Dead Island: Riptide is a hard game to judge: as a sequel to Dead Island, much of it is so familiar to the first that it feels more like a very long expansion pack than anything truly different from the first title. But there’s nothing wrong with that, if the game plays well. And while Dead Island: Riptide may not offer anything remarkably unique in this sequel, if players enjoyed the questing, zombie-killing, and exploring the first time around, they’re bound to enjoy it this time, too.
Dead Island: Riptide starts with something of a reset button. Not a reboot, mind you, but that age-old gaming trend to make a character (or group of characters) have to go through a similar set of events without any of the tools and weapons they earned before, seen before in games like Metroid. Riptide does this by having the survivors of the previous games–who have shown resistance to the dreaded zombie bite–getting detained and quarantined by Frank Serpo, your typical capitalist scumbag, and reluctant Colonel Sam Hardy. There, ex-football star Logan Carter, Australian bodyguard Purna, rapper Sam B., and hotel receptionist/Hong Kong police officer Xian Mei meet John Morgan, a soldier and fellow immune survivor. Shortly afterwards, all hell breaks loose when the ship somehow gets overrun with zombies. As you fight your way out, the ship crashes, and your character wakes up on the island of Palanai.
Like the island of Banoi in the first game, Palanai is–you guessed it–heavily infested with zombies.
These guys just can’t win.
After meeting other non-immune survivors, it’s up to the team of immunes to venture into Palanai, find items to help fortify and support the defenseless and helpless, and kill lots and lots of zombies.
And then some more.
The temptation to say that Riptide is almost exactly the same as Dead Island is strong: the type of quests you’ll receive, the way the game plays, the looks of the game, much about it mimics the first game, almost identically. As DualShockers’ very own Chad Awkerman recently argued, games don’t necessarily have to force innovation to be considered good. But Riptide‘s mechanics were never ironed out in the first Dead Island, and some of those flaws persist in the sequel.
Expect to find zombies that–no matter how well you position yourself and aim your kicks or weapons–suddenly grab a hold of you; expect to clear a room and then suddenly have a zombie appear from thin air to attack you; and expect quests to be very, very predictable. When tasked to find an engine to make a boat work, I already knew the room I would find it in would be full of zombies. I also knew that as soon as I picked up that engine, the same zombies I had cleared out moments ago would respawn to hunt me down. I also knew that as I left on the boat, zombies would appear out of nowhere to swarm me.
That mission alone is not the basis of a repetitive game: but having mission after mission follow that script can get very tedious, very fast.
But Riptide isn’t entirely stagnant. To mix things up a bit, the idea that Palanai was flooded adds a dimension to the gameplay, introducing boats as vehicles, new environments, and new types of zombies. Boats offer a new way to explore the game, with Palanai offering less resorts than Banoi, similar forts and stations, and entirely new tree house like paths and settings around the island. A few new types of zombies were introduced, but the one gamers will run into the most is the “Drowner” type, who play possum in the water until a victim gets close enough to become food. Often, you can easily remedy this enemy by kicking floating dead bodies as you near them. Sorry, Jack, but there’s not enough room for the both of us.
Also added to the Dead Island: Riptide mix are defensible locations, which offers sort of Horde/Survivor Mode missions that need you to fortify areas with fences, protect allies, and kills dozens of zombies. Your team can also improve their skills, weapons, and location defenses with little missions and quests you perform for them, although it’s odd to do missions for other Immunes who should be venturing into the world themselves. But this is reserved for Multiplayer, which works as well as the first, allowing players to team up against the world. Having a buddy along for the ride makes Riptide a little easier, but not necessarily any better or more unique. Players can also import their Dead Island saves, which start them off at Level 15, even if the saved data was of a character below that number. This too is a nice little boost for starting the game, but the experience remains the same.
Is Dead Island: Riptide a bad game? No, not at all. Fans of the first will really love Palanai, which offers a step more of what Banoi did. But again, it’s only a step above, not a whole flight of stairs. More than anything, like I said before, Dead Island: Riptide feels more like a long expansion than a sequel, with the story and mechanics staying largely the same. If you like a large number of quests, stabbing, shanking, kicking, and clobbering zombies for hours, and doing it over and over again, Dead Island: Riptide is the game for you. If you were hoping for a little more change from the first title, then you’d better wait for the next game.