Dead Island: Riptide PC Review
In an industry that likes to shout out about making things bigger, improving mechanics to make games better or coming up with an innovative idea, it’s highly amusing that the sequel to 2011’s rather popular Dead Island seems to throw away the concept of a sequel and return with a game that is amazingly identical to the first. After playing through Dead Island: Riptide, I can see why the game was not given the number two at the end of its name, and instead, ended up being called a spin-off title to the series. It makes the review easier to write too, and for the readers, well, you already know if you want this game, hate this game or will grow bored of the game, because everything you either liked or hated about the original rears its head in Dead Island: Riptide.
Riptide follows on instantaneously from the events of Dead Island, with all four original survivors landing on an military ship hoping to find peace and protection, but end up instead being brought into custody by the guy in charge. Against their will, the survivors are examined to see what is causing their body to fight off against the infection, but soon pass out after having too many drugs pumped into their system. Waking up, all hell has broken lose as the zombies overrun the ship, causing for panic and a simulation of the Titantic, as the carrier crashes into the rocks and washes ashore the survivors onto the game’s new location, the island of Palanai. Meeting up with another group of survivors, the protagonists begin to do what they already have been doing previously – smashing zombies apart. The plot is once again forgettable, like some B-movie zombie film, but the main attraction in Dead Island isn’t the story. It’s about smacking zombies.
Previous players can use an imported save file from Dead Island to continue the use of their character. If you did not play that game, then your selected hero will begin from level 15. Along with the return of Xian Mei (dangerously wields bladed weaponry), Sam B (rapper who sings about Voodoo nonsense), Logan (the sporty guy who is a jack-of-all-trades) and Purna (gun girl), a new guy named John Morgan joins the line-up. His ability is hand-to-hand combat and comes with one nifty skill that would make even Duke Nukem proud – the talent to send a zombie flying backwards with a simple kick with his boot. The new character was inspired by a popular mod based on Fist of the North Star and allowed gamers to smack the daylights out of zombies and launch them with powerful impacting fists. Sadly, he isn’t as exciting as that mod, but if you like getting up close and personal with zombies, then his melee focus will give you that amusement.
Changes to the gameplay itself are small, with the new mechanic of wave survival thrown into certain parts of the plot. During this phase, players use surroundings, such as barb-wire, to set up defences before you acknowledge the start of the zombie wave. Once initiated, you’re stuck in this central area fighting off waves upon waves of zombies, occasionally getting a break to heal and gain supplies before more arrive. Each one can last a varied amount of time, but it clearly shows on screen how healthy the waves are, giving you an indication if you’re close to killing the remaining bits of running, rotting meat. At first they were fun, but this new mechanic needs fleshing out to keep it more interesting, such as being a separate mode with more depth added for the cooperative play. I can see the perfect setting in my head – a Dungeon Defenders style mode with Dead Island’s gameplay would be rather fun.
With the new features gone over, what is left is what you had in the original game. The island is new, but the location contains the same aesthetics as the previous game, only with some areas feeling more jungle-like, making it seem as if it was an extension to the island of Banoi. It certainly would not look out of place in Dead Island. Now, I’m not saying the island itself is awful; on the contrary, this location makes for some very interesting places to visit. From the shanty towns to the sea village and caverns, there’s something to discover during your first adventure. The swampy areas can be traversed easily thanks to the newly featured boats. Using boats makes travelling much safer than swimming, since the new drowner zombies like to act lifeless in the water while waiting for some poor soul to accidentally brush past them and be met with a surprise attack. All that said and done, returnees will see the same sunny tropical setting, the same clear and raining skies, all while doing the same repetitive quests.
Yep, through the 15 hours or so I spent with the game I did a lot of moving from one point to another, killing lots of zombies, retrieving an item for a NPC or killing some bigger zombie, then making my way back to hand in the quest, with the occasional survival wave thrown into the mix. I just wished for a change, something different to the gameplay that wasn’t such a fetch-quest lover’s wet dream, and the longer I played the more I got bored of it. It’s a game that I feel you have to play in small chucks, and doing long sessions as I did by yourself isn’t the best way to go about Riptide‘s style of gameplay.
It’s the same for the combat, in which it’s a fun mechanic and has a very nice ear-pleasing hit with every decapitate zombie, but it’s basic, undeveloped and clunky at heart, and soon falls into the same repetitive pattern of discovering a zombie, slicing it with a sword or smashing its head open with a hammer, picking up any loot and then moving on. Like the game as a whole, it draws on your ability to withstand it to the point it turns tedious and you have to stop. Classic guns like shotguns and rifles to more fun weapons, like the set-zombie-on-fire flare gun, all appear in-game, but using firearms just didn’t feel right for me. Maybe because only one character specialises in guns, but I found more fun was had discovering blueprints and crafting nail bats or hot rod swords (it sets zombies on fire) than shooting with an assault rifle.
Experience points are rewarded for kills and successfully finishing quests, which are used to unlock additional skills for the characters. A lot of the skills are replicates from Dead Island, and just like in the previous game, many of them weren’t worth my time. I found myself focusing on a few skills that I liked and then was not fussed where the rest of the points went. Give me health, give me power and then I’ll go have a laugh killing zombies.
Cooperative play automatically makes most things fun, and having a friend or three (up to four players) come join in the zombie slaying can be a right laugh. More so than doing the quests, as having friends can help remove some of the tedious play, making the group forget the task at hand and go off slaying zombies for an hour or two of harmless fun. Since death is voided of any real punishment – money is deducted from your total when you die – taking chances and throwing yourself into a horde is rather amusing. This time around (well, it was sorted in the last Dead Island patch, version 1.3, which is funny enough the initial version of the retail release of Riptide - guess that explains the reduced number of bugs this time) the cooperative scales much better, having separate scaled enemies on the client side, so if a high level player enters a low level player’s game, the zombies won’t be impossible to beat for the newer player.
The version I played was for the PC and most of it looks great. The environment flourishes with a rich and tropical colour palette and the environment scale is huge, with a big draw distance helping with a sense of scale. I had a few issues with ATI drivers at first, causing cutscenes to feature a strange distortion in colour, but this issue was fixed in the recent driver update, and everything else ran smoothly. Signs of a console port do creep in, as some of the textures are low quality, but if you want to run this at its best, then the PC version is the way to go.
More of the same, yeah, it sounds like I am repeating myself like a bad case of deja vu, but that is exactly what Dead Island Riptide is, a reprint of what came before with no improvements to the core mechanics that were really needed to take the game to great heights. If you have no problem with that and want more Dead Island, then you’ve got more Dead Island, so go ahead and enjoy what you already know you will. For me, I got bored after playing through Dead Island, and having more of that extended didn’t do much to excite, leaving me disappointed in what should have been a great follow up. Dead Island Riptide is a stop-gap extension to the franchise that is enjoyable in small doses, but disappointingly fails to address problems that plagued the original game.