If you were itching for an open world zombie game in 2011, Dead Island was just what the doctor ordered. It offered up a bloody four player co-op experience in a market that wasn’t quite over-saturated with similar experiences, and it soared commercially for it.
But the zombie-fest also came with a price: it had a heap of technical issues, game breaking glitches, and to some, a general lack of polish and heart that caused many players (myself included) to come away somewhat disappointed.
With all that said, I hope you liked Dead Island, as you’re basically just getting more of it.
To be clear, Riptide is not a full sequel, as developer Techland has made abundantly clear leading up to release. Instead, this is basically an expansion with a new island and a new character, continuing the story from the very end of the first game. In fact, there’s even a “previously on Dead Island” recap, as well as a short intro video to re-acclimate you to what’s happening in the timeline.
The new character is the unassuming John — who, like Purna and Xian, has a violent militaristic background. His focus is melee attacks, making him more inline with Sam B’s moveset. He’s not wholly original, but he’s a neat addition to the cast. Even still, more new characters in Riptide would have been appreciated, as I didn’t really like any in the original. If you’re keen on bringing your old character back, importing is quick and painless — I was able to bring in my old Sam B with no issues whatsoever in a few seconds. New characters on the other hand have a heap of skill points to distribute right away, to get you up to speed with imported ones.
So where does your adventure begin? With your crew captured on a ship of course! The action begins after a few quick twists of the narrative, informing you that you’re to be held captive by a new big bad — that is, until zombies somehow attack the ship, and jostle your holding quarters loose. The ship serves as a tutorial of sorts, reacquainting you to the world of Dead Island and its mechanics. Depending on your skillset, it could take you anywhere from 20-60 minutes to complete, and then it’s off to the new island of Palanai you go!
Don’t get too excited about your new vacation destination though: whereas the ship was a fairly interesting prospect, showing off the game’s combat in tight corners and hallways and some decent water effects, the island is basically just a duller version of the first game’s Banoi. Whereas Dead Island‘s skyscrapers wowed me on occasion with their unique aesthetic designs, so much of Riptide feels like a reskin of the more boring jungle areas that took up the latter half of the original adventure.
It’s a shame, because Techland is capable of so much more than generic swamps and jungles. In a twist from the original the latter half of Riptide is actually the most interesting (an area called Henderson), showing off a township that causes a much needed scenery mixup juxtaposed to jungle after jungle, but by then, the wear and tear of the experience has already taken its toll. Zombie sieges and boats attempt to create new waves, but ultimately come off as ideas that should have stayed in the alpha stage. The “same old same old” fetch and kill quests also don’t help it transcend the genre in the slightest.
That isn’t to say that Riptide isn’t enjoyable at its core though, because ripping off rotting limbs and slicing up zombies is pretty much just as fun as it was in the first game when the dullness isn’t setting in. With more skillpoints to play with, you’re free to provide yourself with more abilities like the must-have “quicker knock-down recovery” skill, and more stamina and durability increasing buffs. With all of these skills in hand due to Riptide‘s continuing adventure, the game is significantly more fun given the fact that you’re not constantly fighting the game’s pace-killing weapon decay system or low stamina rate nearly as much. Co-op works as advertised, and my online multiplayer sessions didn’t have any connection issues to speak of.
Like the original adventure, Riptide will keep you entertained anywhere from 20-30 hours — more if you opt to explore Palanai or complete every sidquest. Creating new characters or participating in co-op will no doubt net you more, but I can’t help but feel like something new could have been added to keep people interested who may have had their fill of two whole campaigns — like a simple full-on Horde Mode, or a fun Arcade-like extra . In fact, zombie sieges would have served well as their own mode rather than a canned, pointless addition to the campaign.
If you absolutely positively adored the original Dead Island, you will most likely enjoy Riptide. If you had any hesitations whatsoever however, you may want to hold off here until a sale, or an opportunity to go at it with three other friends. It’s a shame that Riptide couldn’t have been a bit more polished given how much opportunity there was here for improvement, but as it stands, it’s basically the same flawed game we got nearly two years ago — for better or for worse.
This review is based on a physical copy of Dead Island Riptide for the Xbox 360.