I loved the original Dead Island . Its gameplay, much of it borrowed from Skyrim, fits right into the bleak zombie apocalypse environment. The ability to create your own personal zombie killing machine made it work well both as a single and multiplayer title. Add in features like weapon crafting and hundreds of quests and Dead Island was like a warm pair of slippers on cold night – the right type of “just one more hour” gameplay that I personally crave. Riptide is a lot like that, just not as good.
Let me first say: please give the original Dead Island a shot since it is a lot of fun and you can probably get it for less than $20. Unfortunately, Riptide adds almost nothing new to the genre, much less anything of significance to the last entry. You start out as one of the previous survivors, or a newly added immune hero, right where Dead Island left off. If you choose not to import your save from the previous game, you hop into the boots of an already leveled-up character. Regardless, you start off with several levels to your name and ability points. This makes it a little awkward for new players to the franchise since they will be making character building choices without any real knowledge.
So, who is this game for? Honestly, it should be for me. More Dead Island is a good thing in my book but, yeesh, Riptide starts off slow and clunky. That military ship section which serves as the tutorial is all over the place and leaves the player with more questions than answers. But it is over quickly enough and you are once again stranded on an unfortunate island much like Riptide’s predecessor. The high class resort theme is replaced by a jungle survivor motif that was recently flooded. Riptide derives its name from the flood that happens early in the game, and this changes the landscape of your zombie murdering adventure.
New traversal options are: boats! Well, only boats. Riptide has boats now. Also added, a new zombie which will attack your boat. Water, get it, there is lots of water. Instead of traversing via scavenged cars the main mode of transport, at least initially, is the boat. It is fun to pilot and feels rewarding when you smash into the living dead. But, the boats are a little too spread out, causing you to run through the dangerous zombie infested waters. It can be a bit of a slog since you cannot travel as fast through water on foot.
Luckily, the second area of the game changes the landscape and you do not need to rely on water transport. I understand that I sound negative, but I was looking forward to this game. Even after the marketing for it was… gross. Riptide keeps many of the original’s quirks along with adding very little to the franchise. That is what hurts. Instead of learning from the mistakes of the previous entry there are just some extra window dressings added on. New zombies and crafted items will stand out initially. Later, waves of enemies will attack your stronghold and must be beaten back through the brute strength of the survivors and improvised traps. These sections usually link two large story chunks together. If you for instance need to travel to another island, anticipate a large horde of zombies attacking you and your pals.
Riptide still manages to be fun by retreading some of the original game’s hooks. Combat is still tactical if you choose to use analog fighting. Line up all of your attacks to neutralize the tougher zombies instead of just mashing attack. It still works and manages to keep the combat from getting too rinse and repeat. Once you arm your warrior with a great new weapon and head out to clear some undead the game still manages to click into your reward centers. Completing quests for money, weapons or new crafting schematics still manages to feel rewarding while dangling that carrot in front of you.
Let’s be honest. Riptide is strange. It isn’t quite an expansion, but it isn’t a sequel either. There is plenty of gameplay for rabid Dead Island fans but the whole product can get repetitive. Some of the flaws are not new, but I think that makes them worse. Strange zombie spawning pits and repetitive dialogue are actually more of a problem in Riptide. Making the same game with a new island and some extra bells and whistles thrown in for good measure doesn’t win many hearts. If you haven’t played the original Dead Island than skip Riptide. If you have, you may want to gauge how fondly you remember the 2011 title. Maybe just keep that tucked into the warm parts of your heart.
This review is based on a retail copy of Dead Island Riptide for the Xbox 360 provided by Deep Silver. It is also available on PS3 and PC.