Dead Island had gosh knows how many fooled the first time around. Most of the
interest was, of course, thanks to that trailer, and people thought 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 even tried the sad trailer
trick again (largely met this time with indifference, so well done you lot). You won't
fool us this time around Dead Island: Riptide.
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. Dead Island's notional appeal
is in sauntering around a paradise-gone-awry - the juxtaposition of idyllic setting
and total horror clashing - while thwacking your way past legions of the undead as
you do so.
Sadly, Riptide's location is far less novel this timearound, and the game's systems
seem at odds with its tone.
The same four survivors are back (goody), joined by a new Australian guy who
specialises in hand to hand combat and snarling machismo. Although it makes no
difference, really, as Dead Island's at its most fun when you're lopping limbs off with
bladed weapons. Because nothing says harrowing survival experience more than
wandering around an infested tropical resort nonchalantly swinging a Katana.
It'd be nice to say Riptide has improved on what made the first game such a slog,
and it's made 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
bunch 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 blandishments 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.
In some ways Riptide is worse than the original too. 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 too, and for some reason it's absolutely awful, as
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 clear, 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 too
that they 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
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 though, 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.