Deep Silver struck gold with the original Dead Island back in 2011. The survival horror game combined FPS action with RPG elements of character progression, item collection and weapon modification. The four characters Purna, Sam B, Logan and Xian Mei banded together to stay alive and get off the paradise turned hell that was the island of Banoi in the Papua New Guinea archipelago. Despite being more than a little glitchy and getting mixed reviews, the game enjoyed some success and was considered to be a sleeper hit by its fans. The announcement of the follow up title, Dead Island Riptide, last summer had fans hungrily waiting to get their grubby little hands on it, much like the zombies they would be smashing, shooting and stomping to a second death. Now that the game is out, we find out if the wait was worth it.
HOPE IS DROWNING Dead Island Riptide literally picks up right where Dead Island left off. The quartet of survivors have just defeated Ryder White and escape Banoi with Kevin and Yerema. Jin did not make it, but plenty of the fans couldn't stand her anyway. Almost out of fuel, the helicopter lands on the deck of a naval vessel, where soldiers immediately cuff all the passengers. Apparently, the military is under the control of a private company as a man named Frank Serpo is calling the shots on deck. Our four heroes are drugged and taken below for testing to find out what makes them immune to the Kuru virus. As the survivors are being apprehended, you will notice that Yerema bites one of the soldiers as she struggles. This is bad news as she is a carrier of the virus. When your character wakes, the ship is on alert and almost everyone is (un)dead. As you make your way to the bridge, the ship runs aground on the island of Palanai and the nightmare begins anew for our heroes. Once again they must defend each other and a new group of survivors long enough to escape the worst vacation ever.
Hub defense gets frantic pretty quickly
RIPTIDE REMIX Dead Island Riptide is a continuation of the story of the first game. As such, the gameplay is almost identical. Players will handle their character in the same fashion as before with the same controls. Riptide, however, does add new attacks, expanded skill development and new weapons to the mix. Even with the additions, fans will be very comfortable picking up their favorite character, especially since the game rewards Dead Island players with the ability to import their saved character into this adventure. If you are new to the series however, or just choose to start fresh, the game allows you to choose your own path of development or have your skills follow a specific path like offense, survival or fury attacks. The game also balances better than its predecessor. New players will have no trouble playing alongside veterans with imported saves as enemies encountered will be around the same level as the person they attack. A level 50 player will fight a zombie that is at or around level 50 whereas a level 5 player will fight a much weaker zombie at their level. The balancing now even carries over to weapons and items. When you opened a chest in the first game, you would have to decide who got the weapon if you were playing co-op and the level of said weapon depended upon who opened the chest. Now if a level 60 character opens a chest, the weapon will be at or around their level and they can call their partner(s) over to pull the same weapon out of the chest which will be at or around their level. The days of fighting over power-ups are over (at least in this game). Riptide also throws a bunch of mini-bosses in to mix things up. There are bonus areas called Dead Zones that have extra powerful versions of both standard and special zombies. Completists will go to these areas as bounty hunters of sorts. As you encounter these special infected, you fill Dr. Kessler’s Casebook, which has dossiers on all the monstrosities you meet in the game. The only down side of dead zones is that most of them contain the more difficult monsters behind closed doors. We would just have one of us open the door, start unloading with our most powerful shotgun and the other would throw in grenades or Molotovs. It was rare that anything would even make it out to attack us. Still, don’t run into a dead zone thinking that you cannot die. Some contain multiple special infected that are fast and lethal. There are much fewer glitches in the new game which is both good and bad as the people I play with actually enjoy some of the horrendous graphical hiccups that occur.
JUNGLE BOOGIEWhile the same basic graphical style is used in both games, it is easy to see that Riptide’s graphics are more polished. The jungle of Palanai that you start in showcases the many improvements in both water and fire effects. You also see that the weapons have been graphically improved. Fire weapons now (finally) provide ambient light. If you want some legitimate scares, go into the Japanese WWII tunnels and use a flame weapon for light instead of a flare or a flashlight. Floaters and Suiciders are now more disgusting than ever now that you can really see the guts on the former and the faces of the latter. Not everything is improved however. There is still clipping and you will still encounter weird glitches once in a while. In the hub defense video you see that we got frustrated as there was one last zombie that we had to kill to progress and it was stuck behind a door that we could not open. In all, Riptide is a pretty game in terms of scenery. The NPCs aside from major characters tend to be a little weird looking but I think that is done on purpose. The indigenous people get the really short end of the stick as you will learn as the story unfolds. Sunken faces can’t be helped in a situation like this. Despite all the strewn garbage and littered corpses, Palanai and Henderson are full of eye candy. More than once we found ourselves staring at beautiful scenery only to go, “here comes this undead asshole to ruin our good time.” That leads to one of my favorite animations in the game, watching a head explode or get lopped off in slow motion. In terms of graphics, riptide will be especially enjoyed by players of the previous game as they will be the ones to notice all the subtle improvements. New players may be less impressed; like I said it is a pretty game, but far from the best graphics you will find out there today.
Kessler’s Casebook or as I like to call it, the “Meat Locker”
PAINT BY NUMBERS Let’s be real here; Dead Island is about a zombie apocalypse and you play survivors in said horrible situation. Can you play this game by yourself? Of course you can, but friends make the experience so much better. Forget the fact that if you play with a good group (or even just one partner) that friends can and will save your ass on the regular in this game. Dead Island is an experience tailored around co-op. Just about any person that I have met online or in person that said they did not care for this game has only played it solo. People that have been able to join up with others love it. From the very beginning there are “did you see that?” moments and sharing that with your friends more than makes up for the price of admission (which is only $49.99!). I am not big on playing with random strangers, especially since Xbox Live is full of moro…I mean immature players, but there is an advantage to that sometimes. Apparently, there are developer’s weapons floating about the internet and random encounters will sometimes pair you up with someone willing to share them. You can also go to YouTube and see who has them and just look for them online. I would not recommend doing that until finishing a playthrough however, because super weapons make the game too easy. I strongly recommend getting some friends to get this game as co-op is way more fun and has tons of replay value.
The Dead Island franchise gets mixed reviews. Some love it, others want nothing to do with it. For me personally, I find it to be one of the better multiplayer games of recent note. There is nothing wrong with the FPS games that pit players against one another and rank you depending upon how many kills you have or how fast you got them. I like a game that has a story and encourages players to have each others’ backs. Dead Island and Dead Island Riptide both do this very well. The new release almost perfectly balances the gameplay so that anyone can jump into any game any time they feel like it. For one thing, regardless of your level, you are not taking down a Wrestler in a single hit, but if you have teammates, you will survive its assault. Players can plow through this game or take their time and you can play by yourself if you absolutely want to. This is one of many reasons that I rank this game above the more popular Left 4 Dead series, where the single player campaign is pretty much a death sentence on higher levels. Techland definitely improved on the original game with Riptide and I hope that future sequels continue to up the quality of the game, especially since the next game will likely be on PS4/X-1/PC.
And now, it’s time to address the naysayers, most of whom, to be fair, make valid points. Riptide is glitchy; not so much as the first game, but it is still pretty damned glitchy. And that is one of many reasons why it is better played with friends. What we are playing here, is the video game equivalent of a B-movie. There are many instances of terrible acting, even from the zombies, and the idea that these four people, along with their new counterparts, find themselves in the exact same situation they just escaped is a bit ridiculous. I accept that and move forward. People complain about the respawn rate of zombies, which is pretty high in Riptide. I never found a problem with this, even when I was getting swarmed, because this game requires a hell of a lot of XP to go up a single level. We generally find ourselves pulling a Leroy Jenkins mixed with the occasional Han Solo run away if a Ram or Wrestler show up. Keep your weapons repaired and zombie hordes are fun unless there is a Screamer in their ranks. Finally let me speak to my favorite complaint: Riptide is the same game. Now this game was announced almost a full year before it released. Deep Silver said that it was not a sequel to Dead Island, it was just finishing the story of the survivors you played as in that game. In January, they even released a gameplay video on YouTube and one of the first things the narrator said was that veterans of the first game will recognize the gameplay. So if a developer basically tells you that the new game is very much the same as the first, what the hell are you complaining about? I walked in the door, knowing what to expect from Dead Island Riptide. I find myself fortunate that there were some surprises and I feel that I got more than what I bargained for. Add to that the fact that the standard version of the game is only fifty bucks and suddenly, all the complaints just sound like noise to me. If you liked the first game, you will love this one. If you did not like Dead Island, you are wasting your time even thinking about this game, plain and simple. To all the fans, I will see you when the Kuru virus reaches the mainland.