Dead Island was a big late-summer surprise when it dropped two years ago. Sure, it had a flashy CG trailer and it had been in development for half a decade, but expectations were pretty dim for this game by Techland, published by small-time publisher Deep Silver. Well, the game sold out and did so for a while. It had its issues, but its core zombie-bashing gameplay, complete with four-player co-op, was solid enough to overlook them. Dead Island: Riptide doesn’t provide any surprises this time around, but its refinements and the sheer largeness of its content will be plenty for fans and newcomers alike.
Lots Of Old Love
For those coming to this game fresh (or having been battered by the first game’s sluggish second half), Riptide opens with a reintroduction. After escaping that blasted island, you wind up on a big ol’ military ship that’s being secretly controlled by a guy named Serpo. He, in pure Umbrella Corp fashion, still wants to weaponize this infectious virus that’s turned everyone else into blood-thirsty, savage zombies. You and your three colleagues – along with a pair of new faces – are kept below decks for a period of time while they conduct bizarre experiments on you. Of course, things go bad pretty quick and after Serpo flees, your massive boat runs aground on a whole new tropical island where you’ll need to establish a beach head with a whole new cast of characters.
Much of Dead Island‘s appeal comes from the fact that it’s an RPG. You’ll level up your character, dole out specific perks from various talent trees and watch as numbers fly out of enemy’s heads when you deal damage. That you can play in a party of four lends it a very fast-paced Dungeons & Dragons feel, minus the Cheeto dust. If you have a character from the previous game, you can import them with all their skills and inventory intact and the game’s enemies will scale accordingly. For newcomers, a game like this feels like a welcome follow-up to last holiday’s Far Cry 3, with a deadlier tropical environ, the ability to race Jeeps up and down the shoreline, and a variety of new quests. There’s nothing sophisticated about any of them as they’re mostly fetch this, then fetch that or as most of the main quests go: defend this area against the hordes. Any MMO fan will devise a ‘best route’ through the jungle/city/etc. to drop off and pick up quests in the most efficient way possible. It’s the journey, not the destination, that counts here and playing alone is depriving yourself of much of the game’s fun. I honestly wouldn’t even bother stopping by the local GameBox to pick this up unless you have at least one other friend to play with you.
Just as before, you’re going to get a thrill out of the combat, which still feels visceral because you’ll spend much of it in melee range. Building off what Condemned did when the Xbox 360 launched, there’s a rhythm in dodging, kicking opponents off and striking them, especially as a combination of your animations and the camera’s movement makes you feel like you’re really heaving that massive axe through the air or slashing off limbs with reckless abandon. Every hit feels real and the rush of stomping zombie heads into gory messes never gets old, especially as you’ll also need to manage your stamina; there’ll be no crazy hacky-slashy motions here. You’ll have access to a galaxy of weaponry, helped in part by the ability to upgrade and modify them. Your weapons will degrade through use and need repair, which will force you to change strategies often and leave you scrambling to find a repair bench after a good amount of time in the field. There are plenty of guns and if you’ve got the materials, you can even craft ammunition when the available ammo boxes get light, but you won’t feel sorry to just holster the pistol in favor of the ol’ serrated shovel.
Plenty Of New Love
Riptide, like its predecessor, is a technical and artistic marvel at a distance and a little bit less up close – at least on the Xbox 360. Shimmering jaggies exist everywhere and in specific instances, having an object stand between you and a specific light source creates some extremely jagged render artifacts. It’s not appalling, but it is noticeable. Also noticeable are the Morrowind-era amount of bugs in the game. It’s not as bad as the original game in terms of moment-to-moment play, but you’ll notice the framerate plummet during zombie water deaths, corpses that simply will not stop vibrating and plenty of other errata as you progress through this weird world. Nothing ever broke our world or crashed our games, but it’s not helpful to see such easily-reproducible issues happening so often in a game of this caliber.
There’s been many a raised voice about whether this game should have simply been DLC for the first game, which becomes a preposterous notion as soon as you begin playing. Techland has made little refinements here and there not only in regards to graphics and animation, but also making levels feels a little more evenly loved. (Yeah, there’s still sewer levels. No, they’re not that bad this time!) There’s also the issue that at the current going rate for downloadable content, a game like this would cost you more than $59.99 to buy piecemeal. This game is easily as big as the original, so while it’s a soft sequel all the way down to the UI art, character models, and sound bites, there’s so much of it that it warrants the price alone.
Depending on how much you value the game’s side quests – and there are plenty – Dead Island: Riptide can easily last up to fifty hours. It sucks to say that this is gaming’s dry season, but Riptide‘s arrival could not have been more perfectly timed to fill it.