In 2011, Techland’s Dead Island brought zombies to the lush tourist island of Banoi and I rabidly sunk my teeth into its creative mixture of first-person role-playing, looting, melee-ing, and cooperative play. It was a game that had issues, but they could often be overlooked in favor of the many unique ideas contained in the large open world - a world that was even more ridiculous when you brought along three friends. The game deservedly performed well, so it isn’t a shock that there’s a sequel out nineteen months later. Was that quick turn-around enough time to address the shortcomings of the original and build upon its successes?
Set on the new island of Palanoi, Riptide picks up right after the end events of the first game and includes a refresher on the story up to that point. The game is a stand-alone entry, but I found it hard to shake the feeling that this was more of an expansion than a true sequel. To begin with, you have the option of either importing your character from the first game or starting with a new level 15 character. I started anew with the master of throwing, ex-quarterback Logan, since I had played as blunt-master rapper Sam B on the Xbox 360 previously. There is one new playable character added to the original four, but the main mechanics in the game are strikingly identical. From the analog-based combat to the leveling system to the way you upgrade weapons - it’s hard to distinguish if anything has changed. In fact, almost all of my review for the original Dead Island is still applicable for Riptide. While the workings may not be fresh, it’s easy to forgive because it’s still hilariously gratifying to throw an electrified fire axe at zombie, have it somehow cut off all four limbs in slow-motion, and then boomerang back so that I can hurl it at the next screaming monstrosity that wants to have a bite of me.
Some tweaks have been made to address concerns that people had with the first offering. I personally encountered far fewer technical issues this time around, but there’re still some issues that accompany a game of this type. Thankfully, weapons now degrade at a much slower rate and there aren’t any of the frustrating difficulty spikes that came into play when gun-toting enemies entered the fray. In fact, there’s probably only about fifteen minutes in the entire campaign where you’ll be dodging bullets. This aligns better with the melee-centric combat that works so well in the game and eliminates the necessity of using firearms. They are still in there if you’d like to use them, but I hardly fired a bullet in the nearly thirty hours I played. However, this also means that there’s not much of a human faction to battle against, so I hope you came to kill zombies. Because you kill so many zombies in this game – walking ones, ones that are trying to stand up after taking a nap, running ones, fat ones that spit venom, ones that float face down in the flooded jungle, and a few other varieties including a new grenadier model that throws chunks of flesh at you. You’ll bludgeon their skulls open with hammers, slice their legs off with katanas, and break their arms with tonfas. Fortunately, the somewhat random nature of the results keeps the killing mostly fresh – especially if you are playing with friends. There really is no other game where I’ve lodged fourteen bladed weapons into a hulking monster, which due to the associated elemental effects caused him to catch fire, be electrocuted, and puke his guts out all at the same time. That’s the kind of stupidly dumb fun that occurs during Dead Island: Riptide’s best moments. I will say that towards the end of the game, the play started to become repetitive as even though the zombies level to your character, I started to feel like I could wipe through any number of the walking dead without much worry.
The mission structure can add to the repetitive nature of the game as well. At its core, this is a game filled with fetch quests, but I’m perfectly fine with those types of goals in a loot based role-playing game. There’re plenty of side missions and areas to explore as you work through a flooded jungle and eventually into a Mediterranean-inspired city. The primary difference that sets Riptide apart from its predecessor is the introduction of hub defense missions. As you venture through the game you hole up at various home bases with your fellow zombie hunters and support characters that serve as shops and quest-givers. At key parts in the story you’ll have to defend these bases from hordes of the rushing undead by laying landmines, setting up chain-link fences, manning mounted turrets, and coming to the aid of any members of your team that get overwhelmed. By gathering specific supplies for each of your compatriots, you can strengthen your defense with the likes of electrified fences and better weapons for your teammates. These sections are the most tense and most memorable portions of Riptide, but with only a handful of them in the entire campaign, it seems like a great idea that wasn’t entirely fleshed out. Still, their presence is one of the differences I can point to and say with certainty, “This wasn’t in the last game!”
Also new this time around is the introduction of Dead Zones. The entrances to these areas are scattered around the map and within them you’ll find rare crafting items, multiple weapon crates, and the possibility of running into boss-like super zombies. These raid-type areas offer up some of the most challenging encounters in the game, but the cleverness of them is tainted by how often the environmental assets repeat. You’ll quickly recognize that you’ve entered the cave stage or the apartment stage or the warehouse stage. It just adds to the overall feel of Riptide not being a true sequel, but rather a substantial add-on to Dead Island.
The real question with Dead Island: Riptide is whether you enjoyed Dead Island and wanted more of it. I fall in the camp of “yes, please” on both accounts, so this mid-priced entry provided me with a new island that was moderately different than the first, a couple new mission mechanics, a new character to try, a continuation of the story, and lots and lots of zombies to torture. At the same time, I’m hopeful that as the series goes forward that more steps will be made to evolve the game beyond retreading so much of the same water. I still think there is plenty of fun to have in both solo and co-op modes as there really isn’t anything exactly like Riptide on the market. Well, besides Dead Island.