“Hitting Zombies With Stuff You Find On The Ground” is a rich genre; a deep vein of video game enjoyment. Dead Island, which we reviewed right here back in 2011, was easily one of our favorites. Now we’ve got our hands on Dead Island Riptide, the followup title. Time to see if this rose is still in bloom.
If you’ve played Dead Island, you know precisely what Riptide will look like. After a brief prologue on a flooded aircraft carrier, you are back to the lush tropical setting of a South Pacific Island. That means plenty of palm trees, beaches, and jungles, just like last time. Things aren’t perfectly identical, though. Whereas Dead Island had a strong resort vibe to its early levels, you get a much more “native” feel to the setting this time around. There are crowded-together, ramshackle shanty towns and ancient, dilapidated missions. There are frequent rainstorms—the prologue prominently features a severe storm—and they have left much of the island flooded as a result. This means lots of gross, murky water to wad through in place of those pristine pools from the first installment. The zombies are suitably rancid and horrific (I’m particularly grossed out by the… glaze on the Floaters’ butts. *shudder*). All of it looks pretty darn good, albeit a bit familiar. Basically, the devs realized that their environments weren’t broke, and decided not to fix them.
Unfortunately, there were some parts of the visuals that were broke, and they didn’t fix them either. I was unimpressed with the facial animation on the NPCs last time, and they continue to be lackluster. Likewise the hair continues to look a bit… off. Nothing that interferes with gameplay, but gorgeous.
The UI continues to work well, with all of the key information displayed in prominent but out-of-the-way fashion. Call me a sucker for “number porn” but I really like the little damage counts that burst from the enemies when I wail on them. There’s something truly satisfying about setting room full of zombies on fire with a molotov cocktail and watching red numbers spew out of them like popcorn overflowing from the popper. Interactive items are nice and obvious, with a specular glow pulsing across them to catch your attention, and with things get too dark you can always flip on the flashlight. The graphics don’t strike me as having advanced at all since the last game, but they still do the job quite well.
If you’ve played Dead Island, you know precisely what Riptide will play like. Weapons are plentiful but weak. Your options are the same as last time, in terms of classes, people who have names, but I have dubbed Stabby Lady, Shooty Lady, Throwie Guy, and Clubby Guy. Each of the classes have their own detailed tech tree, and since we are talking about a very direct sequel, you can actually import your character from last time. In my case, last time I played it on the 360. If you’re starting from scratch, the game provides you with a level 15 character and lets you select from Balanced, Survival, Combat, or Custom presets. I went balanced, and this time around I went with Stabby Lady. Once you are in game, you’ll find that every class of weapon levels up separately, with each level bringing its own benefits. You’ll get things like reduced stamina cost, higher weapon durability, or (naturally) higher damage. Your tech tree can help you stay alive with health regen, add new abilities like the highly useful and deeply satisfying head-stomp, or give you the ability to pick the locks of the more valuable chests.
One aspect to the game which I must mention is the “zombie horde attacks”. You’ll remember that in Left 4 Dead there would periodically come a rush of zombies. It was always an intense and aggressive sequence. In my opinion, the raw savagery of the combat in Dead Island gives takes it to a whole new level. There is a sequence early in Riptide where you have to face a zombie horde in a burning settlement. I cannot describe to you the adrenaline fueled glee that comes from hacking through a legion of flaming zombies with a poisoned ax, causing them to puke their guts out, then turning and throwing a knife into the back of a monster snacking on one of the survivors. Never has “all hell breaks loose” felt more apt. Technically these sequences are defend/escort quests, since failing to preserve the lives of all of the survivors will cost you the win, but happily a failure only takes you to the end of the last wave. The game actually makes a tremendous effort to keep you in the fight, with death typically costing you little more than a few seconds and a hunk of your money.
The vehicles, including boats this time around, are handled in the same way. You feel less like you are driving and more like you are playing a character who is driving. When tooling around in the water, you’ll encounter one of the scattered additional zombie types, the drowner, who will try to pull you into the water. This is accompanied by a short QTE to break free, and since it is always the same sequence it really isn’t much of a bother. Other new zombies include a mutated scientist with pustules that he tears off and hurls at you, and the crazy-hyper Butcher. I actually enjoyed that the first time you encounter a new zombie, you get a little entry on their strengths and weaknesses.
This time around I spent a little more time messing with multiplayer, and I really liked it. There is a perverse joy to starting an area with a friend, both of you without weapons, and turning it into a game of “Super Zombie Stomper”, hammering downed zombies with your high heel until they are paste. If you have no friends, the game has a clever “nearby” system that will allow you at the push of a button to pair up with players at the same point in the game, with similar stats, in the same area. Handy.
The “Borderlands + Zombies” feel is alive and well, and still loads of fun.
If you’ve played Dead Island, you know precisely what Riptide will play like. (Sensing a pattern here, people?) You’ll be hearing lots of Australian accents screaming about many bad things, while L4D-esque atmosphere music plays. I’ll say this, I spent a lot of time hacking at zombies with the aforementioned poisoned ax, and the rapid fire retching was hilariously entertaining.
The story of Dead Island is the backstory of Riptide, with it taking place immediately after the first game. As is so frequently the case, the story is a little vestigial. All you really need to know is that you are in a place with zombies, bad people are responsible, and you want very much to be in a place without zombies.
Is Dead Island Riptide like Dead Island? Yes. Very much so. The visuals and gameplay are pretty much identical, with the same strengths and weaknesses. Same goes for the story and audio. But I genuinely enjoyed the original. If someone had told me that Deep Silver was going to release a trio of $20 DLC add-ons to Dead Island, and they collectively added up to Riptide, I would have been pleased as punch. Getting them as a single standalone title just makes things easier.
8.2 / 10: A small but welcome smattering of additions to an already entertaining franchise.