Dead Island: Definitive Collection – Review

Title   Dead Island: Definitive Collection
Developer  Techland
Publisher  Deep Silver
Platform  Windows PC, PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Linux, SteamOS
Genre  Action RPG, Survival horror
Release Date  May 31, 2016

Full disclosure right from the off – I am not a fan of the original Dead Island that debuted back in 2011. High expectations and hype from the gaming community meant that upon release I was massively disappointed, and after just nine hours of play, I threw in the towel. I never touched Dead Island: Riptide and I didn’t give two hoots when Dead Island 2 was announced. However, Techland have impressed the community recently with the Dying Light seriesto the point where I not only scored them highly when reviewed but also felt compelled to go back to their earlier work and see if I had departed from this world of the undead prematurely. There was no better time to do this than with the release of the Dead Island: Definitive Collection.

The first game of the bunch is Dead Island, which revolves around the events of a zombie outbreak on the island of Banoi, a beautiful and sun-drenched resort for the rich and famous. Cited as being a fairly unique setting for a zombie outbreak at the time of its initial release, Dead Island’s setting still manages to convey a sense of unease and desperation from the off. This isn’t a standard urban setting (for the most part) with buildings, sewers, and fifty thousand different shades of grey. The story is proper b-movie horror stuff; the characters are pretty one-dimensional, and the missions and side missions are all the same stuff you’ve done hundreds of times before. It’s a shame that things aren’t more varied; everything tends to fall down to either ‘kill this’, ‘fetch that’ or ‘go here’. The thing that rescues and reprieves the drab structure is the setting – it’s different, it’s bright, and there is plenty to explore.

I won’t go into much detail with regards to Riptide, what with it being a sequel to Dead Island. Although the setting is different, things are very much the same – bright locations, repetitive quests, the odd jump-scare, and an emphasis on bashing zombies’ skulls in. The game was slated at the time of its initial release for failing to fix the problems of the first game, and nothing has changed here – it’s more of the same, and if you liked the first dose you’ll enjoy the second.

With both games, players get to choose a character to control for the duration of the game. These are all pretty forgettable, have very little motivation for survival other than the fact that they’re one of the few people who are immune to the outbreak, and all have a small and weak cache of one-liners. That being said, they do diversify in skillset to a degree.  The differences are minor for the most part; one is good with guns, some are good at throwing weapons, and so on and so forth. The differences in their stats are minimal at best and, despite having a specific skill in say, blunt weaponary, I can still use throwing weapons and guns without much of a penalty.

The final game in the collection is a brand new one; Dead Island Retro Revenge. As the name suggests, this game is very retro in style, a through-and-through 16-bit side-scrolling lane-brawler. Here you control someone who looks remarkably like Max of Dead Island 2 fame. This theory holds up when you consider that the plot for the game is the fact that someone has stolen your cat and you brave zombie hordes to try and retrieve him. This is the game, by and large, which is fine, although I’m not much of a cat person. So in terms of motivations, I hope the demon spawn gets eaten by a zombie.

Zombies and the killing of them is prevalent in all three titles, and in the case of Dead Island and Riptide, the melee combat forms a huge part of the proceedings. It’s quite fascinating to see this, post Dying Light, because as I’ll no doubt highlight a number of times, Dead Island and Riptide feel like the ‘safe option’ for Techland when they were still growing as a studio. It might be that the technology wasn’t quite ready yet or that they were still trying to refine the perfection of melee combat that took place in Dying Light. That said, the melee combat is still some of the best in the business even if it is a little rough around the edges these days.

The problem is that it hasn’t aged brilliantly when compared to some more modern iterations. While the moment-by-moment combat works very well, your character is the weakest part of the whole system. They feel slow, cumbersome and any sort of jumping or running feels like you’re stuck in tar. In comparison to things like Skyrim and Dying Light, it just feels very old. I know that comparisons to the far superior Dying Light are going to be thick and fast given it’s pretty much a spiritual successor, but there is still plenty going for the gameplay.

There is a wide variety of weaponary on offer, regardless of which character you pick. Bats, knives, cleavers, sticks, hammers, and sickles are just some of the weapons you can get your hands on, and that’s before you grab either guns or usable objects in the world like coat stands or oars. The weapons are great fun to use, and upgrading them using different blueprints and keeping them in good condition becomes second nature before long. All weapons can also be thrown, and making judgement calls on when to throw or when to hold tight is just as important as any upgrading or repairing.

All the weapon tinkering will come in handy while you’re slaying the hordes of undead. Most of the zombies are your garden variety ‘slow and shambly’ bunch. Occasionally you’ll get an ‘infected’ running at you, 28 Days Later style, and every so often you’ll get a type of special infected. Most of these are similar to ones you’ve seen previously, and tend to require a special tactic to eliminate. Either don’t get too close or dodge out of the way – all stuff you’ve done before. It mixes things up enough to not get boring for the most part, but nothing you see here will be considered groundbreaking.

Retro Revenge isn’t short of zombies or weapons either, but everything plays out in a slightly different way. Your game scrolls left to right as you jump between lanes, dodging and bashing zombies as you go. Occasionally you’ll get a weapon to use, or you can activate your power-up to literally mow down the opposition, some of which cannot be killed with conventional attacks from the front. In later stages, enemies will appear from the left and right side or will have armor protecting them from certain attacks. It’s a fun bit of gameplay and is fairly easy going by comparison to its bigger, more serious brothers.

The role-playing elements of the first two titles are a good part of the allure of continued play. Skill trees include buffing your survival skills, honing your individuals weapon abilities and improving your fury options. Fury can be used to perform specific attacks and provide you with experience bonuses, which can be spent on more skills. As with the other areas of the two titles, the skills are pretty standard fare and don’t do much out of the ordinary.

Dead Island and Riptide have an interesting colour palette. It’s varied and most of the undead are in swim shorts and t-shirts, which makes for a different sort of horror game, whether you’re playing it for the first time now or returning to it for another go. Although many games have broken free of modern gaming shackles such as making things ‘gritty’ and ‘realistic’, Dead Island was one of the first to really juxtapose beauty and horror in terms of its setting and style. This was good then and still is now, although relying on this unique graphical quirk is seeing the titles fall short. The graphics are something of a mixed bag, generally speaking, and there are a number of reasons for this.

First of all, each game looks good and the graphical improvements bring them to the current-gen level, almost. It seems that there is a lot of extra detail to scenery, weapons, vehicles, and character models, which is great to see and in line with what you’d expect. Equally, motion blur is rife and overused to a degree, to the point where there seems to be something akin to motion blur or lens flare in every cutscene. It’s a little irritating after a while and seems a little strange. There is also the issue of the frame rate being capped at 30fps for the PlayStation 4 version, which is disappointing in the grand scheme of things. The performance issue stretches into Riptide, and while both of these games look good with the Dying Light engine going at full pelt, they do leave a lot to be desired.

Retro Revenge has a very different graphical approach, still keeping it sunny and light but in a 16-bit style. It’s fun and silly and it works. The backdrops are colourful, the zombies are varied and the screen goes a little crazy when you activate powerups or hit combos. The whole graphical style works and it’s a real change up from the other two titles.

Much like with the graphics, the audio gets an upgrade and it works for the most part. The music for Dead Island and Riptide, includes some serene, calming tunes when in safe houses and on the beaches, combined with some nerve-jangling terror-inducing tracks when entering specific locations or getting into trouble. On the weapons and character front, zombies still sound like zombies, and most of the weapons sound pretty decent. Blunt weapons make sickening thuds when impacting skulls, and sharp weapons cut through limbs with an authentic slicing noise. All other audio is fine; the voice acting is fairly hammy but then so is is the script, which they can only do so much with. One thing I could certainly do without is the constant repetition of one-liners from my character, who has a vocabulary consisting of a handful of words that are used time and time and time again. They get very boring very quickly, and you feel more like a sounding board for NPCs than an individual involved in the story. Again Retro Revenge is the surprise winner of the three, having some pretty cool audio, although it has a lot less to convey than the others. The tunes are catchy and fairly inoffensive.

As a package, the Dead Island: Definitive Collection is packing plenty of hours for you to sink your life into. Main quests, side missions, combat, collectibles, and the co-op options mean that there is no shortage of things to do. Retro Revenge has fewer options in comparison to the first two titles, but it is the fresher of three, and also the smaller, so it can be forgiven for not having as many layers. Dead Island and Riptide may be a little too familiar for you to really want to devote all the hours under the sun to their fairly one-dimensional questing, but you can’t argue with the fact that you’re getting plenty of bang for your buck.

Which leads me onto my final observation for the package as a whole, and it is more of an observation than a critique. Basically, did anyone actually ask for this? Don’t get me wrong, a spade’s a spade – more games are generally a good thing but, like I said at the start, I’m not the biggest fan of this franchise. Even if you were a fan of the franchise, surely you would have picked up the far superior Dying Light, which has just as much, if not more, content. Dead Island 2, which is currently in a development quagmire of sorts, is hardly the most sought after game in the grand scheme of things, so was anyone really yearning for a return to the realms of Dead Island, especially when the zombie genre is somewhat overcrowded?

  • Satisfying combat
  • Mostly good graphical upgrades
  • Plenty of game for your money
  • Super hammy story and same old quests
  • Some graphical issues
  • Arguably better zombie games on the market.

Dead Island: Definitive Collection is a decent collection of games that fans of the franchise will no doubt welcome. Dead Island and Riptide both have a strong list of positives going for them, but sadly suffer from similar problems that plague both titles from start to finish. Retro Revenge is a surprising addition that provides a different take on the source material and is a fun little game for what there is of it. Overall, the threesome makes for some fun times and, provided you can make time in your busy gaming schedule, they'll keep you entertained for plenty of hours. That being said, if you've not set foot inside this universe, I would recommend skipping ahead and playing Dying Light, which is clearly an evolution of the ideas found here, better realised, and better presented. Had Dying Light not been created, the Dead Island collection is a good example of first-person melee combat and role playing inside a sandy, zombie plagued, holiday resort, and there aren't many games that can boast such a setting.

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