Developers Techland and publishers Deep Silver had a surprise hit on their hands with the original Dead Island, an impressive feat given how saturated the zombie apocalypse genre has become. While the game had it’s share of critics, the idyllic tropical island setting, the strong melee combat mechanics and addictive co-operative gameplay proved to be a winning formula. The sequel, Dead Island: Riptide, is a direct continuation of the first game that promises to deliver the same experience that fans of the first game have come to enjoy. For better or worse, that’s exactly what it achieves. Is this worth returning to this buffet of death and carnage for a second helping? Read on to find out.
The plot in Riptide is a little more fast-paced this time around, with the story picking up right after the events of the first game. After escaping from the zombie-filled prison, you crash land onto the island of Palanai, where you waste no time embarking on a mission to find survivors and find the source of the zombie outbreak. As with most games that involve killing zombies, the plot is little more than a thin thread that ties the missions together. The push for dramatic impact works in some parts, but is totally forgettable in others. However, given that your focus will be on the zombies and loot, the plot seems less of a concern here as it would be in other games.
The island of Palanai represents the most noticeable change from the original Dead Island, with the pristine beaches and colourful vistas of Banoi giving way to murky backwaters, run down villages, overgrown jungles and imposingly dark tunnels. Throughout your missions, you will traverse a variety of terrain on foot, by car or in a boat, with the hostile enemies constantly jumping out at you. While the change in locale doesn’t result in any great leaps over the first Dead Island, it does help mute some of the more striking similarities between the two games.
The first-person gameplay style of the first Dead Island remains virtually unchanged here, so those familiar with the formula will be able to dive right in. At its core, Riptide is an action-adventure game, however the ability to gain experience points, level up your character and customize their skills adds an RPG flavour similar to Borderlands. The emphasis on looting and constantly acquiring new weapons keeps this momentum going, and it’s satisfying to see your efforts pay off in a stronger character and more powerful weapons.
The same characters from the original Dead Island return here, along with John Morgan, a new playable character who specializes in hand-to-hand combat. If you are approaching the Dead Island universe for the first time, the choice of character should be based on the type of combat you enjoy. Some are stronger with blunt-force weapons such as bats and batons, while some favour edged weapons like machetes and axes. Despite these predispositions, any character can wield any weapon, so you won’t be limited to one weapon type throughout the game. Each character also has their own unique skill tree, so there is added incentive to play multiple times and vary your approach.
As is the standard for the genre, the enemies in Riptide ultimately steal the show. Most of the zombie you encounter are standard undead “walkers” who will attack you on site, with some running frantically and other limping towards you. Tougher enemies include the “Thugs,” who can take a lot of damage and deal it in return, the “Suiciders” who explode and “Floaters” who play dead in the river and jump when you draw near. A few notable, and quite challenging, boss battles round out the enemy roster. Players can employ different strategies when approaching enemies, as targeting limbs can cause them to break and headshots deal more damage. In some cases, successive kills can lead to “Fury Mode”, in which you go berserk and off multiple enemies.
One great feature of Riptide is the ability to carry over your existing progress into the new game. If you have a save file for the first Dead Island, you have the option to transfer your old character over and start off with your old level and skill trees intact. The only thing that won’t be carried over is your weapons, so you will need to begin building your arsenal all over again. As was the case before, the enemies scale to your level regardless of what stage you are at, so thankfully choosing this option never results in you feeling overpowered. The game provides a solid and balanced challenge throughout, though the ability to quickly gain money and the generous quantity of weapons lying around helps level this out and provides a genuine sense of progression with each mission.
The cornerstone of any first-person action game is combat, and Riptide has a combat system that defines love and hate. The first-person perspective and melee focus means that you’ll be attacking enemies head on, with the camera providing a realistic line of sight when you swing you weapon or get knocked down. It’s not as smooth or polished as an a-list action game, and it will likely feel clunky to first-time players. However, experience with the game is the best way to overcome this. The island is littered with various kinds of weapons, including blunt and edged weapons, as well as firearms. Gunplay was severely downplayed in the first Dead Island, with ammunition being especially scarce. This has been somewhat tweaked in Riptide, allowing for more opportunities to brandish a firearm. However, ammo is finite and not always attainable, so it’s your melee weapons that will see the most action.
The “love/hate” aspect comes into play with the need to constantly repair your weapons. Using them throughout the missions causes them to break over time, which in turn depletes the damage they are capable of delivering. Having your favourite weapon rendered useless is a frustrating experience, but it does compel you to be more strategic with your loadout. For a price, the repairs can be done at workbenches scattered throughout the game. This is also where you can purchase upgrade and modifications, as blueprints and items you find can be used to craft enhancements to your weapons such as fire, corrosive and shock damage. This becomes one of the most addictive aspects of the game, as there are few things more satisfying than tricking out a great weapon and making it even more lethal.
Riptide is broken up into chapter-based story missions, with a plethora of side-quests that NPCs give to you along the way. As was the case on Banoi, the island of Palanai is full of people who are incapable of solving any problem on their own. Frequent NPC encounters will keep your quest log filled, and the ability to fast travel between locations makes it easy to go back and play missions you have skipped over. With few exceptions, the missions follow the standard “go somewhere, kill zombies, acquire an item/flip a switch, return to base” formula. While present in the original game, there are more missions in Riptide that require you to fend off waves of zombies while defending an area. These horde-battling missions provide some of the most intense, and most enjoyable, moments in the game.
While the missions are generally enjoyable, the tedium of constantly undertaking fetch quests does begin to grate on you after a few hours. This is only compounded when playing solo, since you have nothing to distract you from the fact that you’re basically doing the same thing repeatedly. If you can get some friends together, however, this is where Riptide really kicks into high gear. Like Borderlands, the “drop in, drop out” mechanic is smartly implemented and makes joining a game a pain-free experience You can also jump into random games, as a prompt will appear when someone near your level is playing in the same area, and other people can likewise join your game. Money and experience points are shared among all players, and the amount of experience given increases when more players are present. Loot and weapons are not shared, however, so choose your friends wisely.
Graphically, Riptide is on par with the original game, which is to say that it looks good for the most part. The jungles, rivers, devastated dwellings and underground tunnels and caves are well detailed and offer some nice variety, though Banoi island felt a little more expansive in scope. As one would expect from a game focused on killing zombies, the bloody effects steal the show. Enemies react to how you attack them, with broken limbs hanging limply and geysers of blood being unleashed when you decapitate one of them. It’s blatantly over the top, but that’s part of the charm that the game exudes. It may lack the polish of a top-shelf action game, but given the fun factor, this is not a big drawback.
In the sound department, Riptide succeeds in filling your ears with constant zombie groans and squishy sounds, along with voice acting that is on par with the cheesiest of B movies. Each character has unique dialogue when interacting with both NPCs and the environment, and it’s a mish-mash if clichéd, expletive-filled rants and comically bad accents. At times, this is a source of comedy, as the ham-fisted dialogue makes it impossible to take the characters or their situations seriously. Other times, it’s a grating annoyance that will make you want to turn the volume down. The music is mostly muted ambient tunes that kick in during the more dramatic scenes. It’s ultimately serviceable but unremarkable.
While Riptide doesn’t excel in the graphics department, the game looks good overall. Unfortunately, this was offset somewhat by a high volume of glitches, bugs and other gameplay oddities that I encountered. The usual suspects are present: dancing corpses, disappearing quest objectives, objects and enemies getting stuck in the level geometry and a near-useless mini map. These hiccups happen far too often to go unnoticed, and these can lead to frustrating points where the game genuinely feels unfinished. The in-game mini map is perhaps the worst offender, with the waypoint marker and trail disappearing at random, and other times where the map gets confused and leads out into the middle of nowhere. These issues are likely to get patched post-launch, however they prove to be a noticeable drawback at this point.
The fact that Riptide looks, feels and plays almost exactly the same as the original will obviously lead some to call it a glorified expansion rather than a full game. In many ways, this is true, however Riptide still packs the full experience. A lengthy campaign and addictive co-op makes the game worth a purchase for series fans, however it does nothing to win over its detractors. While I have pointed out many of the games flaws, I can say that the game delivers in one key area: fun factor. Slaying zombies and acquiring progressively more powerful weapons is where the real pleasure of the game lies. Get a few friends together and you’re in for hours of fun. Those who disliked the first game will have little incentive to delve into this, but for people like me who are fans, it’s a recommended purchase
Review at a glance:
+ Using your implement of choice to eviscerate waves of zombies is as gruesomely satisfying as ever.
+ The melee combat system is well developed, and you have a solid variety of weapons at your disposal.
+ The addictive cooperative gameplay is an absolute blast.
+ The RPG elements, such as levelling and weapon crafting system, help flesh out the experience and provide more depth.
– No notable improvements or innovations over the first game, making it a hard sell for non-series fans.
– The voice acting is laughably bad at best, gratingly annoying at worst.
– The mission variety is bogged down with fetch quests, which will become tiresome.
– Various glitches and bugs make the game feel unfinished at certain points.
Dead Island: Riptide was developed by Techland and published by Deep Silver, and was released on April 25, 2013 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.