I thought the original Dead Island was awful. Not in a flippant, played it for five minutes and decided it wasn't for me way (how we generally review video games), but a considered opinion after trudging through the first 90 minutes or so on Xbox 360. It felt so janky and looked so hideous it seemed on the edge of turning into a zombie itself. I didn't understand how Dead Island wasn't completely mauled by critics and gamers alike, watching in complete bemusement as it went on to sell millions of units and even get a Game of the Year edition.
Five years later I'm playing Dead Island again, this time as part of the Dead Island Definitive Edition package (which includes the original, Riptide, and a new 2D beat 'em up), and I'm enjoying it. I'm not sure if the smattering of changes made to the original game, in the process of Techland porting it over to its latest engine, have made all the difference or the fact that I've watched the entirety of The Walking Dead in the last six months (and read about 40 issues of the comic), but honestly, this isn't a bad video game. It's actually a good video game. Have I gone mad?
As a kind of action-heavy open-world RPG, Dead Island pushes action over massively in-depth skill trees. Weapons can be upgraded using cash (which doesn't make any sense at all) and your character boosted with skill points each time you level up. It's good enough, but more character stat customisation would have been welcomed. Missions, too, are rather simplistic most of the time, almost always being of the 'Go to location X and bring back an item' or 'Go to location Y and do the thing' variety. Yet somehow Dead Island is entertaining.
Combat is a bit of a slugfest until you unlock more deadly slicey attacks or get hold of guns, but it's somewhat thrilling to take on large groups with just a wrench and some knives. Things can get pretty hairy at points, so you're bound to find yourself tearing through the environment as a group of walkers are in pursuit. Melee attacks are nice and meaty, with blows appearing to carry real weight, although at points skirmishes with numerous zombies can start to resemble a drunken bar fight.
All weapons can be thrown, too, which is very handy against the bastards that explode, but nothing beats perfectly timing a machete swing to slice the head off an onrushing zombie (perhaps I have watched too much Walking Dead). I won't lie: I also enjoy mowing down the undead while inside one of the game's many utility vehicles. It's just satisfying.
All the time you're playing the game throws near-constant updates on how you're progressing with the in-game challenges, whether it be distance walked or zombies decapitated. It's all pretty basic stuff, but as a package there's something moreish about Dead Island that makes it hard to put down. There's four-player co-op too, which makes things more sociable, even if it's perfectly possible to play alone and not feel like you're missing out.
There's an awful lot of content here, too, with the original game and Riptide easily offering 30+ hours of gameplay. As far as remastered collections go, there's no question over this being great value. I've seen Riptide get a fair amount of criticism, yet I found it to be more of the same but with some added base defense and boats. I didn't enjoy it as much as the original Dead Island, but there's still fun to be had with it. If you want more Dead Island, it more or less picks up right where the first game left off.
Retro Revenge isn't such a great bonus. It's a side-scrolling beat 'em up in a 16-bit style, but rather than have full control as in games like Final Fight or Streets of Rage, your character automatically runs across the screen, forcing you to switch between three lanes while timing attacks to dispatch a variety of zombie foes. The whole thing became repetitive after about five minutes.
From a purely visual perspective this Definitive Edition certainly does more than throw the original games into Full HD. The frame rate isn't amazing, topping out at 30fps and not always smooth, but the game world is far more impressive and atmospheric than on previous gen thanks to improved detail and vastly superior lighting. Improvements to character models have been made but what's here is still someway behind what is expected from a PS4/Xbox One game three years into the lifecycle, especially in terms of facial animation. Overall it's a much better upgrade than you might be expecting.
Dead Island Definitive Edition is a great example of how a previous gen title can be improved on current-gen. Techland has done more than required in porting the games over to PS4 and Xbox One, resulting in a package that is tremendous fun and technically up to par. That's a sentence I never thought I'd be saying.