Arriving as one of the more unexpected remasters of the year, Dead Island: Definitive Collection sets out to resurrect the popularity of the series in the run up to its troubled second instalment. The question is: has the series already been buried too deep for this remaster to restore its reputation?
The collection certainly offers plenty for fans to sink their teeth into, and showcases the best (and worst) of the franchise to date. The games featured include the original title, standalone expansion-cross-sequel Riptide, and new 16-bit sidescroller Retro Revenge. Each piece of DLC released is also present, including the Bloodbath Arena, a survival mode where you must hack your way through waves of bloodthirsty zombies in true gladiator style.
Techland may have since refined the first person zombie slaying experience with its most recent release Dying Light, but its inaugural venture into the undead genre still holds its own. It's a slower experience in some regards, and the bright seaside setting contrasts the moody sunsets of Harran. Both games emphasise quests and close-quarters combat, of course, with the wide array of melee weaponry a highlight.
Stranded on a sun-soaked paradise that is crawling with the undead, you control one of five immune survivors and try to fabricate a means of escape. Across your journey, you'll be asked for help by a number of survivors whose requests range from the touching to the downright bizarre. One minute you may be tasked with laying a man's deceased family to rest, and then you'll go out to recover a kidnapped old teddy bear.
Dead Island grants you with instant access to its open world following a short prologue. If you dare, you can sneak out and storm the corpse-ridden beaches in search of collectibles, health supplies, and crafting materials. It's an experience that allows for lots of exploration and also offers you plenty of freedom, as you rarely feel restricted to follow the main series of quests.
From rusty old nail guns to razor sharp metallic claws, there's plenty of makeshift weaponry that you can get your hands on across the island to help dismember your decaying attackers. Annoyingly, many of the melee weapons you'll use will become near useless after a couple of blows, and the price for repair is often a hefty one. This may be frustrating in one sense, but it does prevent combat from feeling stale, forcing you to use a wide range of weapons to survive.
Disappointingly, the collection offers pretty much no tweaks to core gameplay and narrative, leaving many of its initial problem unresolved. Vehicle's still feel incredibly sluggish to control, your character responds with the same few awkward lines of dialogue, and the first-person platforming remains clumsy at best. As the original game had its fair share of flaws, it would have been beneficial if the developers went back and listened to fan feedback, in order to help construct a much more refined experience.
Riptide follows the events of the first game, as you and four other immune survivors land on a military ship, and, to your horror, find yourself stranded yet again on an island that is ridden with the same deadly virus. With both titles included within the collection, it's now easier than ever to import your character from the first game into Riptide, so you can make the most of the skills that you have previously accumulated.
There's little new compared to the original, but the skill tree does offer fresh perks, while there's a new playable character, and more detail has been implemented in key areas. As Riptide only serves to offer more of the same, it can understandably start to feel pretty tedious as part of this compilation – especially after jumping into it right after the first game.
With the jump to the next generation, both of the original titles have received a complete graphical facelift, and there has been significant improvements made to the lighting and character models. The enhanced versions see both titles running at 1080p and a consistent 30 frames-per-second. The sprawling tropical playground that surrounds you looks much more vibrant and alive, and the NPCs you'll encounter appear more detailed and refined.
However, alongside the issues mentioned before, there are a number of technical problems across both titles that prevent them from feeling like truly definitive versions. One of the most noticeable issues is that NPCs will often speak out of time. This can often be distracting and shatters any realism the enhanced versions work to present. We also caught sight of a number of graphical glitches during our play through, which included zombies floating through the air and falling through the floor during combat.
As mentioned earlier, also included as part of this package is Retro Revenge, a side-scrolling beat-'em-up that's clearly been influenced by Mega Drive classic Streets of Rage. You take control of Max, a ruthless survivor, as he storms through the blood-soaked streets of California, murdering everything that stands in his path in an effort to save his kidnapped cat. Gameplay feels like many other beat-'em-ups, as you'll fight your way to the end of the stage, racking up the highest score possible, and trying not to get devoured in the process.
There are three main game modes for you to choose between: Story mode, Survival mode, and Marathon mode. In order to unlock the latter two modes, however, you must complete the three chapter long story, which does prove to be a bit of a slog. This isn't the only issue crippling the experience, as many of the stages feel dull, repetitive, and uninspired. Fighting through the same stretch of beach or decayed area of downtown just doesn't feel very exciting.
Dead Island: Definitive Collection is by no means perfect, but it still succeeds in providing you with a substantial slice of flawed but generally fine zombie slaying action. Despite offering a graphical upgrade, though, there may not be much here to lure in those who have played these titles before – especially seeing as no real changes have been made to the core gameplay, and because newcomer Retro Revenge disappoints.