons need to be repaired over time to keep them from breaking. While the combat can feel a little too hectic at times with ridiculous amounts of zombies to fend off with just melee weapons (guns do come into play, but ammo is limited), when the balance is right it is incredibly rewarding. Landing a perfect slice with a machete as a zombie comes barreling towards you that results in said zombie’s head going flying is a great feeling, and pulling this off repeatedly against a group of zombies is a lot of fun.
Both of the games’ progression systems are also very engaging, as you have numerous skill trees to level up with experience that you get from completing quests and killing zombies. While sometimes you’ll just get simple stat boosts, other times you’ll be unlocking entirely different moves that add a new dynamic to the gameplay. Upgrading and modding weapons continues to be the highlight, however, as you are able to come up with some seriously sweet concoctions. Being able to craft things like an electrified machete or a flaming shovel is awesome, and the resulting mayhem from taking them into battle is a sight to behold. Enemies are also constantly dropping loot and each area is packed with it, so there’s always a sense that your’re regularly getting better and better weapons to play around with.
Crafting and wielding electrified machetes or flaming shovels is still awesome
The enemies themselves typically follow the standard zombie formula, with your basic zombies that move slowly and then charge occasionally being what you see most of. These are evened out by bigger zombies that can hit you from a distance or explode if you get too close or attack them, with bigger boss fights requiring a bit more patience as the damage dealt is much more severe. Human characters will also come into play occasionally, with these sections changing up the pace into shootouts. Enemy and ally AI is strong here, as enemies will track you down for a considerable amount of time while fleeing and allies will actually hold their own in a fight. The ally AI comes into play more with the tower defense sections of Riptide, and I was surprised at how much they actually pulled their weight.
The Definitive Collection touches up both of these games very nicely, with an all new lighting system that makes the games’ locales pop like never before. The bright colors of the islands have a lot more vibrancy too them, and the improved shadow effects make the frequent tunnel/cave sequences all that more tense and atmospheric. The games also run smoothly and don’t suffer any kind of performance issues, which is a big improvement over the launch of the original versions of the games. However, the character models themselves are still as scary to look at as ever, with each character looking like their head is about to explode while you’re talking to them.
As good of a time as the gameplay can be, it still can’t make up for the fact that both of the games’ stories and characters are very bland and forgettable. Both instances result in you being dumped on a zombie-infested island with very boring characters to interact with, and the overall narrative doesn’t really do anything all that interesting in either scenario. The voice acting doesn’t help this situation, with many characters phoning in their dialogue or just giving a bad performance entirely. They also both take themselves far too seriously, as the narrative and the characters just don’t have enough meat to them to warrant being so dramatic all the time.
An emphasis on silliness and humor is something that the bonus game called Retro Revenge delivers on, and it’s something that I hope the main series will adopt going forward. Retro Revenge is a complete change of pace compared to the two main games, as rather than being a first-person melee game it is a 16-bit sidescrolling endless runner. The premise is very simple, as your Jack Black-like character is on a journey to save his kidnapped cat named Rick Furry through a couple dozen levels filled with enemies to beat up. As you automatically move from left to right enemies come barreling in from the right side of the screen, with you moving between three lanes to avoid and/or take them out. Combos can and must be utilized in order to take some of the trickier enemies out, and special moves and summons can be used to dish out quick and massive damage to get out of sticky situations.
While Retro Revenge isn’t something that I can see people getting too caught up in, it is definitely a nice little bonus to have in a collection like this. In between all of the super serious shenanigans that happen during the two main courses, it’s nice to exit out of those every now and then and get in a few quick rounds of Retro Revenge. The game puts up quite a challenge and there’s a 5-star rating to shoot for in each stage that is determined by how many points you get, so there’s definitely something here for those into more arcade-like experiences. Just don’t expect it to deliver an experience that is on the same level as the main games, as you can get through the entire thing in a couple of hours.
Dead Island: Definitive Collection may not be enough of a reason for those who have already experienced the original and Riptide to warrant making the return trip, but for everyone else this is the best way to experience these games. The improved visuals and lighting make the tropical locations pop even more, and there’s plenty of content here to go along with the all-new Retro Revenge to keep you busy for dozens of hours. Still, the core issues with the games can’t be fixed with just a visual and technical upgrade, as the stories and characters are something you’ll forget soon after completing the games. Regardless, if you’re looking for a first-person zombie game that has some frantic combat to take part in then this little collection of games won’t disappoint.
Dead Island: Definitive Collection
- Available On: Xbox One, PS4
- Published By: Deep Silver
- Developed By: Empty Clip Studios, Techland
- Genre: Action
- US Release Date: May 31st, 2016
- Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
- Quote: "Dead Island: Definitive Collection may not be enough of a reason for those who have already experienced the original and Riptide to warrant making the return trip, but for everyone else this is the best way to experience these games. The improved visuals and lack of bugs makes getting through the main courses less of a chore, and Retro Revenge is a fun little side dish."
- Visual and technical upgrades are great
- Core gameplay is still a blast
- Retro Revenge is a nice little bonus
- Stories and characters are bland
- Combat can get too hectic at times