Dead Island had many fooled the first time around. Most of the interest was, of course, thanks to that trailer, and as such buyers would have been forgiven for thinking they’d be getting a harrowing, serious game. Then it came out and turned out to have as much emotional resonance as going to the toilet. Riptide is no better.
It’s been described as a spin-off of the first game, which is a good call on the part of Techland and Deep Silver because if they called it a sequel they’d have been taking the piss. Riptide is basically the first game in a different location: as before, the survivors of a zombie apocalypse band together to explore their environment, looting and shooting their way to a potential escape. The same four survivors are back, joined by a new Australian guy who specialises in hand-to-hand combat and snarling machismo.
Dead Island’s notional appeal is in sauntering around a paradise-gone-awry - the juxtaposition of idyllic setting and total horror clashing - thwacking your way past legions of the undead as you do so, and Techland gets at least the last part of that equation right: the game is at its most fun when you’re lopping limbs off with bladed weapons.
Sadly, Riptide’s location is far less novel this time around, and the game’s tone is often at odds with its systems. Speaking of which: it’d be nice to say Riptide has improved on what made the first game such a slog, and there are incremental improvements in some areas (it’s way less buggy this time around).
But the experience is… well it’s the same isn’t it? It’s Eldorado with zombies part 1.1. It’s the same Sisyphean trek through an island paradise making mincemeat out of the same ravenous, badly-dressed horde as the last time, only with a new cast of characters to talk to and go on seemingly endless fetch quests for. They’re just as annoying as the last bunch, repeating the same old statements over and over when you walk by them. They look dreadful too, animating like Gerry Anderson puppets, and they don’t blink. At all. There’s nothing wrong with a game being a bit frayed and rough around the edges (it’s part of what makes Deadly Premonition so brilliant) but Dead Island: Riptide is so inherently charmless that it’s just another reason to sigh at it.
Another reason still is that, in some ways, Riptide is worse than the original. There are hub defence missions that are completely worthless. They’re clearly designed for multiplayer, and probably meant to be tense, but they turn into tedious wars of attrition. You can travel by boat this time around, but it’s absolutely awful - zombies try to board and attack you from behind, sometimes killing you through no fault of your own, because your boat moves so bloody slowly. Weapons still degrade too quickly as well, resulting in many, many drawn-out trips to the inventory screen to equip something else.
Dead Island: Riptide, like its predecessor, just has no idea what it wants to be. It clearly wants to be taken seriously. The nature of the quests make this obvious, as you go on excursions for missing family members and talk to characters that come out with painful stuff like ‘culture is the first thing to be sacrificed when things get this way.’
That’d all be well and good if the gameplay focused on the desperation and sadness, but when you can go lopping off heads with gay abandon using Chinese war swords (how the hell did a Chinese war sword end up on a tropical archipelago, and for that matter how come I found a belt in a computer hard drive?) any drama just dissipates. The action’s more like an early Peter Jackson film, only obviously not as funny or smart, as you cudgel your revenant quarry in the testicles, your character coming up with some foul mouthed quip at the same time.
It’s pulling in a million different directions at once. It’s clear from the marketing that Techland and Deep Silver don’t have a clue. On one hand they give us these terribly sensitive, heartfelt trailers, but then they threaten to give the little Ed Gein in all of us a statue of a dismembered torso in a smashing bikini. Nice work chaps.
Back on point, there’s maybe a case of the game being more fun in multiplayer, and true to form it picks up a notch when running around with others, but seeing as anything’s more fun when playing with others, that’s faint praise really. It’s pretty likely that if Dear Esther had a multiplayer it’d be more fun too (imagine starting a clan for Dear Esther...). The Dead Island franchise is geared towards co-operative play, but as with the first, it does so at the expense of the single player. Borderlands was the same, but it was far more engaging and characterful. And competently made.
The frustrating thing is that occasionally, a good game threatens to make itself known, and it does some things very right. The combat is still good, with a satisfying 'thunk' every time you slaughter your enemies, and you do fall into some sort of rhythm with it. In short bursts it’s a lot easier to get on with too, as prolonged play leaves it feeling very tedious. It’s atmospheric, although oddly nowhere near to the extent of the first game, and there’s no place as unique as that game’s holiday resort. The music is really good though: brooding, melancholy synths channelling John Carpenter at his best.
On the whole however Riptide is yet another missed opportunity, and just too painfully average, wonky and padded out with filler to truly recommend.
Version Tested: PC
Completed main quest in 14 hours. Did some sidequests before realising I didn’t really want to help these people. Played multiplayer missions with some people that may have been from France or Belgium. They were very nice.