It has been quite a long time since we’ve seen a proper Dead Island game. One might even argue that there has only been just one proper game, as Riptide is more of a spin-off, Escape Dead Island was a surrealist third person horror game, and Epidemic was a failed MOBA that was struck from Steam while it was still in beta. Meanwhile, Dead Island 2 has shifted developers and it has been delayed (again). Fans of the franchise are surely growing impatient, so perhaps The Dead Island Definitive Collection is just what they need to lift their spirits.
The Definitive Collection bundles remastered versions of Dead Island and Riptide together into one package, along with the new game Dead Island: Retro Revenge. But are graphical and engine enhancements on the original titles worth it to people who own the originals? The answer to that is a solid “maybe.”
Dead Island was a breath of fresh air when it first launched back in 2011. It had a unique crafting system, excellent weapons, and visceral combat, all wrapped up into a beautiful open world island package. The sequel, while not changing much in terms of game mechanics, was a competent continuation of the story. These updates feature everything you remember from the original games, but ported to a new engine and given a huge graphical overhaul.
Everything great about the original is just as you remember it. The gameplay itself remains largely unchanged. You can still make crazy weapons, slice and dice zombies, and drive around scenic islands while you try to complete all the various quests that your fellow survivors dump in your lap.
One of the best features is still the four player co-op. Dropping into a game is seamless, and if you have multiplayer turned on you often find yourself with a new teammate right when you need one. With a few good friends you can divide and conquer the islands, as you often don’t have to work on the same quests simultaneously. This allows for rapid progression, and a sense that you’re working in an actual team to fight the zombie apocalypse. With the co-op, it’s no longer a situation where everyone but you seems content to sit in the base and let you collect supplies.
There’s also a new gameplay mode this time around: One Punch Mode. This started out as a mod for the original game, but the developers have made it official now, and it comes right out of the box. In One Punch Mode, you’re intensely overpowered. Just a single punch (or kick) is enough to send zombies flying from the very start of the game. Some might think that this takes the challenge out of things, and they’d be right for the most part, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. There’s something deeply satisfying about sucker-punching your way through a hoard of the undead.
Though, it should be noted that everything can get repetitive after a while. There are a lot of fetch quests littered throughout the plot, you’ll eventually find a handful of very effective weapons that you need to stick to for efficiencies’ sake, and cutting a zombie’s arm off is only entertaining so many times. These are fairly long games we’re looking at here, so take breaks for the best results.
The original Dead Island games don’t look bad—even by today’s standards. That said, the graphics on the Definitive Editions are gorgeous. The new lighting system is particularly impressive, and you may find yourself playing with your flashlight at first just to see it in action. That said, there’s still a heavy uncanny valley feeling when you look directly at a character’s face, and there’s something off about the eyes. All the same, the island itself is beautifully rendered, even if the people on it don’t look quite as good.
Much of the soundtrack here is ambient, but that is by no means a bad thing. The music does not seem to have changed much – if at all – from the original release of the games, but one doesn’t need to fix what isn’t broken. Zombies sound menacing enough, and there are plenty of moments where it feels as though you’re in the clear and you suddenly hear a far off snarl. The noises that the enemies make in this game can be legitimately unsettling if they come at the right moment, and when that is combined with the ambient soundtrack things get tense.
The One Punch Mode makes it worthwhile to play through each game at least one extra time, and that in and of itself can add up to an extra dozen hours of playtime to both Dead Island and Riptide. There are so many side quests and Easter eggs that players will almost definitely miss something their first time through the game, so be ready for even more playtime if you’re trying to go for a completionist run.
That said, if you’ve played the original releases of these games then you aren’t going to gain much from playing through them again with better graphics and a new gameplay mode that was already available to you as a mod. In this sense, the replay value for owners of the originals is drastically reduced.