In anticipation of Dead Island 2 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One) possibly coming out this year, Deep Silver are releasing the Dead Island Definitive Collection (PlayStation 4, Xbox One) which includes 2011’s Dead Island and its 2013’s stand-alone expansion Dead Island Riptide, their respective add-ons, and a new side-scrolling arcade game called Dead Island Retro Revenge (digital versions of Dead Island: Definitive Edition and Dead Island Riptide: Definitive Edition are being also sold separately, but Dead Island Retro Revenge is only available in the Dead Island Definitive Collection). And while neither this compilation nor these updated games are worth buying if you already own them, obviously, for those who’ve fallen behind on their zombie hunting, the Dead Island Definitive Collection is a solid though not perfect compilation.
For those unfamiliar with the two main games in the Dead Island Definitive Collection (I’ll get to Dead Island Retro Revenge in a bit), Dead Island and Dead Island Riptide are open world, first-person action games in which you fight zombies on beautiful tropical islands using a combination of melee attacks, guns, and kicking (the latter of can not only be used to stomp downed zombies, which saves wear and tear on your weapons, but also to briefly stun charging ones).
But while Dead Island and Dead Island Riptide also have such RPG elements as looting, crafting, side quests, random encounters, and weapon wear, the combat controls make them feel closer to first-person shooters/smackers with adventure game mechanics (see Deus Ex: Human Revolution or the Borderlands games) than RPGs with shooting and/or smacking combat (such as Fallout 4). Or, to put it more accurately, they’re basically Dying Light without the parkour. Which makes sense given that all three games were made by the same studio, Techland.
Combined, these elements work well to create an exciting, sometimes scary, and engaging zombie action game. The missions are nicely varied, as are the types of undead you face, while the lush green plants and sunny days of the tropical setting provide a great contrast to the bloodshed and mayhem, as well as a nice break from the urban decay of so many zombie games.
While the two main games of the Dead Island Definitive Collection are fun, they can also be somewhat frustrating. For starters, both Dead Island and Dead Island Riptide have issues with depth perception. There are times, usually when you’re facing one of the bigger and tougher zombies, when their fist will connect with your face even though it seems like you’re out of arms’ length.
Both games’ controls also work better when using melee weapons instead of guns. Granted, all of the controls feel a bit too loose at the default setting, but even after you adjust them, shooting zombies never feels as spot-on here as it does in such dedicated shooters as Call Of Duty: Black Ops III or Star Wars: Battlefront, while smacking them feels natural.
The two main games in the Dead Island Definitive Collection also have a problem so common these days that I cut and paste this paragraph into nearly every relevant game review I write: the type is too small. If you sit at a reasonable distance from your television — y’know, like your mama told you to — you’ll have trouble reading such menu items as what the different skill upgrades do.
There are also some issues with the games in the Dead Island Definitive Collection that are more a matter of personal preference. First, if you turn off the music, it kills the sound in the cut scenes. But if you don’t turn off the music, it takes away from the games’ stark, scary vibe and otherwise excellent sound design (hearing a zombie scream somewhere off in the distance is just bone chilling).
I’m also not a fan of games where melee weapons aren’t sturdy, and thus have to repaired or replaced after just a few uses; where you have a stamina meters that drains quickly when you swing a weapon; or where your flashlight doesn’t last very long but does magically recharge when turned off. It’s also annoying that the health part of your HUD disappears quickly, since it means there’s often no way of knowing if it’s worthwhile or a wasteful to drink that can of energy drink.
As for how the two main games in the Dead Island Definitive Collection differ from each other, the answer is not by much. The mechanics are basically the same, as are the mistakes. Though adding the ability to foot stomp a downed enemy in Riptide is a nice touch. You can also import your character from the first game into Riptide, though only their skills and level, not their weapons and supplies.
On the flipside, there’s a change to the controls in Riptide which makes it rather annoying — and life threatening — when you hit up on the D-pad to change weapons like you did in Dead Island, only to remember, “Oh yeah, that’s not how it’s done in Dead Island Riptide AND NOW A ZOMBIE IS EATING MY FACE!!!”
As for how the versions of Dead Island and Dead Island Riptide in the Dead Island Definitive Collection differ from the originals, well, again, the differences are minimal. Visually, things are slightly cleaner, but they’re no more detailed, and the games themselves play the same.
This brings us to the collections’ only new part: Dead Island: Retro Revenge. A side scrolling beat-’em-up in the mold of such games as Double Dragon, Dead Island: Retro Revenge has you using a mix of kicks, punches, melee weapons, and, uh, magic to kill a variety of pixilated zombies after some jerks steal your cat. In classic old school style, though, you’re not entirely in control of your movement. You cannot move freely or even horizontally; instead, you’re walking at a constant pace and use the left thumbstick to switch between the upper, middle, and lower lanes to sidestep barricades as well as to either avoid or attack the undead.
But while Dead Island: Retro Revenge is a spot-on recreation of an ’80s game, complete with messages about what kind of people use drugs, unless you’re a super hardcore fan of old school games, it’s nothing you’ll play over and over enough to warrant buying the Dead Island Definitive Collection. And even if you think you might play it that much, I’d still suggest that you wait, since the game will probably be sold on its own at some point, maybe even before used copies of this collection drop to the point where it is worth buying just for this simple arcade game.
In the end, the Dead Island Definitive Collection is like most compilations that bring PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 games to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. While it’s not worth getting if you’ve already played these games, since it doesn’t offer anything new or fix any of the problems with the original versions, for those who haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a flawed but still fun trip to a tropical island that has an unusual pest problem.