Dead Island Definitive Collection Review – Two Flawed Games for The Price of One

Dead Island Definitive Collection Review

I’ve been a big proponent of re-releases since they allow a new generation of gamers to check out some of the best games of yesteryear. That said, Dead Island was never an amazing game when it released in 2011, instead it was an exceptionally buggy action game with plenty of spunk. Despite not being an all-time classic, the debut found a huge audience (it sold over 5 million copies) and did well enough to spawn a standalone expansion called Dead Island: Riptide.

Now both of these titles have been bundled up together as the Dead Island Definitive Collection on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The good or bad news, depending on how much you enjoyed the games the first time around, is that both games are largely left intact. The phenomenal analog combat is still in effect here, and I can confirm that it’s still fun to decapitate zombies in 2016, but that also means that the games are still buggy messes (which goes from cute initially to frustrating once you have to restart your game because your character is simply stuck in the environment).


“The phenomenal analog combat is still in effect here, and I can confirm that it’s still fun to decapitate zombies in 2016, but that also means that the games are still buggy messes”

The only real upgrade here is a graphical one, and Dead Island looks pretty dang good for a five year old game. The remaster features higher quality textures and better models, but the real improvement is in the game’s overhauled lighting system. Every part of the island is now thick with atmosphere due to the new lighting effects, and there were definitely moments that ended up scaring me due to enemies jumping out from the shadows. There’s still some weak spots, though, as there’s a lot of pop-in and graphical glitches (such as character models going through the environment).

Dead Island starts out strongly due to its fantastic setting. Seeing a gorgeous tropical resort filled with zombies, and beaches stained with blood is a shocking visual. The opening area is also the most open the game feels, and it allows players to experiment with the analog combat (which is still hidden away in the options menus defying all logic) while they take on a series of fetch quests.

Dead Island Definitive Collection

Sadly, the opening hours of Dead Island are by far the most enjoyable. The game becomes less interesting as you move from the resort to the city and the jungle. The in-game areas become more linear, and there’s less freedom to your movement. This is compounded by the poor mission design as you never really advance past basic fetch quests and going from point A to point B during the entire game.

Dead Island ending with a whimper instead of a bang is also why its follow-up, Dead Island: Riptide, is such a bummer. Seemingly Techland didn’t understand what parts were great about the first game, and instead sent players back into more linear areas. It does attempt to add some variety, mainly by incorporating ideas from Call of Duty’s zombies mode, but it’s mainly just more of a game that I grew tired of playing by the time I finished the original. Cooperative play helps ease the frustration, but there’s far better games to spend your time with.


“Dead Island Definitive Collection is the best way to get these two flawed experiences, ones that are enjoyable despite some poor design choices.”

All of the DLC is also included for the original Dead Island, and gamers didn’t really miss out if they didn’t play it initially. There’s a short campaign starring Ryder White, which fills in some of the backstory to the events that unfold, but it’s stripped of the RPG elements that make Dead Island fun to progress through. There’s no skill tree to spec out, nor is there experience to be gained here. Just a lot of repetitive levels to go through (including the sewers).

The other part of DLC isn’t bad, but it’s also likely something you won’t come back to much. It’s an arena mode that has players facing off against waves of enemy zombies. There’s four different arenas to choose from (each corresponding with a difficulty level), and it’s really just a showcase for Dead Island’s combat. It’s a decent diversion, but it’s still largely a throwaway mode.

While Dead Island isn’t a great game, I can’t speak highly enough about its analog combat. It has players using the left trigger to enter a combat stance (you can even continue to aim if you only hold down the trigger halfway), and then using the right analog stick to slice apart enemies. There’s some hulking enemies later on in the game, and it’s really enjoyable cutting off all of their limbs until they can only attempt to bite you. Well, until their head is decapitated. It’s a brilliant system, and I’m shocked more melee-based games haven’t been based around Dead Island’s innovative system which is largely trapped in a mediocre game with an identity crisis.

Dead Island Definitive Collection

Finally, the Dead Island Definitive Collection also comes with a brand new game called Dead Island Retro Revenge (at least if you buy the game before July 31 digitally). It’s a 2D action game where the protagonist, some dude named Max, is constantly running forward battling hordes of enemies. There’s three different lanes that Max can move into, so you can avoid combat at times, but the game just isn’t any fun. Not only does it feel unrelated to Dead Island (Max is a brand new character with zero relation to the two other games here and it doesn’t even feature the same zombie designs), it’s also super repetitive. It’s an uninspired runner, so don’t be bummed if you miss out on the limited time offer to get this bonus game.

Dead Island Definitive Collection is the best way to get these two flawed experiences, ones that are enjoyable despite some poor design choices. There’s still nothing quite like Dead Island’s analog combat, but the game’s poor structure can’t be saved with a graphical facelift. Throw in a ton of bugs (how is this game still so buggy?), and you have a simply okay experience.

**A PS4 review code was provided by the publisher**

The Good

  • Analog combat is awesome
  • Cooperative play is fun
  • The resort is great

The Bad

  • Poor design choices
  • Starts off strong, ends weakly