Games like Dead Island Riptide don’t come around very often and that’s a fact. There are few games that are spewing with so much potential that you would nibble your little finger off just to see them succeed in making all of your apocalyptic dreams come true. Sadly, what we are presented with is a paradise that you can’t bare to spend time in. A beautiful sandbox chocked full of zombies to batter, but one that feels as dead and lifeless as the fiends so eager to feast on your grey matter.
Dead Island Riptide is a rather highly anticipated sequel to, Dead Island, a game that benefited from a truly fantastic concept and some of the greatest marketing that this generation has seen. Thankfully, this sequel has addressed some of the heartbreaking glitches that dogged its predecessor, waving goodbye to quest breaking bugs and messy frame-rates. It is clear that this has been an area that Techland have been keen to address since their first voyage into the world of zombie sandbox RPGs.
Unfortunately for us though, where some issues have been neatly weeded out, others have popped up in their place. The worst of which occurred during the game’s prologue, where I suddenly and quite inexplicably lost all sound, including speech in the game. After a couple of minutes of checking the audio options, I began to wonder if my five year old TV had finally given up on me. However a quick flick to my TiVO revealed that all was well with my audio, and that Phil Mitchell’s voice was just as loud and overbearing as ever. After reseting my Xbox, the grunts and groans of butchered zombie foes were back and all was right with the world.
Aside from that, the spongy driving controls and some questionable AI (even by zombie standards), the game is relatively smooth running compared to the previous Dead Island offering which is a testament to the developers taking on the valuable feedback from players previous experiences. Though it’s probable they will have a whole heap of additional feedback to sort when planning a future installment.
Set directly after the events of the first Dead Island, Riptide sees our survivors reaching what they believe to be the safety of a military ship. What they don’t know is there is a fellow on board who has a particular interests in our heroes and their immunity to the zombie virus that is sweeping the local coastlines. The gang is quickly subdued and placed on lockdown in the ship’s hold and it is here that they meet John, a new playable character.
It is also aboard this ship that the rather bland prologue is set. Unsurprisingly, the zombies infest the vessel causing it to hit some rock formations granting the survivors an opportunity to escape. Trudging through the flooded corridors you get your first opportunity to bash some undead using whatever scraps of wood that you can get your hands on. It is also here that you get your hands on your first firearm, which is actually genuinely quite liberating, after clubbing your way through 20 or so braindead thugs.
However, after a bit of shooting, the ship crashes into some rocks and you wake up on a sunny beach surrounded by debris, and completely handed. Welcome to the island of Palanai, a tropical paradise and your new home for the foreseeable future.
You are soon introduced to some fellow survivors who have set up camp in a nearby village and set off to help them out and figure out a way off of the island.
The old cast are back in Riptide and you can choose to play as any of the returning survivors or the militant new boy, John Morgan. You can also import your character from the original game if that floats your boat.
Once you’ve picked your character, you can upgrade their specialisms using skill points which you gain from XP unlocked from completing quests and various options in the game. These upgrades can affect a number of things from your rate of health regeneration to the durability of the weapons that you wield. They can also unlock a variety of devastating moves and context-specific attacks, some of which are ace for dispatching low-level zombie fodder.
You are also able to utilise a fairly decent kick attack right from the start, which is a great addition to your general hacking and slashing. This attack enables you to knock an opponent down, giving you some much needed breathing room while you deal with its inevitably hungry buddies. This addition gives the combat a much needed boost and is a worthy improvement on the previous title.
You still have a stamina bar to contend with though, which depletes with every attack that you carry out. Though this means that you have to plan and time your attacks a bit more carefully than simply spamming the trigger, this can get a little frustrating when surrounded by foes that require multiple hits to defeat.
Targeting specific body parts will also do you a few favours as you can lop off a limb to slow a larger enemy down, or even aim for the head, scoring a critical hit, or if you’re lucky, a decapitation. Blades and blunt weapons ricochet off of the fleshy bones of your enemies with a satisfactory blend of gore and impact and in this sense melee combat is far more meaty than the original.
The ultimate gripe for me in Dead Island Riptide‘s combat comes from weapon crafting and maintenance system. Low level weapons like pipes and planks of wood degrade quite quickly, meaning that after a couple of hits, they become about as effective as a feather duster.
In the early stages of the game, you find yourself scrabbling around for anything that comes to hand and more often than not coming up short. You’re further hampered by a dreadful inventory management system and a plethora of weapons (like a flaming baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire) that you are unable to wield because of a low skill level. Who has ever heard of an adult that was too inexperienced to swing a bat?! It’s moment like these that you find yourself praying for an indestructible crowbar like Gordan Freeman’s. That beauty was built to last.
The driving mechanics remain as a primary mode of island transport, but these are joined by the addition of speed boats which you can use to delve deeper into Palanai’s jungle via its many rivers. Every boat has the ability to speed boost, which is essential for mowing down those pesky Drowner Zombies that like to latch on to your boat.
When not completing a main quest, you can wander off the beaten track to find and complete one of the many side quests. These will sometimes involve rescuing a fellow survivor, but more often than not they will turn out to be a fetch quest of some type (Go to A, pick up the painkillers, and deliver them to B). As plentiful as these quests are, there are very few that you can genuinely say are interesting or add any value to the game’s narrative.
Co-op seems to be the way to play though and banding together with a group of randoms, goes some way to eliminating the feelings of isolation and hopelessness. The game also does a great job of supporting drop-in drop-out gameplay to support this too. It’s an intuitive system that assesses your progress in the campaign and matches it to other players, ensuring that you start together in the chapter where you all left off.
Co-op can also improve many of the more grind-heavy missions like carrying an engine or heavy object that requires both hands and slows your movement speed. This is a bit of a chore for a solo play, but in co-op this becomes a fun game of protect the leader, as your teammates rally around you, beating the snot out of any would-be attackers.
Unfortunately, for a land a vast and full of life (and death of course), there just isn’t enough to keep you intrigued. Granted, some of the missions see you covering a lot of ground, with a decent level of challenge, but they will mostly bore you to acts of suicidal stupidity.
Character models are a touch lifeless in part and it often seems like NPCs find it tough to look you in the eye whilst talking to you, leading to some slight feelings of paranoia. In addition to this, some iffy voice acting can cause the dialogue to feel can wooden and stilted.
On the whole though, Palanai looks stunning from its sandy beaches, to densely overgrown jungles. The new dynamic weather system is also a real treat, even if it can be quite random at times. Much like Skyrim, a sudden shift in weather can completely change the atmosphere in any given situation. This often turns a sunny stroll along a coastal path into a terrifying slog through storms and low visibility.
To Sum Up
We all had rather high hopes for Riptide, but it seems that these will remain in limbo until the series’ major flaws are resolved. I really hope that these are resolved in a sequel and that the series begins to live up to it’s true potential. Everything deserves a
second third chance right?
In the meantime, if you’re looking for a thrilling story, high octane and endless zombies to stomp, you’ll unfortunately only find the latter here.
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360