The history of the Dead Island franchise is fairly turbulent. Many gamers felt let down that the debut title didn’t meet the emotional expectations taken from it’s debut trailer and confusion that the developers were keen to iterate that Dead Island Riptide wasn’t a sequel, despite following on narratively from the original game. So does this new game meet audience expectations?
Dead Island Riptide is one of those sequels that tries to stay true to its roots. It follows a formula that I’ve often wished other sequels followed, expanding upon previous incarnations and improving in areas where it needs to, rather than attempting to become something it isn’t and in the process alienating those of us who loved the original. However, as the hours ticked by and I played more and more of Riptide it became painfully obvious that the opposite is also true. Don’t change enough, and the experience becomes bland and feels totally underwhelming.
That’s not to say that Dead Island Riptide is a bad game. It’s extremely fun and smashing zombies with planks of wood and watching their broken, lifeless arms uselessly flail around at you never really gets old. The problem is that the core experience is so much like the original Dead Island that sometimes it’s easy to forget which title you’re playing.
As far as the storyline goes, Dead Island Riptide is a direct sequel to the first instalment. Ignore what you have heard on the internet about it being a standalone title, it’s not. Continuing from the end of the original game, you soon discover the secret plot of a mysterious private military corporation and their desires to create weapons from your blood and… oh it’s all very predictable. I’m sure you get the picture.
Needless to say you end up on yet another island in the Banoi archipelago which – surprise surprise – has been overrun by zombies. It’s up to you to help protect the few survivors you encounter, more often than not by collecting or fetching certain items from around the island. This a mechanic that players of the first game will be more than familiar with and still has a tendency to grate after the tenth time.
Joining you in Riptide is a new character, John Morgan, along with all the characters from the first title. Morgan pretty much screams “I’M CALLED JOHN MORGAN BUT I’M REALLY WOLVERINE” as he stands there looking all glum with his fist blades. He’s interesting enough to play, but it’s almost impossible to shake the feeling that it’s a nod to everyone’s favourite angry X-Man.
The new quest hub system is a nice addition though. Through it, you can select certain quests from survivors from wherever you are and while it’s not something I used extensively, I’m sure many people will find it extremely useful. There are a few new mission types to be had, such as a Horde-esque mode which has you upgrading and installing defences to hold of rampaging zombies. It’s nothing spectacular and nothing massively different from Dead Island.
Graphically, it’s once again exactly the same as Dead Island – glitches and all. This is not helped by the fact that you find yourself on a tropical island once again. I really think Techland missed a trick here, and I can’t help but think that changing the setting would have created a much more engaging and unique experience. I would have loved to see some something different. A rainforest, an urban setting, just something to set itself apart a little more.
More worrying, however, is the sound – specifically the voice acting. It’s dreadful. The script writing is actually pretty good, but when the lines are delivered with less emotion and feeling than a zombiefied Kristen Sttewart it’s very hard to engage with. In some cases it actually caused me to laugh at the terrible delivery when it’s obvious that was not the intended response.
Techland deserve a special pat on the back for the multiplayer aspect though. The drop-in, drop-out system works perfectly and seamlessly, and is one of the best I’ve seen in action. The added ability to mark and highlight zombies, objectives and locations with one button press certainly helps coordinate your teamwork if you don’t fancy talking to anyone.
The improvements to multiplayer solve a lot of problems that the first title had, which is handy as Dead Island Riptide is one of immense fun when played with friends (as you can see from the Let’s Play video). It’s a solid enough experience if you want to go it alone, but team up with a few buddies and the enjoyment is increased tenfold. I would even go as far to say that it’s one of the most fun and intense co-op games I’ve played in recent years.
Overall, Dead Island Riptide could have been fantastic. Instead, I sense that it’s going to leave a few people wondering what the point was. It was hard to shake the overriding feeling that, rather than a brand new instalment in the franchise, it is more like a stand-alone expansion pack. If you have never played Dead Island, you’re going to have a great time with Riptide and it will keep you entertained for hours and hours. However, if you have played Dead Island to death – as I’m sure many day one buyers will have – the enjoyment is certainly going to be limited.
Dead Island Riptide is scheduled for release on April 23rd in NA and April 26th in EU for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.