I really enjoyed the original Dead Island. It wasn’t without its flaws, but the four-player co-op, RPG elements, and buckets of gore and viscera that only the zombie genre can deliver more than made up for many of the small problems I had with it. For the bevy of zombie games we’ve seen over the last couple years, none quite deliver the multiplayer sandbox thrills that this series provides.
With Dead Island: Riptide, Techland isn’t looking to push the envelope. This is decidedly more of the same, and while that can most definitely be a good thing for fans of the first game, it also means if you didn’t enjoy the rough-around-the-edges foundation of the original, there’s really nothing new here to lure you in.
A majority of the problems I had with Dead Island back in 2011 have re-surfaced in this pseudo-sequel follow-up.
For starters, it can be a somewhat buggy affair. There’s a myriad odd graphical glitches, mostly related to the lighting and special effects like the rain we get to see significantly more of this time around. I never came across any game-breaking issues, but the ones I did see were noticeable.
Riptide does offer improvements in the interface, which was horrendous the first time around, and the multiplayer, both of which have been streamlined to make them easier to figure out. Unfortunately, the inventory hasn’t seen any improvements — it’s still a frustration to find specific items, especially when you have a lot to sift through.
I was curious as to how Techland was going to implement the character import feature, which lets you carry over your character, skills, and level from the first game into Riptide. If you do go this route, you’ll be happy to know that it’s quick and painless. I carried over my level 43 Xian Mei — because blades are the only way — and while none of the items you collected during your previous adventure carry over, essentially everything else does.
One of my biggest complaints with Dead Island was with its characters and story, and specifically how forgettable it all was. That emotional impact of the debut trailer was entirely gone from the game’s story, and sadly, really nothing’s been done to remedy this.
The characters are still robotic, and some, like stereotypical rapper Sam B, are almost comical in how ridiculously over-the-top they are. Techland went through great pains to make sure the “important” characters, like the archetypal wealthy bad guy, were obvious in their motives, and that’s about it. The four main characters from the original — Xian Mei, Sam B., Logan Carter, and Purna — return along with newcomer John Morgan, an expert in hand-to-hand combat.
You obviously won’t come for the characters, but you will definitely stay for the weapons. I love a good loot game, and Riptide is brimming with intensely cool weapons and mods for you to use to mow down the hordes of zombies that try and get in your way. I was given the ‘Special Edition’ to review, so it came with a few extras like the BBQ blade and special costumes. Weirdly enough, you can’t actually see how your character looks when you go to change their costume. I thought that was a strange design choice.
You’ll need to get really familiar with all these weapons if you’re going to successfully rid the new-ish island of Palanai of all its monsters. It’s a new location, made a little more interesting by the random storms and flooding, but it looks a lot like Banoi, the island the first game took place on. If you had told me Riptide took place on the other side of Banoi, I would have believed you. That’s how similar the two locations are.
There are a few fresh, and extremely ugly, faces you’ll have the pleasure of meeting during your stay on Palanai, including Drowners — basically zombies that play dead in the water so they can pounce on you when you draw near — and handful of new “special” zombie types. There’s the Grenadier, who throws explosives at you (surprise, surprise), and the Wrestlers that are hulking behemoths that deal quite a bit of damage.
I may be wrong, but it felt like the zombies acted differently this time around. They all seemed sedated to me. I could easily run past groups of them and they wouldn’t even bother looking up from their corpse-meal. There are still those supremely annoying Infected that run at you screaming and flailing away, scaring me every goddamn time.
Assuming it isn’t just my imagination (it’s been a while since I played Dead Island), I like their new behavior. I was able to sneak up behind enemies for assassination attacks when I wanted to or I could temporarily embrace my inner pacifist and run past them.
I found myself skipping more and more fights the longer I played the game, and I think I know why. I’m going to blame the mind-numbingly boring side quests, many of which have you fetching items, clearing areas of enemies, or saving people after you’ve cleared the area of enemies. Even the new team quests aren’t interesting, and that’s because they’re also fetch quests. Fetch seven batteries so Logan can upgrade his equipment? Seriously? Has the well of quest design creativity run dry already?
Speaking of quests, perhaps the biggest addition to this game is its new “hub defense” moments. These are where you prepare for an onslaught of zombies and miscellaneous other creatures. You can prepare ahead of time by placing fences, mines, taking up mounted turrets, and completing the aforementioned team quests so your fellow survivors are more capable of defending themselves.
These bits are fun and successfully manage to break up the often tedious quests, but I would’ve liked to see more here. Give me more defenses, more options, and it would’ve been great if I could have really seen the bases I’m defending actually visually change as the game progressed. It would have been nice to see the survivors I’m spending so much time protecting and running errands for actually do something with their home while I’m gone.
Instead I can’t help but imagine they all bask in the sun with appletinis as soon as I fast travel away on my riveting adventure of picking up X to deliver to X so he can give me X amount of money.
I know, I sound like I hate this game. I really, really don’t. In fact, I really enjoy it. It’s a time-sinker, and possibly one of the best four player co-op games out there. If you have a few friends that share your love of the undead, this should be on your radar. It’s unpolished in an almost charming sort of way, and strangely addicting despite bordering on the monotonous at times.
The Final Word: I’m a huge fan of this series, but more could have been done with Riptide. It’s a fun game, but where its predecessor built a solid foundation ripe for innovation, this simply rests on the success of the original. It’s an incredibly fun co-op game, but you won’t miss out on much if you decide to skip this little vacation.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Dead Island: Riptide, which was provided by the publisher.