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Dead Island Definitive Edition review

Ben Assirati reviews the new Definitive Edition of Techland's zombie survival series Dead Island

Credit: Godisageek/Techland

One of the greatest disappointments in modern gaming for many people was the release of Dead Island. This was not because it was a terrible game; it was in fact received with mostly positive reviews from the public and the media alike. The issue was that the announcement trailer in 2011 was so unique, so overwhelmingly heartwrenching, and so compellingly excellent that the game simply could not deliver on such promise. Despite criticism for gameplay and technical issues, the game was a success, and a sequel, Dead Island: Riptide, was released in 2013. Prior to reviewing both re-released titles for this article, I had played the original Dead Island comprehensively on PC, so I entered with some knowledge and experience.

Much like the original Dead Island, the remastered version is quite evidently a port from consoles – as evidenced when I set up my old 360 controller to play and was met with only an ‘Xbox One’ option (although that did work for my setup). Many ported games suffer from performance issues and graphical downgrades (shoutout to Ubisoft), but Techland’s zombie survival thriller seems to have escaped these common issues relatively unscathed – the graphics are excellent (and noticeably upgraded from the original release), and there are no features that appear to be designed exclusively for console to the detriment of PC. One feature that is personally annoying is that the developers appear to have chosen to use the same technique of chromatic aberration that they plastered all over a more recent title, Dying Light. This can sometimes give the game a more vibrant, active atmosphere, but also serves to paint everything in a slightly frustrating neon blur that has been known to give players headaches (although as far as I am aware Techland included a toggle option in Dying Light, and presumably have done the same for Dead Island, hidden away in some small options menu).

The gameplay for both games (Dead Island: Riptide is essentially a stand-alone DLC for Dead Island, similar to how Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a DLC for Far Cry 3 but with more 80s) is comparatively the same. The mechanics are crisp, the controls are responsive, and the combat in particular is rewarding to play. Physical combat with handheld weapons just feels worthwhile, and you can feel the impact of the weapon as you smack yet another zombie with a makeshift pipe weapon. Sometimes, however, the hit detection can fail, and you resort to button mashing as your chosen character flails around, hitting nothing but air with a paddle until a zombie wanders within arm’s length. I have no issues with the gunplay, except for the fact that, for the most part, it just does not seem like a viable option, or even a desirable one – peppering zombies with what feels like a glorified BB gun loses out to a simple machete almost every time. I cannot give an honest summary of mechanics without first mentioning the horror that is driving in Dead Island. Using a car to get around can feel absolutely laborious at times, and after the novelty wears off, you can feel yourself resorting to driving only as a last resort. A combination of poor controls and downright strange car physics means that you would run everywhere if not for time constraints.

Credit: Xbox Store/Techland
Credit: Xbox Store/Techland

Final mention of the story: it’s clichéd and unremarkable, but it serves its purpose. You are one of a group of survivors on an island paradise as a zombie infection breaks out, and you must struggle your way through numerous settings to find a means of escape. The main campaign for Dead Island can be split into three sections; the beach, the town, and the prison. Each location serves to be unique, introducing new zombie types, but is ultimately forgettable. The zombies are a mixture of classical runners and inferior Left 4 Dead designs, and the NPCs/protagonists are barely worth emotional investment beyond the time it takes to learn their backstories. Nothing is glaringly wrong with any of these features, but it is clear that they serve as vehicles for the gameplay and level design, which can lead to feelings of repetitiveness.

Riptide follows directly on from the first game, and is much of the same in terms of graphics and mechanics. Some of the new settings were a welcome addition, and Serpo was an interesting enemy in a zombie-infested world, although the story itself is a bit of a clichéd mess and not too enthralling. Unfortunately from what I saw in the brief time I played the game, and what I have read, many of the technical issues that bugged the first Dead Island are also present here. I had a few texture glitches and framerate drops, as well as one moment where the game froze at a loading menu. Fortunately the mechanics themselves were still fun and fresh, and the world I was exploring kept just enough hidden around the dark corners to keep me moving forward.

the world i was exploring kept just enough hidden around the dark corners to keep me moving forward

I was unfortunately unable to play the new bonus game Retro Revenge, so I cannot pass comment on it. For the Dead Island: Definitive Collection, I would say £29.99 is a reasonable price. You can still get hours of fun out of each game, and the new graphical overhauls mean that you still feel like you are playing a more-or-less current gen game. If you’re not a fan of first-person combat or zombie games, I would obviously recommend steering clear; you’re not going to get your money’s worth if you buy it for the plot.

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