There’s an unwritten rule when reviewing anything. It’s the ol’ “never compare apples with oranges” yarn. You’ve probably heard it a few times. There are even some commentators that are so adamant, that even the slightest transgression, results in eternal excommunication. I’m exaggerating – of course – but sometimes on those rare occasions when it’s nearly impossible to find a coherent opening paragraph, you just have to slide the dunce cap onto your noggin, and plough into it, at full-speed on the“full-retard” setting.
I was really trying to find a game that would compare adequately with the Dead Island games, and while I’m sure more scholarly gamers would eagerly point to Left for Dead, Dead Rising or even the Resident Evil games. I decided to go against the flow and throw in that old party favourite, Monopoly.
While, you’re all giggling, and certain that a certain Banana-flavoured commentator has lost his marbles. Let me explain a bit. Much like Monopoly, the Dead Island games can be played all on your lonesome. It’s certainly possible. I’ve done it. I’ve rocked that tiny silver shoe like a boss, and built hotels all over the Monopoly board. But, it’s clearly not designed for one person. Dead Island Riptide finds itself in the same boat. It’s a title that literally claws at you with bloodied and desiccated finger tips to be played with 3 others –preferably a bunch of your friends.
Techland’s first Dead Island game received mixed reviews. Some reviewers got stuck on the game’s bugs, others lamented the unpolished graphics, whereas, on the other hand, some gamers found the diamond in the rough. I found myself amongst the latter. In other words, acknowledging the game’s faults, and yet finding one of the best representations of a zombie apocalypse. Unlike Left for Dead, Dead Island allowed you to explore a sizeable island, a sizeable city and even a sizeable swamp, all with a multitude of side-quests, and flesh-ripping, barbed-wire covered baseball-bats to rotting zombie faces.
The latest addition to the Dead Island franchise continues where the first game ended. The promise of escaping Banoi is unceremoniously shattered, when it emerges that our four survivors (Purna, Logan Carter, Sam B and Xian Mei), have been airlifted to an aircraft carrier, and handed over as prisoners to a salty Aussie Colonel, by the name of Sam Hardy. It’s also here that the gang meets up with the newest addition to Team Immune, John Morgan. John fills the role of the brawler, the go-to-character for brass knuckles, and hand-to-hand fighting. If you want to pummel zombies, or uppercut their teeth into their brains, John is your guy.
To be honest, Dead Island has never been about the story. The emphasis is always been on survival, combat and chopping up the dead –essentially an insane Zombie Apocalypse sandbox. There is an attempt with Dead Island Riptide to provide some explanation for the outbreak. It ties in some elements from the first game, but at times it does feel as if they’ve taken a page from Resident Evil’s play-book. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but with most things, less is more. Much like the Walking Dead graphic novels and the current TV series, “the why” or “the how” are best left to the imagination. I hope that when Techland eventually decides on a legitimate Dead Island 2, they’ll keep this in mind.
The gameplay is largely unchanged from the previous game. The controls are still a little ropey, and while the title provides some titillating visceral and macabre delights with body parts flying through the air (and blood glistening in the sun). You never really feel in control with eviscerating the walking dead. You can’t chop them up into little pieces, nor can you carry their decapitated heads on a stick – as a warning to others. Instead, they fall apart like Barbie dolls. No, I’d rather say, they break apart like when a Barbie doll meets a destructive toddler… or a Jim Lenoir.
There are few new additions to the game though. The five playable characters have expanded skill trees with additional special moves added. Sadly, you still can’t customise their clothing. It’s so strange that my character, Xian Mei is still running around in high heels. If I was her, I would have stolen some boots of a dead soldier (or loafers from a dead guy) ages ago. Weapon crafting makes a welcomed return, but it remains a carbon copy from the first title. It hasn’t been overhauled, and while you do see a few new weapons, I found myself sticking to the“Old Faithful”: A flaming katana, an upgraded shotgun or a baseball-bat wrapped in barbed wire.
The game engine has definitely been tweaked a bit, but the old criticisms remain. You can’t shake the feeling that Dead Island is a project that’s far too ambitious for Techland. The developers are clearly onto something, and while the game is a lot of fun, it’s riddled with bugs. For instance, Dead Island Riptide comes with nifty weather effects. The only problem is that it’s very inconsistent. There were times when I was ploughing into zombies with the 4WD only to have my display shift between rain and overcast to sunny and bright. It’s a little disconcerting. Also, during co-op play, there is a tendency for your quest log to behave strangely. I even lost a few quests after joining a group, and had to reload to a previous checkpoint.
However, Techland has improved the co-op side to the game. You no longer have level limitations between co-op partners, and for the most part, enemy groups are sufficiently auto-balanced. For sake of argument, my character is level 64, and over the weekend, I was helping out a bunch of level 15s, however they had to save me more than I could save them. Throw in new zombie varieties, like the Grenadier (a behemoth that flings bits of meat at you), the Drowner (a sneaky water-dwelling member of the undead species) and the Screamer (an ear-destroying undead siren), and Dead Island’s co-op has never been this much fun.
At the end of the day, while Dead Island Riptide is definitely an improved version of Dead Island, it still feels like it should have been an expansion to the main game. There are certainly less side-quests, this time round (and the game is shorter). Nevertheless, if you had never played a Dead Island game, I would actually recommend Dead Island Riptide over its predecessor.