Every now and then, Dead Island will try to tug at the heartstrings with an “emotional” moment, but the characters are paper-thin stereotypes spouting inane dialog so the whole thing comes off as unintentional parody. What we’re left with is a game that is, essentially, an inferior un-dead version of Borderlands. The tree-based leveling system, elemental weapon types, mission structure and level exploration are merrily pinched from Gearbox’s series of games. To its credit, Dead Island handles the RPG aspect of its production fairly well.
There’s a very real joy to be had in taking zombified opponents apart with increasingly powerful maces, swords, and explosives, but at the same time this enjoyment is undermined by severe player weaknesses and unfair advantages given to the zombies. Your attacks are slow and easily countered, making large groups of un-dead a pain to tackle.
Now we have the remastered Dead Island Definitive Collection, and the tale’s much the same. The big difference is that it generally looks a lot better. This is more than a simple touch up comparing the old and new versions side by side, I was sometimes stunned to realize how many new environmental objects and new textures were stuffed into almost every square yard of this re-release. The sunshine ray effect alone sometimes caused me to pause in wonder at how well it captured the humid midday haze, or the brief shock of blindness as one leaves the sunny outdoors and enters a darkened room. The character models and associated facial animations didn’t receive quite the same attention and still look like 2011’s version, but play of the light on their faces sometimes grants them a vitality they didn’t have before.
Such loving work comes with some heavy costs that sometimes manifest in unexpected ways. The biggest one is that neither Dead Island nor Riptide can exceed their 30-frames-per-second cap, which is extremely disappointing for an updated version of a last-generation game. I’m not one to obsess over frame rates, but when the PS4 and Xbox One struggle to even maintain that rate in Riptide, it’s not up to par. And these problems crop up even with some concessions: no longer, for instance, can I idly kick about the beach balls on the tragedy-stricken beaches. While I’m sure on some technical level the water effects have improved, but they look less impressive than the original.
I hate Dead Island, yet I adore it at the same time. Its combat irritates the shit out of me, yet I created a knife that has a 75% chance of making heads explode with one stab! Its story is inane and pointless, yet I found a bonus enemy in the jungle with a hockey mask — called Jason — who had a secret chainsaw in his cabin. Dead Island is the kind of game that mercilessly punches you in the gut with one hand and gives you a slice of birthday cake with the other. However, it does claim to be “definitive” when it is, itself, in need of so many fixes that seem to have just been left over from the original release. If we define Dead Island by how ramshackle it is, then I suppose the title is fairly honest. Something tells me Deep Silver was not going for that definition.
Check out Dead Island: Definitive Collection Trailer and be the judge for yourself!