Dead Island: Riptide is the “not really a sequel” sequel to the moderately successful Dead Island. While my time with the original was limited I found it to be full of potential if not a bit awkward with some visual and gameplay glitches, but nonetheless it was quite promising. This time around it seems as if the developers of Riptide chose to try and offer a few new bells and whistles, but they did not really address some of the issues that hindered the predecessor in the first place. The bottomline here is that we have ourselves a not much improved expansion as opposed to a whole new game, and in an industry that prides itself on quality and innovation this is pretty much unacceptable these days.
Riptide starts out almost immediately after the ending of the first game. The main characters have hopped aboard a helicopter and escaped their Banoi Island hell presumably heading for safer shores. In a surprising twist of fate (or not so surprising) they end up on some sort of Australian military ship and they’re subsequently arrested and thrown into the brig (isn’t that what they call prisons on ships?) to meet their fate. They end up meeting a new playable character by the name of John Morgan. John is a soldier with the Aussie army that has basically gone AWOL. In a horrible turn of events the zombie outbreak that had infected Banoi hits the ship. A short intro level later and you’re washed up on Palanai facing the exact same situation of survival that you faced in the first game. It’s fairly obvious at this point that you’re setting yourself up for a lot more of the same if you played the original Dead Island.
Jumping into the gameplay you’ll find that almost everything is identical to the previous iteration. Melee focused attacks along with skill trees that can be built up to eventually turn you into a one man zombie destroying powerhouse. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because there’s something remarkably satisfying about trimming a zombie’s head off its own neck. I consistently found the actual combat to be fun. Most satisfying was building up your ‘rage meter’ so you could unleash your characters special offensive moves and do some real damage. I played through as John, and with his specialty being hand-to-hand combat and I found him to be particularly effective with Riptide being a game that has mostly a melee based style of gameplay.
Apart from building your character’s skills via experience and the skill tree, you also can improve upon and build new weapons. Weapons drastically improve as you advance through the game, moving from rusty tire irons to electrified katanas and flaming knives. Admittedly there is something that is perfectly badass about ripping a zombie apart with an electrified sword.
Building up your character takes time, work, and patience. Aside from advancing the plot you’ll have the option to do standard RPG style fetch quests to bolster your experience. While fairly standard fodder for anything role playing, I found the fetch quests were quite often too long and with little reward. You can be sent from one location to another that’s as far away as humanly possible which ensures you’ll have hordes of the undead to mow through. As satisfying as combat can sometimes be you can’t help but start to get bored with unending waves of bad guys and this is where your patience becomes a factor. On top of that you feel like you can never really let your guard down because as soon as you think you’ve cleared an area the zombies respawn like mad, often right behind you as you’re completely unaware. It feels like never ending combat at times. At least the enemies are varied with a few new types being introduced as new to Riptide. You have Infected, which are high speed adrenaline fueled zombies much like the ones from the ‘28 Days Later’ films, and you have Screamers, who incapacitate your character with ear piercing shrieks. These two are an only a slight example as there are quite a few more new enemies to worry about.
Gameplay aside, seeing as it’s much the same as before, the real fun that lies in Riptide is the cooperative multiplayer. A game that’s ho-hum at best on a solo run is made better with co-op if only because you get to make the trek with your friends. Sadly, it’s not a case of the game actually being better as much as it is the camaraderie between you and your pals that makes it a more enjoyable experience. If you choose to play Riptide I’d highly recommend that you choose the co-op option as you’ll likely find yourself really bored if you go it alone.
When it comes to the voice acting I have a really hard time saying if it’s good or bad. It’s not unbearably horrible, but at times the dialogue came across as hokey and cheesy. As a whole it’s passable but there were certainly times I felt like turning down the volume and reading the subtitles instead of listening to the overdone accents. Unfortunately I had the misfortune of having to reboot the game on more than one occasion as the sound glitched out leaving me battling in complete silence.
Sticking with the Dead Island 1.5 theme you’ll certainly notice that there really hasn’t been much of a visual improvement either. Essentially you’re presented with a reskinned game that has all of the same graphical issues that surfaced before. I noticed constant clipping, severe framerate drops and lines interrupting cut scenes. It’s a sad reminder that the development team failed to fix anything that held back Dead Island in its first go round and it screams lazy development.
All in all I think Dead Island: Riptide would have been more successful if it was marketed and priced for what it really is, and that’s an expansion upon the original. Even the glitches would be overlooked as they came part and parcel with the first game as well. By presenting it as a fully priced new title most are expecting something that improves upon the original and addresses the mistakes of the past. It’s hard not to look at Riptide as an easy cash grab that required little to no new development. If you were a fan of the first and didn’t get bored of the repetitive zombie slaying you might enjoy your stay on Palanai, but I’m willing to put money on most players giving up after only a few hours into the game.