Dead Island Riptide, the follow-up to Techland's cult hit Dead Island, has washed ashore, bringing with it all the highs and lows that made the original so addictive . . . including the game interfering bugs. Not quite a full blown sequel, yet infinitely more than simple DLC, Riptide commences immediately after the concluding events of Dead Island. The four protagonists - Sam B., Purna, Logan Carter, and Xian Mei - have narrowly escaped the infected island of Banoi and the wickedness of Ryder White. But their sigh of relief is short lived as the helicopter they thought would transport them to safety quickly lands on a nearby aircraft carrier preparing to brave the impending monsoon that was hinted at so often during my original play through of Dead Island. Unsurprisingly, the four companions are imprisoned aboard this vessel to research their immunity from the infection just long enough for mother nature to assume control and violently launch them headfirst into the storm. The result sets the stage for the next chapter in what I feel has become one of the best zombie survival franchise of this console generation.
Although Riptide doesn't innovate or promote much advancement from the likes of Dead Island, it does offer just enough updates to keep things interesting; the most notable providing the option to import your playable character from Dead Island - an option I took full advantage of. Having enjoyed the abilities, quirks, and character that Logan Carter offered, it was a simple decision for me to continue playing as the former American Football star and all-around zombie curb stomper. His current level and prior abilities were seamlessly ready to use at the start of Riptide. The only thing not brought over from Dead Island were any of the items or modded weapons that were so lovingly crafted. In a way it makes sense as the opening cut scene to Riptide strips you of all your possessions.
If you're new to the Dead Island franchise, or have made the decision to simply start as a new character, the developers at Techland have provided you with the option to select any one of the (now) 5 playable characters (the 5th being John Morgan - a former Australian Defence Force soldier) beginning at level 15 - thus allowing you to pick and choose which skill trees you would like to enhance.
From here the game is very much a continuation of the events and game play of Dead Island. Although you've been shipwrecked on a new island - Palanai - the objective is still very much the same: 4-player cooperative survival, questing to upgrade your character, all while looking for a way off the island. The story is mostly unimaginative, the characters you encounter are bland and uninspiring, and the zombie hordes continue to attack with the same ferocity.
Although it may appear that Techland has simply taken the the code from Dead Island and put a new skin on it (which they pretty much did), they've also added enough "new and shiny" to keep things interesting. Aside from the fact that experiencing this game in 4-player co-op can be indescribably fun, they've also added a number of new special infected to keep players on their toes and constantly fighting for their lives:
- The Grenadier - A zombie that rips off chunks of his own body to hurl at the survivors
- The Drowner - A play-dead zombie that floats in the flooded waterways of Palanoi only to spring to life when your character gets close enough
- The Wrestler - A hulking brute whose arms have mutated into massive clubs
- The Screamer - Think of the Witch from Left 4 Dead
Also new to Riptide is the ability to travel through large portions of this flooded island by boat. This game play element helps promote the idea that you're not only the survivor of the zombie apocalypse, but also the survivor of a devastating monsoon. Similar to travelling by jeep, the waterways of Palanoi are just as infected with zombies as the streets of Banoi were. Running over - or through - them is just as satisfying, yet it also poses a new threat. The water-bound undead are considerably more active. Get too close to too many and they will claw their way onto your boat, inciting an up-close-and-personal mini-game similar to when a zombie grapples you on dry land. Correctly following the on-screen controller button prompts (ala QTE) will result in smashing their heads against the hull of the boat. Fail to remove them in time and you'll be pulled overboard and quickly surrounded.
Lastly is the inclusion of some tower defense style game play elements. Throughout the campaign you'll have the opportunity to fortify a variety of camps by blocking a number of entrances with rolled up sections of wire fencing. Against the horde of zombies that come at you these barricades will only last so long. Thankfully, you're also provided with a variety of mines and, on occasion, the placement and mounting of some much needed mini-machine guns stripped from a downed military helicopter. These sections of game play are a nice break from island exploration but can last a little longer than I felt was necessary.
As much fun as I've had with Dead Island Riptide it's not without it's bugginess. Although the game would be hard pressed to match the same level of irritating bugs the original Dead Island offered, they do still make an appearance; some more annoying than others. The frame rate is probably the most egregious and can slow to a crawl during some of the more frenetic moments. I also encountered an irritating, yet mildly entertaining, bug when attempting to use my first boat during a single player mission. After carrying the motor through hordes of zombies (easier said than done), I located the awaiting boat via the waypoint - except the boat wasn't there. Invisible except for the floating (yes, floating and spinning) motor placement indicator, it took me several minutes to time it just right. Had this mission been a side quest I could have easily overlooked it and moved on. Unfortunately, this was a part of the main story and was detrimental to the game moving forward. I was eventually able to move beyond this "interesting" obstacle and continue my play through. Other bugs may have reared their ugly head but nothing as drastic as that which I was forced to endure during Techland's first foray into the Zombie Apocalypse.
On the one hand, Dead Island Riptide is more of the same: a melee focused, first-person zombie hunter that some might not agree was necessarily needed. On the other hand, the somewhat more stable game play, inclusion of new gaming mechanics, and new enemy threats is just what the evil doctor ordered. In the end I found it to be undeniably fun, oddly addictive, and enjoyed my time spent playing co-op with fellow A Band of Gamers members; as well as wandering the island from bloody shoreline to bloody shoreline. Techland has proven to me that they can take a solid idea and build upon it with the necessary steps. Riptide may have taken baby steps, but at least they were steps in the right direction.
Below is some game footage of my single player campaign using an Elgato Game Capture HD:
**Dead Island Riptide is available on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. For the purposes of this review the game was played entirely on the PS3**