Videogames are fun; it’s a statement that highlights what has kept the industry alive for decades. Sometimes, they try to be something more, with David Cage leading the way with ‘experiences’ such as Heavy Rain and Fahrenheit. However, Dead Island decided to ignore the industry’s revolution of engrossing storylines, intriguing characters and uncanny realism to focus on why games became the multi-million industry it is today: mindless enjoyment. But aside from the plethora of dismembered limbs and interesting weapons, there was very little about the original title that was memorable.
Dead Island: Riptide kicks off with a video catch-up for players new to the series or for those that simply forgot how our four heroes made it off the island of Banoi. Once you settle into the shoes of your poorly equipped avatar, you find yourself captured on a military ship that is now overrun by hordes of the living dead and it is up to you to help the firearm wielding soldiers with your lead pipe. The twenty-minute prologue does a fine job of showing new players the basics, while keeping returning fans mildly amused as they discover what’s new with the emergent statement being ‘Finally, a game launch with few bugs and glitches’. Techland has pulled off something that seemed too distant an objective when both Call of Juarez: The Cartel and Dead Island released last year and has launched a title that has few performance issues. To a degree that should be applauded. There are occasional mishaps though. The island of Palanai can be bathing in sunlight one moment and in the blink of an eye be in the middle of a monsoon, or where clipping issues tend make corpses fall through the sand leaving only the feet behind.
Considering the gameplay however, it’s not surprising. Much of the game’s combat mechanics have been left unchanged, aside from minor improvements made towards firearm control, leaving Techland more time to quash any bugs, avoiding another embarrassingly lengthy day one patch. With guns gaining more attention this time round during development, they will no doubt have the same attention from players. Gunplay was a sluggish chore the first time round in Dead Island but Riptide puts some oil in the gears and smoothes it to a degree that makes unloading a clip of lead into a fresh batch of zombies fun. Weapon proficiency further improves combat, granting bonuses depending on how often you use each of the weapon classes: sharp, blunt, hand-to-hand and firearms.
Quests are what make the RPG genre and that’s where Techland have put a little more of their time. Rather than create a more varied palette, countless more fetch quests have been thrown into a ‘Team’ menu whereby completion means improved AI teammates and better shop items for your ragtag group of survivors. The incentive to finish the tasks are far outweighed by their menial nature as new, better weapons are easily found and the power of your AI team does little to help you during defensive missions.
The Polish studio has also made vast improvements to the environment. Banoi was a densely populated island full of corridors and very few open spaces. While Palanai does feature a crowded city, it also gives a lot of freedom to explore the monsoon flooded jungle with story missions taking place in more focused areas of the tropical forest, providing players with a change of pace every so often.
How you get to those different locales is sometimes a complete mystery however. Since Dead Island: Riptide has to remind players of what happened in the first outing, it doesn’t set a good precedence of creating an engaging narrative the second time around. With characters that no-one has felt connected to since they woke up in a zombie filled hotel in 2011, it’s extremely hard to become emotionally involved in any part of their journey. With the ability to skip every cut-scene in the game, it shows just how important narrative is to Techland. But, they can be at least forgiven for this option if their intention was preventing pain and suffering of the hammy dialogue and voice work, which is average at best.
As a single player game, all these points collide to offer a relatively average experience that feels all too familiar to those that have played the previous entry. However, co-op is a different beast. While most of the story is still forgettable, dialogue becomes a laughing matter and a well-balanced team can decimate the undead with such ease that it turns into ludicrous fun rather than a laborious chore.
Dead Island: Riptide is a very easy title to recommend to co-op gamers and fans of the original, but with so few improvements it becomes incredibly difficult to suggest to those that disliked the Banoi experience. Techland have failed to do much more than create a new setting around the first entry into the Dead Island series. But despite being a flawed game, there is potential for oodles of fun as long as you find a few friends willing to disregard almost everything else about it.