Although Dead Island hay have failed to fully live up to the hype generated by that awesome trailer, the mixture of Borderlands and Left 4 Dead still made for an enjoyable open-world zombie-masher. Sure, it was repetitive, often glitchy and had one of the worst endgame battles I’ve seen in recent times, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Now Riptide is here to deliver more of the same, but can it refine the formula?
Dead Island: Riptide returns to the tropical setting of the original, and events take place immediately after the first title’s finale. The four immune survivors of the first game land on a military ship, only to be taken into custody by an army-controlling private corporation. Joined by newcomer, Aussie soldier, John Morgan.
The group are being experimented on by the company, which intends to turn the zombie infection into a weapon. However, as all good outbreaks go, things don’t stay under control, and the immune protagonists are once again tasked with escaping the zombie-infested tropics.
More of the same?
Upon first firing up Riptide it didn’t take long to realise that the game played a little more smoothly than the first. Controls seem more fluid, the engine runs a little better and there’s a bit of extra overall polish. However, it also doesn’t take long to see that little has changed.
Riptide is, right from the off, more of the same zombie-killing we experienced in the first game. You traverse a large, tropical island using makeshift weapons to brutalise the undead, scavenging for money, materials and food, and performing tasks for fellow survivors.
Quickly after the game’s opening aboard the military vessel, you find yourself on the new island of Palanai, another in the Banoi archipelago. Soon you meet a group of survivors, and after repelling an attack on the camp (which uses a horde mode style mechanic) the game gets back to business. In order to get off the island, a goal made all the more urgent thanks to imminent nuclear strike, you’ll need to help the locals so you can secure your safe passage away from the area.
This basically means that you become the dogsbody for anyone still possessing a pulse, and you have to face the undead on a series of quests, many of which boil down to ‘go here, get this, bring it back. This is no more apparent than the in game’s new team missions. These new quests come from the other immune heroes and NPCs in your group of fellow survivors, and require you to scavenge the world for various items. Do these missions, and your comrades get stronger and others offer more services.
The ends may justify the means here, but the result is a tedious string of fetch quests that offer you rewards like a violent Pavlovian exercise. It’s made a little more bearable as you’ll often coincidently locate items during your other travels, but these really aren’t missions you actually enjoy or want to do.
Smash, dodge, kill, and repeat
Luckily, other missions can be a little more varied, although the game’s constant stream of zombie-slaying does become a little repetitive, a shortcoming of the original that’s replicated here. Sadly, Ripide does little to refine and improve the combat mechanics of the first, and all that’s needed is constant button mashing and the occasional dodge and kick. As long as you don’t exhaust your stamina bar, you’re golden.
Yes, some enemy types, such as suiciders and thugs require more intelligent means of destruction, and a little more skill, but for the most part you’ll be swatting away normal undead, which are only made into a real threat due to weight of numbers.
Of course, it’s a game about the zombie apocalypse, and so much of this is to be expected, and in truth, the gore-filled ultra violence is some of the most satisfying around, there’s just so little else here to break it up, it soon descends into tedium.
New balls, please
Techland has attempted to add some new content, most notably the addition of an island hit by storms, with flooded areas. This necessitates the need to use the new boats. However, aside from new enemy types that can ambush you and pull you off the boat if you fail a QTE prompt, it’s hardly all that different than the various trucks littered around. It certainly doesn’t add any major new mechanics to the mix.
Character levelling is enhanced. Once again there are three skill trees dealing with special abilities, combat skill and survival traits, with the new character possessing some new additions, and you’ll also level up skills with the various weapon types as you use them.
But, apart from that, it’s a struggle to really find anything new, and this also translates to the flaws, many of which still remain, and are even more of a problem.
Needs more work
Vehicle control is still poor, and there’s no rear view again, which is a massive pain in the backside. Even looking around the 180 degree viewing cone is stupidly sluggish, especially when zombies can attack from any side in a flash. Quite why your character can only move their necks at a snail’s pace when in a car isn’t clear, and it should be fixed.
Item spawning is just ridiculous, and eliminates any need to worry about item collection and money saving. Containers and bags you loot respawn constantly, sometimes even when you move just a few meters away and don’t leave the area. In fact, it’s possible to grab inexhaustible med packs and other supplies just by driving up and down the road, looting the regenerating supplies until the cows come home.
This abundance of money is lucky, though, as once again the cost of weapon modification and player resurrection is high. Still, with money being left absolutely everywhere, in every location, you’ll rarely run out.
One of the biggest issues when it comes to gameplay, and again, one that afflicted the first game, is the ropey collision detection and constant tendency for players to get hitched to the environments. You’ll always find yourself stuck to the world, be it a waist high fence, pole of wood or even 10cm step. Whatever it is, you’ll be stuck to it. This is annoying enough when navigating the lush world, but it’s maddening when you’re desperately trying to back peddle away from oncoming zombies, or trying to escape a dire situation. Poor show.
Also, and this is a particularly personal bugbear for me, why, in a game themed around a tropical island, focused on water and starring various highly skilled professionals and holiday goers, can you not swim? Go into deep water and your screen goes blurry and your health starts to drop. It’s just lazy, and has no place in this day and age, certainly not a title like this.
With many of its predecessor’s faults still apparent, Dead Island: Ripide is a game that simply needs more TLC applying to it. The core game is perfectly enjoyable, especially if you team up with friends, but the rough edges are sharp enough to cut you. Nice visuals can’t hide some of the shoddiness, and there’s a definite need for some more variety.
Riptide ends up feeling more like DLC than a full, standalone game, and maybe that’s what it should have been. A few patches could remedy many of the technical faults, and this would make it a much more enjoyable experience, but if you quickly become bored of samey gameplay, then you may want to give this a miss.
Dead Island: Riptide will be released on April 23 in the US and April 26 in Europe for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.