Dead Island Review: Revisiting the Thrills of a 2011 Undead Paradise

You wake up in a hotel room hung over, head out and walk down the hallway, and all of sudden, you’re frantically running for your life from flesh-eating zombies. Vacation meets the undead in this adrenaline-fueled, zombie-survival classic on the PlayStation 3!

Techland’s 2011 zombie outbreak masterpiece, Dead Island, has most definitely earned its place in the pantheon of zombie-themed video games. With its flawless blend of horror, survival, and role-playing game elements, at its debut, it was a new, much more engaging, and weirdly relatable take on the undead apocalypse. Now, more than a decade after its initial release, it’s time to dust off the trusty old PlayStation 3 and revisit this iconic title to see how it holds up in 2023, the same year that its long-awaited sequel, Dead Island 2, by Dambuster Studios, was finally released.

The Visuals: A Testament to True Time Design

Banoi resort beach area in Dead Island
Image Credit – Gameplay Screenshot by YaBoyCazniac on PlayStation Network

The immediate, though somewhat astonishing aspect of returning to Dead Island, is how well its graphics have aged over the twelve years since its debut. While obviously not on par with the modern titles we have these days, Dead Island’s visual style and artistic design still shine through, even on an older generation system like the PS3. The real-feel, lush, tropical island of Banoi, rife with its apocalyptic decay and destruction, feels eerily immersive right from the jump. The attention to detail in both its player and non-player character models remains as impressive as it was the day it was first released. Although textures are obviously not as impressive as today’s standard video games, Dead Island’s overall looks and appeal hold up remarkably well, especially when you get deep into the head-bashing gore of this classic survival game.

The Story: Dead Island’s Undying Appeal

The central narrative of Dead Island can definitely still capture and captivate players for hours, even in this day and age of gaming. Set on the island resort of Banoi, the game follows a group of diverse survivors trying to escape the island’s zombie outbreak. The personal stories of each playable character offer unique depth and emotional investment, making players genuinely connect with their player choice, and even begin to care about their fates. Despite knowing many of the twists and turns from past playthroughs, the storytelling remains intensely engaging, a testament to the strength of its original plot. The personal touch of each individual playable character’s in-game abilities also adds multiple ways to play the game and experience the story.

The Combat: Mechanics That Stand Strong Through Time

A fight with four walkers in the city area of Dead Island
Image Credit – Gameplay Screenshot by YaBoyCazniac on PlayStation Network

One aspect of Dead Island that has truly stood the test of time is its combat mechanics. The game’s first-person melee combat system is nothing short of remarkable. Each swing of a weapon feels visceral, and the variety of available weapons ensures that players can experiment endlessly. The feeling of smashing a zombie’s head in with a baseball bat or slicing through a group with a katana remains as satisfying as it ever did. The gun mechanics feel pretty realistic even now, and the body dismemberment throughout the game makes you feel like the king (or the queen) of the apocalypse. I personally enjoy kicking and punching one of the undead freaks viciously until one of us can no longer stand!

The Quests: Keeping the Fun Undead

Searching for healing herbs for a side quest in the jungle area of Dead Island

Not only is the main story fun and engaging, but Dead Island’s side quests also add a magnitude of depth, variety, and continuity to the gameplay. These missions often present unique challenges, intriguing character development, and also encourage players to explore every inch of the Banoi island map. The ease and repetitive nature of some quests may seem disappointing at first, but once they build up and you have to run through five or more, you can easily waste a few hours just doing all the quests you missed while enjoying the main storyline. Even after completing the main storyline, the side quests offer plenty of entertainment, making the game more than a one-and-done experience.

The Progression: Leveling Up Is A Balanced Climb

The leveling system of Dead Island ensures a delicate balance, allowing players to feel a sense of progression without becoming unintentionally overpowered too quickly. Often, at times, you may even find that you are definitely too under-leveled as you traverse the different areas of Banoi. The skill trees of each individual character offer a variety of choices that can affect gameplay depending on their level, giving boosts and bonuses to the many different weapon possibilities in-game. This progression and diversity keep the gameplay experience fresh and rewarding, even after you hit the inevitable level cap.

The Difficulty: A Rewarding Struggle

One of Dead Island’s defining features is its gradual increase in the difficulty of both the enemies and environments. As players progress through the island, they inevitably face stronger, stranger, and more numerous enemies. This challenging increase forces players to adapt and strategize constantly, as well as inducing spurts of anxiety and panic while rushing frantically from building to bundling on a search for an energy drink or piece of fruit to replenish just a morsel of health. Even true veterans of the game might find themselves pushed to the limit, ensuring that Dead Island remains an intense and adrenaline-fueled experience.

The Weapons: Modify To Stay Alive

The weapons modification screen at a workbench in Dead Island
Image Credit – Gameplay Screenshot by YaBoyCazniac on PlayStation Network

Dead Island’s extensive arsenal of melee weapons and firearms all have the possibility to be modified, increasing damage and causing effects such as fire and shock damage, and all of them are quite impressive. Whether you prefer blunt weapons, sharp blades, a homemade bomb, or improvised tools, this game definitely has you covered. The ability to craft and modify weapons adds depth to the gameplay as well, allowing endless death-bringing experimentation. Hat racks, frying pans, propane tanks, shovels, and homemade exploding knives all make the intensity of slaughtering zombies fun and even comical at times!

The Enemies: Iconic Zombies That Never Get Old

A suicider in the city area of Dead Island
Image Credit – Gameplay Screenshot by YaBoyCazniac on PlayStation Network

Dead Island’s memorable zombies are a significant part of what makes the game a legitimate classic. From the lumbering, acid-spewing Floaters to the explosive, pleading Suiciders, each enemy type presents a unique challenge. The fist-swinging Thugs and crazed, body-throwing Rams are still just as formidable as ever, especially when teamed with a horde of Walkers or a couple of maniacal Infected. Facing off against these monstrosities remains as nerve-wracking and satisfying as it was in 2011, even with the best weapons and a load of medkits.

The Levels: Undeniably Phenomenal for Its Time

The destroyed streets of the city area in Dead Island
Image Credit – Gameplay Screenshot by YaBoyCazniac on PlayStation Network

Dead Island’s open-world design and sprawling environments are nothing short of impressive, especially considering the time of its release. Banoi Island is a richly detailed, interconnected world with diverse locations, from the luxurious hotel to the devastated city streets. The change in environment and exploration gives way to discovery, making the game world feel alive and immersive. Want to sprint around a beach beating zombies with a canoe oar? Got it. Want to whiz around the crowded streets of a rundown city in an El Camino? Yup, got it. Want to bolt through the dense forest shooting everything that moves? Dead Island got that, too! Whether it is the resort, the city, the jungle, or the end-game prison, you will not lose much interest in the ‘where’ of this timeless classic.

The Nostalgia: True Replay Value

Revisiting 2011’s Dead Island in 2023 is a nostalgic trip down memory lane for those who experienced it more than a decade ago. The feeling of “back then” is truly powerful, reminding players of the countless hours spent battling the undead, creating new weapons, and discovering the secrets of Banoi. Even when knowing the storyline, the challenge of progressing and perfecting one’s skills is still a very thrilling experience and well worth it to both seasoned and first-time players.

The Appeal: A Timeless Investment 

The startup screen of Dead Island
Image Credit – Gameplay Screenshot by YaBoyCazniac on PlayStation Network

In a game filled with timeless graphics and advanced-for-its-time mechanics, Dead Island’s enduring appeal is a testament to its gaming quality. Its graphics, storytelling, combat mechanics, side quests, leveling progression, and game world design have all aged gracefully. The game’s challenging difficulty, diverse arsenal, and iconic enemies continue to provide an engaging and immersive experience, even if you have beat it time and time before!

The Conclusion: An Undying Addiction

A fight with a thug in the Resort Area of Dead Island
Image Credit – Gameplay Screenshot by YaBoyCazniac on PlayStation Network

For those who have embarked on the journey of Dead Island 2, released earlier this year, revisiting the original is a must. It’s a reminder of the franchise’s roots and a chance to appreciate where it all began. The amazing replay value, combined with the nostalgia of tackling the hordes of Banoi, ensures that Dead Island will remain a classic, even if it is inevitably lost to time. So, charge up your favorite Shock Machete, prepare for another zombie-infested adventure, and rediscover the enduring dread of Dead Island!

Dead Island is a PlayStation 3 original game that has been remastered on PlayStation 4 (Dead Island Definitive Version), which makes it available on both older and modern systems, including the PlayStation 5. If you are looking for a blast from the past, take the time out to relive this undead experience and revel in the classic horror of Techland’s Dead Island!


  • Replay Value
  • Flawless Game Mechanics
  • Memorable Character Models
  • Amazing Weapons and Combat Style
  • Graphics Aged Well


  • DLCs were a little dull
  • Total playtime is pretty low
  • Having only 4 characters leaves little room for unique replays

Dead Island: Game of the Year Edition

An undying addiction that aged well…

Dead Island is a steadfast and memorable testament to what it takes to be a good game amongst the countless zombie-outbreak series' on the market!

Zachary M. Cain
PS3 version reviewed