Dead Island was a 2011 open world RPG about a zombie apocalypse breaking out on the tropical paradise of Banoi Island. It was widely anticipated after a legendarily misleading cinematic trailer, but on release, it petered into obscurity, getting one sequel and a failed MOBA spin-off. But now, Dead Island is back with Dead Island Definitive Edition, and now that I’m five hours in and four chapters down, I finally remember just why I dropped the original all those years ago.
At the start of the game, Dead Island allows you to pick four playable characters for the main campaign or instantly access the game’s expansion – which is an original campaign starring the game’s villain Ryder White. As to be expected from an action RPG, the plot barely involves your character at all, and it’s easy to forget they’re unique besides the occasional one-liner and branching weapon specialties.
Speaking of weapons, I’ve always thought Dead Island was a mechanical fusion between two other open world games — Far Cry 2 and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Far Cry because the driving sucks, and Oblivion because the combat sucks. While vehicles may be optional (Thank God), combat certainly isn’t, and it’s a mess. The majority of your weapons are melee, which boils down to spamming left click on anything in range and hoping they don’t hit you first. While this does work well for most low-level enemies, the powerful ‘thug’ variants might genuinely be one of my least favorite video game enemies ever. They’re big, bulky, can’t be staggered, and if they hit you, you go flying backward and have to go through a canned animation of pulling yourself off the ground before getting back into the fight, likely only to get knocked down again.
However, there still is some fun to get from zombie encounters in Dead Island Definitive Edition. When it’s one on one, it is undeniably satisfying to send zombie limbs flying or turn a decaying head into chunky salsa with a well-placed swing from a blunt weapon. On top of that, the melee weapons are varied and interesting, and you can modify them to be more powerful and even crazier with the right plans and resources. Still, weapon durability loves to rear its ugly head, and you’ll find that super cool electrified scythe you built earlier will become useless with just a handful of encounters. While you can use resources to repair your weapons, it’s just another way to slow down the game and force you to click through menus.
To break the monotony up, the game has ranged weapons with manage to be less satisfying than the melee counterparts. Any weapon can be thrown for little damage, but the main attraction are bombs or firearms. Bombs sound nice on paper, but they’re a rarity for most of the game, and the gibbing isn’t nearly as satisfying as I would’ve liked. Guns, on the other hand, are simply atrocious — barely chipping away at a zombie’s health even with a well-placed headshot. When a revolver can feel like a peashooter against your average mook, there’s something very wrong with the game.
Still, Dead Island Definitive Edition does have some very nice sights to go with it. While some of the texture work is… Shoddy, to say the least, the areas set in the Banoi Island resort at the start of the game get the ‘nightmare in paradise’ vibe down well. Dead Island has always been at its best when you’re stumbling through trashed bungalows and wading through pools littered with corpses, and the new lighting and improved models help get the atmosphere down.
For some reason, half the game prefers to drag players away from this sun-soaked resort and send you wandering through prisons, cities, and sewers that look like they could’ve been pulled out of anything from Left 4 Dead to Crysis 2. It’s honestly a terrible idea, and it seems Deep Silver realized this when it came time for the game’s pseudo-sequel, Dead Island Riptide. This time around, the gang is stranded on a new desert island named Palanai, along with a new survivor and a handful of new mechanics and tweaks to existing ones.
The first thing to note about Dead Island Riptide is that it’s no longer just a straight graphical improvement. While the new washed-out lighting worked well for the beaches and ruined cities of Banoi, Palanai features a lot more vibrant locales that just look a bit off with the new lighting and tamer pallet. Still, like the original, models are greatly improved and much less clunky than they were on the 360.
Not only is the location for Dead Island Riptide a lot more colorful and unique than the original, but so are the weapons. While a lot of old standbys return, the new weapons are what steals the show. From the moment I learned you could decimate zombies with a spear gun, there was no turning back.
If that isn’t enough, a lot of my grievances with the original Dead Island are laid to rest here, with weapons that don’t deteriorate nearly as quickly and firearms that aren’t just glorified squirt guns. And, best of all, one skill tree gives you the ability to recover quickly from one of the staggering attacks. My prayers are answered.
Still, Dead Island Riptide is very much a Dead Island game, and with that comes the monotony of wading through hordes of undead and putting up with a boring plot. It’s quite a shame, because of the two games receiving the overhaul in Dead Island Definitive Edition, I much prefer Riptide to the original. But if you feel that itch to tear some zombies apart on a tropical island, then there isn’t any better way to do it than through Dead Island Definitive Edition.
Dead Island Definitive Edition was played on Steam with a copy provided by the developer.