Dead Island: Riptide (PC), Review

Even a few glimmers of sunshiny hope can’t save Dead Island 1.5 from an ocean full of undead and rotting flaws.

Platform: PC, PS3 and Xbox 360
Developer: Techland 
Publisher: Deep Silver
Category: Action RPG, Survival horror

Fresh off the heels of the controversy surrounding its female-objectifying “Zombie Bait Edition,” Dead Island: Riptide has finally been dredged up from the undead-infested waters for another round of zombie bashing fun. For newcomers to the series, you may still have a blast cutting off some zombie heads with all sorts of machetes and baseball bats. But for veterans of Dead Island, the first thing you need to know about this game is that Dead Island: Riptide is not Dead Island 2. Deep Silver was very clear from the beginning that Riptide is more a direct expansion of the first game or if you prefer, Dead Island 1.5. This much was immediately apparent the moment I started playing and it began to beg the inescapable question: did the world really need a Dead Island 1.5? Well unfortunately for Deep Silver, I did happen to play the first Dead Island through to completion and so whatever tricks they used to repackage the same exact game under a different name didn’t go unnoticed.

Let me get one thing straight: I was actually a big fan of the original Dead Island. Sure it had its problems, but the addicting quests and fun melee-focused gameplay always kept me coming back for more. The story of Dead Island: Riptide picks up exactly where Dead Island left off, with your rough-around-the-edges crew of immune survivors escaping from the zombie-ridden island of Banoi, only to quickly be caught in another tropical hell on a different island: who would have guessed, right? The foul-mouthed, can’t-hold-us-down team of Sam B, Xian Mei, Logan Carter and Purna continue to be the most unlikeable and forgettable heroes in the video game industry and I’d be surprised to find anyone who actually cares about their fates in the game. The writing and cut scenes are of the same poor quality from the first game, with the occasional profanity thrown in just for good measure. One thing I did like though is that every character begins the game at level 15 (which makes sense, since they’re coming hot off the heels of all that vacation resort slaying action) and you can even import your old characters from your Dead Island save file and retain their experience levels.

In addition to the more traditional main quests that have you running back and forth across the island collecting supplies, Dead Island: Riptide also introduces “Dead Zone” missions, which borrow heavily from the first game’s “Bloodbath Arena” DLC style of gameplay, and an odd Tower Defense type of quest, where players must barricade themselves in the various safe locations on the island and fend off insurgent waves of zombies with whatever they can find in the shelter. There are also a few new zombie types to encounter in this one, like the Drowner, which is this seaweed-covered zombie who loves latching onto your speedboat whenever you have somewhere really important to go.

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But it was absolutely baffling to me, considering there were so many technical problems with the first game in terms of graphical tears and a clunky interface, that Deep Island: Riptide doesn’t even bother to fix any of those glaring issues this time around. Literally nothing has changed here: from the same exact awkward menu screens, to the less-than-perfect HUD, the “Eh, good enough” approach rings true here in all aspects of the game. The graphics, while nothing special, still suffer from technical hiccups at almost every turn. One time I was climbing down a ladder and my character’s hands blatantly missed every rung and just magically latched onto the air around them. I decided to play as Xian Mei for my review playthrough and every time I would get knocked down by a zombie, I could see these glitchy, flickering holes on the edge of Xian’s skirt.  

By far, one of the worst things about Dead Island 1.5 is the game’s performance, which somehow manages to be even worse than that of its predecessor. The opening prologue chapter, which takes place on the rainy deck of the ship your crew landed on at the end of Dead Island, is riddled with bugs that render it borderline unplayable. Not only is this an underwhelming first glimpse at the beginning of the game, but Dead Island: Riptide can’t even handle all of the rain and stormy ocean textures without slowing down to a crawl. I thought it was a problem with my computer at first, but after some quick research online, it seems I’m not the only one to encounter this issue.

Your characters constantly move like they’re drunk and can’t even stand and the sluggish controls are cuttingly offset by how fast and smoothly you can pan the camera. Considering the entire first map is called “The Flooded Jungle,” your character moves even slower in water environments and will quickly drown in any pool that’s slightly deeper than waist level. Oh, and speaking of water, get ready to experience some of the worst weather changes I’ve ever seen in a game. You’ll literally be standing in the sunshine one second and then the sky will go dark and start raining the next. It’s like a switch flips and you can actually see the split second when the next bit of coding begins to take effect and the transition (if you could even call it that) is so visually abrupt that you can’t help but laugh. 

In fact, there are so many poor design choices and LOL-worthy logic in this game that I constantly found myself asking “Are you serious?” or “Really?” the entire time I played. One of the biggest missteps that comes to mind is the awful map interface, which leaves me convinced that no one at Techland or Deep Silver has ever played a game that used a mini-map before. On certain fetch quests, players will be tasked to locate an item that can be found anywhere inside of a highlighted green area on the map. Now this is fine and all, but why on God’s earth would you not include those green areas on the in-game mini-map and force us to keep interrupting the gameplay to go back to the main map screen?! You can also set a custom destination on the map, but whether the mini-map actually decides to lead you there, well your guess is as good as mine. And this is all without even mentioning how the mini-map will mistakenly lead you in the wrong direction time and time again. 

Another pretty big gripe I had with Dead Island: Riptide is that the game loves un-equipping your character’s weapons at every opportunity. Say you’re driving a car and then hop out to slice up some undead. Oops, back to your fists. If you check your inventory or map in the middle of a skirmish: oh hey, there are your fists again. It’s not even that logical of a thing for the characters to do themselves and it makes the game’s interface just as big of an adversary as the deadliest zombie on the island.

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Now, I’ve been pretty harsh in my review so far and for good reason. But the thing about Dead Island: Riptide is that if you can get past all of the glaring technical flaws and the fact that Deep Silver cut a lot of corners to bring you what is basically the same game only slightly re-costumed. The core gory melee-style gameplay and addictive leveling-up quest system are still pretty fun and engrossing. The new environments and story progression, while still pretty similar to those of Dead Island, are different enough to make for a few nice moments and the drop-in 4-player CO-OP seems much more fluid than the nightmare that it was in the previous installment.

But even these minor glimmers of hope cannot save Dead Island: Riptide from its ocean full of flaws. This one should have been trimmed down and sold as what it really is: an expansion pack or DLC of Dead Island, with all of those glitches and problems that made the first game suffer still boldly in place.

Pros and cons:
+ Fun melee combat and scavenging gameplay
– Insane amount of bugs and glitches
– Nothing has changed since Dead Island
– Clunky interface and mini-map

Story – 4/10
Graphics – 5/10 
Gameplay – 7/10
Music – 6/10 
Multiplayer – 7/10
Replayability – 6/10 

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Total Den of Geek rating – 5.8/10