Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC // Genre: Action Role-Playing
Platform Played: PlayStation 3
Developer: Techland // Publisher: Deep Silver
Dead Island: Riptide doesn’t feel like a fully fledged sequel to the original 2011 release; it feels more like an expansion on what the first game offered. With that being said, if you didn’t enjoy the original for whatever reason, chances are Riptide won’t sweeten you on the franchise. The original Dead Island had its problems, but above all, it offered a fun RPG experience, emphasising brutal melee combat and weapon customization. All of that is present Riptide, but the problem is that most of those original flaws are also here, alongside the fun that was originally provided. Techland has offered some new additions to the formula throughout, though nothing feels significant enough to separate Riptide from the original. What we have left, is something that feels very much the same as the franchises first outing. Techland missed their chance to really improve an enjoyable formula, instead choosing to ship Dead Island 1.5.
Riptide picks up directly after the original’s conclusion. Our four immune survivors are aboard a helicopter bound for a ship after escaping the island of Banoi. After some government experiments on our survivors, we are introduced to the new playable character, John Morgan, and the ship is hit by a monsoon. Washed up on the island of Palanai, you soon find out that the infection has also found its way to the island’s inhabitants. During the game’s narrative, I was excited at the prospects of the overall story, as it hit some interesting plot points, but never truly capitalized on the ideas. This ultimately leads to a somewhat flat ending, leaving you with further questions, without tying up plot points the narrative provided. Riptide‘s narrative also feels much shorter than the original, with the main story lasting just over 10 hours if you avoid most of the game’s side missions; though even completing most side missions won’t increase the game’s longevity more than a handful of hours.
Side missions feel more significant than the original. Don’t expect to be hunting down teddy bears for survivors, as most missions provide a more realistic feel. Alongside the usual side missions, we are given team based missions. These are basically collectible missions where certain survivors will require a certain number of a certain item to craft you various weapons and make the group stronger. This was an interesting aspect, as you will now see the other playable characters in your game world even if you play the game entirely alone. This allowed for you to become more attached to the characters themselves, which I think was something the original didn’t allow. If you did play the original title and still have your character’s save file, you will be able to import it into Riptide, keeping your skill tree and levels intact. However, if you choose to start from scratch, your character will start at level 14 due to their experience from the original game.
These team missions also affect the strength of your group during Horde Mode-like defence missions. Multiple times during the game’s narrative, your group will be attacked whilst held up in an area. During this time, you are able to use barbed wire fences to keep the zombies at bay, mount mini-guns to stop them in their tracks, and fight with your group against wave after wave of the undead. These provided a fresh, frantic, and intense situation, as you try and juggle keeping your group alive, and slaughtering as many enemies as possible. These sections helped you also become more attached with the members in your group, as you would save their lives and then double team zombies as they arrived.
Riptide also offers new areas called Dead Zones, which play out every similar to your typical dungeon arena. These are small, separate areas of the map that are crawling with enemies and usually one overly powered monstrosity. They provide rare materials and a bunch of experience for those willing to take on the terrors inside. Personally, I think that these were a nice change of pace, rather than running around completing mission after mission.
The problem that arises, however, is the game’s lack of punishing you for death. During the harder main missions, and especially the Dead Zones, the lack of accountability is apparent. When you die, you are re-spawned 7 seconds later at the cost of a small amount of cash. Enemies don’t respawn, and actually keep the same amount of damage they have been dealt. So if an enemy is providing a great challenge, you can run in, drop countless explosive mines beneath their feet, perish and respawn like nothing happened. In most cases, killing the beast in question will offer enough money to suffice the amount you lost, making avoiding death pointless. This takes away any strategy combat could offer, since you can basically mash away on the attack button until you die and repeat the process. I was disappointed in this feature, since money is a very easy material to gather in the first place. Even though this was a problem, it didn’t take away from the satisfying combat Riptide provides.
Riptide‘s combat is similar to that of the original Dead Island, which means it is once again a brutal experience. It isn’t just the satisfying brutality that makes Riptide’s combat a fun practice; it’s the chance of unique moments during every battle. These unique experiences make Riptide‘s combat handsomely rewarding. There was the time when I heard noises behind me, and with 2 swipes of my electrified katana, I left two decapitated zombies. Another time, I waited for an infected to run over a mine in its efforts to attack me, only for its body to land by me, and then crush its skull beneath my feet. These moments leave you awe-struck; not only does it make you feel like a badass zombie-slayer, but it allows offers some great conversations with other players who also have similar stories to share.
One of my favourite additions in Riptide‘s weaponry is the claw-hand. No game had been able to capture the true essence of Wolverine quite like this weapon, as you slice zombies’ limbs from limbs. Riptide also includes a new overpowered running kick. Sounds simple enough, right? This kick sends zombies flying, with the constant chance of a one-kick-kill ever present, and ever satisfying. The weapon crafting system also returns in Riptide, allowing you to upgrade your weapons, modify them with blueprints for numerous weapon variants, and repair your arsenal. Apart from a few new blueprints and weapons, everything feels very similar. It would have been appreciated to see a more in-depth weapon customization added, or at least certain improvements on its current form.
The ever-addicting nature of levelling your character is still apparent, with levels being achieved thick and fast during Riptide. Numerous times, I would find myself wanting to do just one more side mission, and clear one more Dead Zone in order to achieve that next satisfying level and the upgrade point awarded with it. Riptide also allows you to upgrade your weapons efficiently, by using specific weapon types during combat. The constant stream of experience popping on screen, challenges being completed, weapons upgrading, or leveling up mirrored the addictiveness of Call of Duty’s multiplayer. With so many rewards coming your way, you are constantly reminded that every battle you encounter is improving your character’s progression.
Riptide once again falls into old bed-fellows with its poor voice acting, with the main cast still providing a so-so effort. This is especially apparent from some of the smaller NPC characters, who provide some poorly delivered and poorly written lines. What is surprising, however, is that the level of voice acting provided in the game’s audio log collectibles not only provide some of the most endearing stories in the game, but also deliver some top quality voice acting. The latest playable character, John Morgan, provides an average performance during the main narrative, yet in his audio logs, his performance is believable, moving, and portrays an entirely new side of the character. The difference in voice acting between these pieces of audio is incredible, making you wish all the characters were able to provide a quality on this level during the main story.
The main issue I found myself constantly recognizing during my time with Riptide was the amount of sameness from the original game. Visually, we are given an experience barely better than the original title, which is disappointing when you think that the original was created in 2011. It feels outdated to say the least. Even after almost two years, battles are constantly interrupted by an impressive amount of slowdown, bringing encounters with more than a few zombies to a complete stand still. Oh, and remember those creepy “I am going to steal your soul” eyes that the NPC characters possessed in the first game? Well, never fear, they still exist in abundance. We are also offered a majority of the same zombie character models we did in the original, who possess the same audio cues as they have previously. I don’t mind studios using a few assets for their franchise that have been proven effective, but when we are constantly provided the same experience we had previously, it’s hard not to feel like Techland didn’t try to improve the foundation they built from the original Dead Island, instead happy to copy their previous work.
Though the game suffers from identity crisis when compared to the original, Riptide does offer some new additions. We are given some new enemy types, such as the Drowner, who is a basic zombie type that is found in flooded water, playing possum while waiting for players to get close. While the Screamer will use high pitch sound-waves to immobilize your character leaving him open to attacks. We are also given the ability to control boats for the first time, since the island was hit with a monsoon one of the bigger environments is best traversed that way. The controls feel very similar to driving vehicles, so don’t expect any boat-simulation efforts when you’re behind the wheel. Riptide also adds a new dynamic weather system that fails completely. The weather changes are so sudden and abrupt, that they feel unnecessary and wasted. Within the space of 30 seconds, the weather went from blue skies to monsoonal rain 5 times. This was a feature that didn’t work.
Drop-in drop-out online co-op returns in Riptide, with its overall performance impressing. Having missed out playing the original game with friends, the online features in Riptide are easy to get your head around. Search for either a random match or check out your friends list and join their session. All your experience will carry over, and the undead will scale to provide a challenge to your team of players. I never encountered any online lag or connections issues during my many hours of online play. The cooperative experience provides some great moments, especially when you and a friend are trying their best to outdo each other in the most stylish kill. Since combat is Riptide‘s greatest feature, adding a second character to the mix brings a competitive, yet cooperative experience that highlights Riptide‘s best asset.
Dead Island: Riptide won’t change anyone’s opinion of the franchise. If you didn’t enjoy the original, you won’t enjoy Riptide. The same technical issues and game flaws are ever-present, which is a disappointment from someone hoping for an experience that builds upon the groundwork Dead Island originally created.
With that being said, combat is just as satisfying as ever, and the minor additions provide a fresh take, albeit a minor one. Dead Zones and defence missions might not be the most original ideas, but they provide a nice change of pace from the confusing main narrative. Riptide constantly rewards you for your efforts, creating an addictive system that pushes you towards “one more mission.” Though it had many flaws that the original game suffered from, I kept finding myself wanting to get that next level, wanting to complete that next challenge, and continue upgrading my character.
Dead Island: Riptide provides a fun experience; it just feels like this isn’t the sequel many were hoping for, with barely fixing issues and reusing many of the same assets from the original game. Could Techland have hoped to provide one more Dead Island to capitalize on the console’s install base? Possibly.
However, in the end, if you’re looking for more mindless zombie killing action from the franchise, Riptide will provide many hours of entertainment. Because, let’s be honest – who doesn’t want to kill zombies like Wolverine?
+ Addictive Leveling
+ Satisfying Combat
+ Fun, easy and functional online co-op
+ Defence missions and Dead Zones
– Same flaws as the original Dead Island (voice-acting, slowdown)
– No punishment for death
– Feels more like an expansion then a new game
– Outdated Visuals