Not to be left behind in the race to churn out older PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 games onto the newer platforms, publisher Deep Silver has reintroduced the Dead Island series to the current generation. Dead Island, Dead Island: Riptide, and a new 16-bit beat-em-up titled Dead Island: Retro Revenge have been bundled together and given a resolution bump in Dead Island: Definitive Collection for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The games are at the base level still the same as their original release: the only improvements comes to the graphics, which have been transferred onto Dying Light‘s engine and overhauling the in-game lighting and some other effects to pretty up the 2011 and 2012 releases.
Underneath the shiny new textures and engine lies the same game you may have already played a couple years ago. In both Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide, you take the role of one of four survivors who are immune to the zombie virus infecting the tropical island. In the first game, the setting was a tropical resort getaway for the young and rich. The second picks up directly after the first, as you escape only to end up on another tropical island without the resort aesthetics.
Gameplay in the first game has been changed in some ways to better match the advances made in Riptide, and while appreciated, both also share art assets such as the icon when you hold X to open a door, or the audio for a character’s biography. In both games, you select a character with his or her own special focus, be it sharp and blunt weapons, or firearms. No matter who you choose, a majority of the action in-game revolves around first person melee combat where you swing various objects to whittle away a zombie’s health, gain experience points to level up your skill tree, collect items to craft/repair weapons, and collect special items to fulfill side missions. Neither is particularly interesting in what it does, as NPCs stand in place and repeat the same two-second animation. They do this endlessly, mocking the player’s inability to escape the constant loop of killing zombies to level up so you can kill higher level zombies.
Since the main game remains the same for both versions, I’ll defer to our original review for each and focus more on the technical aspects, since that is the only portion given a major overhaul.
Through all the problems though, I still consider Dead Island an absolute must-play of this year. Sure, the glitches and graphical issues are pretty frustrating, but they’re not on Fallout: New Vegas levels of table-flipping rage. They’re most certainly worth wading through for the most refined, innovative melee combat system I’ve encountered this year; there is seriously nothing this year that’s made me more giddy than waiting, fire axe cocked, as a zombie bumrushes me, knowing that at the precise moment I can unleash the fire axe and behead the poor fella instantly. — Dead Island Review by Allen Park
Is Dead Island: Riptide a bad game? No, not at all. Fans of the first will really love Palanai, which offers a step more of what Banoi did. But again, it’s only a step above, not a whole flight of stairs. More than anything, like I said before, Dead Island: Riptide feels more like a long expansion than a sequel, with the story and mechanics staying largely the same. If you like a large number of quests, stabbing, shanking, kicking, and clobbering zombies for hours, and doing it over and over again, Dead Island: Riptide is the game for you. If you were hoping for a little more change from the first title, then you’d better wait for the next game. — Dead Island: Riptide review by Masoud House
While the base games both remain the same, the graphics have been upgraded thanks to Techland’s Chrome Engine. Where Dead Island ran on Chrome Engine 5, the definitive versions utilize Chrome Engine 6, with increases in texture quality in the world, and much better lighting. Despite being a port of a 2011 game, Dead Island actually can look quite impressive as you wander abandoned beaches and view sunbeams breaking through the tropical forest surrounding you. The same can be said for Dead Island: Riptide, which shares an impressive vision for beauty within the death your player encounters.
This beauty only extends to the environment, as character models haven’t enjoyed the same increase in quality. This is best shown in characters’ eyes, which fail to look anything like an actual eye. Faces are stiff and lack nuance, the mouth is the only part that moves and the eyes stare off into dead space. Zombies get a pass due to their inherent ugliness, so it’s hard to tell whether the models are bad or if the art direction succeeded. The frame rate never slowed down or failed during the hours I spent with both Dead Island and Riptide, and appeared to keep a healthy 30 frames even when a large crowd of zombies appeared on-screen.
Being a Definitive Collection, each game comes complete with any and all DLC that was released for it, and a difficulty tier I was very happy to engage in: One Punch Mode. This will deactivate any achievements but causes your characters kicks and punches to obliterate most enemies you encounter. While the tougher boss zombies still take some time to defeat, normal zombies can be sent flying with a kick or lit aflame with a punch. This is a great distraction and way to speed up the game if you don’t want to engage in the steady increase of skill and damage within the melee weapon tree. Instead, you can just kick every zombie into a wall or across the room.
Despite the increase in graphical beauty, neither game is something you should be going back to if you have already played the original. For those who have not yet dipped into Dead Island‘s melee frenzy, this is the best deal you are going to receive, especially considering the ability to tap into One Punch Mode if you find combat monotonous. The extra content and inclusion of a 16-bit throwback sweetens the deal, but the core games remain a repetitive affair of going from point A to point B and leveling up to continue the process until it ends. Given Techland’s recent effort with Dying Light which improved upon the foundation they set in Dead Island, and Deep Silver’s difficulty in finding a home for Dead Island 2, this might become the last release for an underwhelming series.