‘Dead Island’ collection souped and expanded up for zombie fans
It’s weird to think that filmmaker George Romero, with his 1968 film “Night of the Living Dead,” essentially created an entire new genre of pop culture.
Romero’s film was the first zombie movie, as we know the term today, and zombie movies quickly begat zombie comic books, zombie TV shows and, of course, zombie video games.
One of the best zombie games in the last few years, “Dead Island” was originally released for PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2011. The setup is pure Romero: A rapid virus outbreak at a tropical resort island unleashes waves of flesh-eating zombies. A small group of survivors move from shelter to shelter, fighting off the undead with improvised weapons and goofy dialogue.
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For those who missed it the first time around, “Dead Island” has just been reissued as “Dead Island Definitive Collection” ($19.99 / rated M), souped up for PC and ported over to new consoles PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The package also includes the expansion “Dead Island: Riptide” and the 16-bit sidescroller “Dead Island Retro Revenge.”
An old-school battle
For new players, the “Dead Island” vibe is decidedly old-school. This is a first-person open-world game with some action RPG elements, including limited weapon crafting and XP-based skill levels. The game puts a premium on melee combat, and you’ll do most of your fighting with make-do weapons. For the first few hours, you’ll be fending off zombies with canoe paddles, lead pipes, even frying pans. Firearms and explosives come later.
“Dead Island” is an ostensibly open-world game, but to further the story you’ll need to follow the main quest line. The designers find some interesting variations on the old zombie story tropes. Will you need to track down an experimental vaccine? Of course! There’s always an experimental vaccine.
The setting and characters in “Dead Island” are particularly fun. The island resort is depicted as a sort of debauched Eurotrash destination for shady characters from all nations. Players can choose between four initial survivors, plus a fifth character with his own unique story line and agenda. You might be an Australian ex-cop turned VIP bodyguard, or a Chinese spy, or a washed-up American hip-hop star.
Whatever you choose, don’t expect the hordes of walking dead to discriminate – they just want to eat your brains. “Dead Island” features different varieties of zombies: Shambling “Romero” zombies mix freely with fast-running ghouls in the style of director Danny Boyle’s neo-zombie classic “28 Days Later.” Other delightful sub-types include the Butcher, the Thug, the Floater and the alarming specimen known as the Suicider.
Players who enjoy first-person splatter fights will dig the game’s up-close-and-bloody combat system and over-the-top gore. Those who prefer a more stealthy style of play will need patience. Guns and other sniper weapons aren’t even available for the first portion of the game, and the zombies’ tendency to attack in swarms makes melee fighting a messy but necessary skill.
For returning players, the new collection doesn’t add any additional content beyond the “Retro Revenge” game. But the designers have given everything a high-sheen polish, with upgraded textures, lighting and user interface elements. The visual upgrades are particularly noticeable on the beach, where the water ripples with bright gleams and, alas, the occasional severed head.
“Dead Island” never approaches the sophistication of the genre’s best endeavors – TV shows like “The Walking Dead” or video games like “The Last of Us” – but it’s not really aiming to provide that kind of experience. It’s a B-movie kind of game, good for quick-hit zombie fighting, a few hours at a time, when the mood strikes. Rumor has it that a new “Dead Island” installment is in development, maybe with a Hawaiian setting. The whole island paradise thing is kind of inspired, and provides a nice through line of grim humor: Worst. Vacation. Ever.
“Dead Island Definitive Collection” is available for PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One.