Zombie games are a dime a dozen. Because of that, if yours is mediocre, you’re going to need to do better than that if you want to stand out in a sea of putrid sameness. Dead Island fell within the confines of mediocrity upon release; a game I had high hopes for considering its strong co-op focus and supposed menagerie of engaging missions, weapons, and carnage. It ended up a frustrating mess of connectivity problems and bugs that made what there was to enjoy an exercise in futility. Technical issues aside, Dead Island was ambitious, but lacked the finesse of heavy hitters like Left 4 Dead or other must-have zombie-slaying sims.
Dead Island Riptide, from its inception, was a silver lining a chance to undo the damage done by its predecessor and start fresh. And yet with everything on the line, Riptide still disappoints, a slapdash collection of the same pitfalls seen in the original game, including the survivors themselves. Still the same racial stereotypes, same bizarre combat, and fetch quest slow as before. Though it’s important to note that this time around, at least there’s a suitably action-packed opening. It’s not the overhaul I was looking for, so let’s hope any future installments take a time out to focus on making those improvements that really count.
The crew from the original game may have made it off the island, but they’re quite unlucky, as they find themselves on a ship in the middle of turbulent weather not only being overrun by military zombies, but facing the prospect of being shipwrecked. Again. Only this time, the story parns out on another island in the Banoi archipelago. The prison ship certainly wasn’t preferable to being marooned again, but now the immune survivors must basically relive the same nightmare they did in the first game, except Palanai offers the illusion of new scenery.
But really? Riptide feels like the same exact game, copied and pasted (with some fancy formatting here and there) into the same canvas Dead Island was painted on. You can import your previous game save into Riptide for a challenge that adds to your level of play, an excellent decision on Techland’s part, and this means roaming zombies will be scaled to the proper difficulty as well. In theory, you could hop straight out of the first game into the next without skipping a beat if you wanted to. And while this functionality works well, it only contributes to the feeling that this standalone release is little more than a bloated expansion pack new character and all.
Dead Island has always pinpointed exactly what a zombie-laden role-playing game should include: enticing level-up bonuses, plenty of weapons, and fresh meat to test them out on, but it treats its own plot as an afterthought and its own cut scenes and dialogue as expendable. As such, as you never feel as though you’ll ever actually connect with this motley crew, especially when their behaviors and actions feel inconsistent with that of normal people. For example, Xian Mei’s still decked out in formal attire and high heels on an island rife with wreckage and likely flip flops. This warrior is still traipsing around untarnished stilettos and attire from the original game. It may seem like a minor nitpick, but for a game that parades realism with degradable weapons, stamina bars, and locales, moments like this (and the fact that characters still look straight ahead when driving, even when turning) hamper any means of suspension of disbelief.
At least there’s the inclusion of AI-controlled companions who do act as helpful augments when the going gets rough, and they bring with them tower defense-like segments that aren’t particularly exciting, but they do add a dash of variety to the samey fetch quests the campaign is comprised of. They aren’t perfect, but offer a brief reprieve and act as key moments where having a friend around for co-op is a good thing. Dead Zones can be a fun diversion from zombie-slaying as well, especially when you can get a good group of players together. A weather system has been implemented as well, but the occasional torrential downpour does little to alter gameplay beyond being slightly annoying.
The game finds its niche when it comes to pure, unadulterated zombie massacres, however. It can be genuine fun when you pick up a cleaver for the first time and bury it in the skulls of your enemies. It’s fun to hack off limbs and bludgeon zombies to death zombies to death as you gain experience points. It’s even fun sometimes when Xian Mei lifts a leg in a highly unnatural manner to curbstomp the advancing horde. All the pieces are in place for a good time, even in the less glitchy areas there are problems. It never feels as though your weapon is connecting in a satisfactory manner with your target. There’s no heft to your strikes. It feels like you’re cleaving through air.
That’s a word that sums up Dead Island: Riptide: airy. It aspires to do so much but it hasn’t yet cleared up the issues that plagued the original. It lacks any real substance, instead choosing to bask in gimmickry and the momentum from its fan base rather than polishing itself up and aiming to create a stable and engrossing experience rather than coasting along on a sinking ship. I’ve got faith in the Dead Island franchise because all the pillars are in place for it to be magnificent – the developers just need to get it all together for an eventual proper sequel. Just like the improvement of Two Worlds II over its lackluster forebear, Dead Island 2 could be a beautiful thing. We’ll just have to write off Riptide as more of the same for now.
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