Dead Island: Definitive Collection
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: 05/31/2016
Welcome to Banoi, a tropical island paradise off the coast of Papua New Guinea. It has all the amenities you could hope for, including lush jungles, luxurious resorts, sun, surf, shade, and… zombies. Okay, so you probably don’t want to spend time there on vacation, to be sure, but unfortunately, you’re also probably better off spending your gaming time elsewhere.
The Dead Island games were both deeply flawed, but had some goofy charm that could carry you through them a good bit before you moved on to other games. The games mostly carried themselves along thanks to their crazy weapon customization options, the multiplayer, and their innovative concept (for the time). Now both Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide are back with a glossy new coat of paint, but the games remain more or less as they’ve always been.
The core of the games is similar other Western RPGs, though instead of days of yore or the far flung future, Dead Island takes place in modern times with weapons you can find in our own world. The games are made up of multiple open world areas that you can get to by progressing the story. You get to choose from four characters (five in Riptide) who all have their reasons for being on the island. They each also specialize in a type of weapon that informs their skill trees, so, for example, Sam B is a pugilist extraordinaire, while Xian Mei likes to slice and dice the undead with her trusty blades.
As you’d expect, you spend a ton of time fighting zombies, going on quests, fighting zombies, collecting things, fighting zombies, going on quests to collect things… and all of this is done from a first person view with fairly standard, if clunky, first person controls. Honestly, that’s really about it, but in theory, this is a loop that has worked since the dawn of games, so it’s not a surprise to see it here as well.
Outside of the basics, the Dead Island games do some things very well. Some of the locales are a delight to explore, especially the resort, which is quite spacious and beautiful in its state of disaster as you explore the extensive amount of buildings and facilities, including bungalows built on docks over the water. It is gorgeous to look at and fun to poke around in for loot. Oh, the loot! You can find all kinds of mundane weapons that already litter your basement, like hammers, baseball bats, machetes and more. Now, that sounds kind of boring, but there is a bit of fun in finding things you may own that can be used as weapons. Better still, the game has a pretty fun crafting system, so you’ll find yourself running around with electric swords and other crazy contraptions all the time, making the system pretty satisfying. The combat can also be fun when dealing with the weaker zombies that mob you, especially when using some of the more bizarre weapons the game has to offer.
Early on you do feel weak and in danger all the time, constantly running away and picking your fights, especially when larger groups of zombies come your way. As your skill tree fills, however, you become a living, breathing, zombie slaying badass, which makes for a pretty satisfying development arc for the most part. The fighting is actually pretty well done, and while it’s a bit clunky, it’s satisfying more often than not. Slicing weapons feel good cutting through a pack of the undead.
It isn’t all sunshine and dismemberments however, as the game is flawed in a great many areas. Even as a remaster, the graphics are rough and glitchy. The environments are good enough, but the character models are… well, horrifying at times, and I don’t mean the zombies. Some of the humans are nightmarish at the best of times, and I felt awful even looking at them. They constantly clip through the environments as well. At least the shirts look good, I suppose. The sound effects never really stick out at any point, and the music, while competently composed, is lacking in anything to make it memorable throughout the game; it’s certainly servicable, but you won’t remember it even hours after playing.
With the satisfaction of the core gameplay loop those can be overlooked, but the game has deeper sins. Outside of the resort area, no other area in the game stands out… for good reasons, anyway. This is a problem that’s consistent across both titles, and honestly, it’s a problem when the only truly memorably area is the first area in the first game. The other areas range from boring to flat out frustrating to play through. A flooded jungle with ruins and villages should be pretty cool, and it looks pretty nifty, but playing through it is a slog. As you progress further in the game, you meet newer and stronger enemies, and while I appreciate the idea, it kills the power fantasy that is so strong in the best parts of the game, especially since the enemies scale to your level, making even the most basic specialty zombie fights frustrating. Fighting the big bads is never satisfying; rather, it is repetitive, and they happen way too frequently. Throw in the human enemies with firearms that become more and more prevalent, and the game becomes less of what makes it enjoyable, and more of a flat, repetitive chore.
The story barely exists in either game, and the characters are hollow shells that are poorly voiced (but in zombie fiction that actually feels right). The plot throws in a character for the player to feel sympathy for in the first game, but her entire arc just lands like a wet, dull thud. If you were to run the critical path, the story could come across a little better as it wouldn’t be spread so thin, but at the same time, the game really feels like it wants you to explore, which makes the plot come across as flimsy and uninspired.
Most importantly of all, however, is the fact that you can no longer kick the beach balls! That is an unforgivable sin.
If the game had focused more on replicating the experience of the first area, shorted the overall length (or at least the padding to increase the length) and included more environmental storytelling, it could have been something pretty great despite its flaws. Sadly, the game doesn’t know when to end and overstays its welcome.
Short Attention Span Summary
Dead Island starts out enjoyable enough, as the resort is beautiful and enjoyable to explore, but the longer one plays it, the less fun the game becomes. By fifteen hours in, I was bored, by twenty I wanted to never play it again, and by the end I was playing it with hate in my heart. Riptide is more of the same, except the areas are even less interesting, and the entire thing is a slog to play. If you cut up both games, you can make one game that is a ton of fun despite its flaws. Being two games, however, there is just entirely too much game that isn’t worth playing.