Reanimating the original Dead Island always seemed like a no brainer for Deep Silver. After all, amid the growing slew of niche RPGs and strategy sims, it was Dead Island that really gave them chops as an international video game publisher. Before that point – and its more recent acquisition of former THQ franchises – Deep Silver was best known for low-key releases such as the Risen series.
Developed by the talented folks at Techland (another distinguished Polish studio), Dead Island will always be remembered for its heartbreaking debut trailer. Released on February 16th, 2011, the three minute cinematic gave us an emotional albeit brutal glimpse of Banoi and the terrible events about to befall its resident holidaymakers.
Needless to say, it piqued the interest of gamers around the globe. Some of this was fuelled by the lack of information we had about Dead Island itself and how the finished product would actually play. It’s fair to say that, while not a complete disconnect, the final release wasn’t exactly what everyone had come to expect having watched that reveal trailer over and over.
With almost half a decade between them, we’d assume gamers are better informed coming into Dead Island: Definitive Edition. Out today on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, it’s a straight-up remaster of both the original game and Dead Island: Riptide, a standalone expansion that followed in 2013. There are some extra gubbins thrown in there too, including several pieces of DLC, as well as Retro Revenge, a 16-bit arcade brawler set in the Dead Island universe.
One aspect some PlayStation fans might take issue with is accessing the disc’s bonus content. In order to play Dead Island: Riptide, you’ll need to download it separately, instead of simply being able to install it from the disc. It’s likely to be the same situation on Xbox One, though we can’t check first hand, and while it’s hardly a deal breaker for most, but a small minority of gamers will potentially miss out on a huge slab of content.
Everything remains completely untouched, from setting and characters, to the game’s open world design. As with most remasters, the only real changes here are cosmetic – we’re talking enhanced textures and models, full 1080p, and some neat lighting work. Without a side-by-side comparison, it’s difficult to gauge exactly how much of an improvement the Definitive Edition is over the Techland’s originals. That said, for the most part, these games look gorgeous running on new systems.
New lighting techniques and physical shading both go a long way in revitalising the series’ many environments. Though later areas aren’t as appealing as the beach resort, you’d be wrong in branding this as an idle port between console generations. The game generally runs smoothly, but it does admittedly fail to hit a locked sixty frames per second.
Although not particularly clunky, the original Dead Island had some nasty rough edges players could easily get caught on. In the months following launch, a worrying number of issues were flagged by users, some of which broke the game completely and even corrupted save data. Within several hours of playing the Definitive Edition, however, we’ve yet to encounter any bugs or technical issues of any description.
Sadly, Techland hasn’t ironed out any of the gameplay shortcomings, which should come as no surprise. This is, after all, a remaster and not a reimagining, so issues such as laborious quest logging still remain, forcing players to track missions one by one instead of intuitively marking them on the mini map.
To some, the combat will also feel hit and miss. There’s a great sense of feedback whenever dismembering your enemies or crushing them into a meaty pulp. However, it’s easy to find yourself falling into the same combat cycle, knocking zombies to the ground before going in for the efficient head pound. New weapons and enemy types eventually spice things up, though you’ll likely find cheap strategies for them as well.
It’s ultimately the visual touches that make Dead Island: Definitive Edition worth exploring for fans of the series. Characters may still look quite hideous up close, but the environments have undergone enough sprucing up to warrant a second look.
Techland have moved on to new pastures since working on Dead Island, but while it would seem logical to recommend Dying Light over a remaster of their first zombie games, there’s a surprising amount of contrast between the two. Sure, there’s plenty of shared DNA, but the different setting and approach to gameplay/open world design means that neither one is infinitely better than the other.
To cap off, Dead Island: Definitive Edition looks great on new systems though there are some aspects that feel slightly outdated. That said, the years haven’t diminished its standing as one of the more unique and compelling video games set within the bloody tempest of a zombie outbreak.