Dead Island: Riptide – Xbox 360 review

deadislandriptide-boxReview by John Cranston

Dead Island: Riptide sees the return of four survivors of a zombie apocalypse (and one other guy they found on a boat). Did they make it to safety? Nope. Did they get marooned on the island next door, Jurassic Park 2 style? Yep. Will you like it? Probably not.

Developers Techland and publishers Deep Silver are counting on you to not have zombie fatigue though, so if you have an Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or PC, perhaps you’ll be enticed back into this world of luggage looting, undead corpse mutilation and heavy panting.

The first thing I need to warn you about Riptide is that it is extremely similar to it’s predecessor in terms of game mechanics and mission structure. If you played the first game to the point of exhaustion, consider this sequel as merely expensive and lengthy DLC when making your decision whether to pick up or not. You have been warned.

The story in Riptide begins as the four survivors of the Banoi (it’s near Australia, hence the dodgy accents) Island outbreak land their helicopter onto a nearby military vessel. In a typical twist of fate the heroes are taken into custody and held captive until mysterious events start to unfurl. Newcomer John (I picked him first naturally) is also being held against his will but before anyone can comprehend their situation all hell breaks loose on the ship – oh no, more zombies!

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For the uninitiated, the gameplay in Riptide take the form of first-person perspective brawler/shooter. Your greatest enemy, aside from the zombies, is a stamina bar, which limits the frequency of your flurried blows and propensity to take damage. The ship level serves as a tutorial for most aspects of the game, with the exception of vehicle use. You’ll even get your hands on some firearms, but not for long and once the level is complete you’ll be back to spending most of your time using whatever pipe, hammer or knife you can get your hands on.

Returning Dead Island players are able to upload their previous characters with all their existing skills and abilities already unlocked, but sadly not with any of their items or money (confiscated by the authorities who apprehended them). Creating a new character does not give you an instant handicap though, as you get a plethora of skill tree points to allocate as you see fit. As before, each character has three distinct skill trees – one dedicated to their unique “fury” moves, one to their area of combat expertise (some are better with blunt weapons, some blades, some unarmed combat, etc) and one to general survival skills.

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No matter how well you perform on the ship, it’s destined to capsize and leave everyone stranded on the neighbouring island of Palanai which unfortunately has suffered a similar fate and has been overrun by a horde of unlimited zombies. Your only hope in this ongoing nightmare is to gather together a group of survivors, arm yourselves to the teeth and set up a defensible area that can be used as a mission hub.

This is actually the first noticeable improvement from the first game, where previously you’d wander into the “safe zones” and find NPC’s to do missions for, there was always an air of safety about them – zombies would never attack these areas and the majority of the occupants would just sit around asking you to do mundane tasks like picking up lost items of jewellery or bringing them food and liquor. Now, though the fetch quests are still in effect, completing them upgrades the fighting capability of the quest-giver, meaning when you have to complete a base defence mission, your chances of success will be higher.

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In a contrast to the beginning areas of Dead Island – a beach-side resort and hotel – this time you’re drudging through a murky swampland in search of new weapons, items to upgrade them with and “mods” which let you create more potent elemental effect weapons – electric knives, flaming baseball bats and axes that make zombie puke, to name a few. It’s oppressive, difficult to navigate and slow – so you’ll need to get used to hopping in and out of the small boats that are scattered around. They’re not very fun to drive mind you, but they will stop you being constantly mobbed by the undead lurking just below the grey waters.

There are many side-missions that will have you exploring the length and breadth of Palanai, if you so desire, but if you’ve had enough of one area, pushing the storyline forward will see the group of survivors moving across the island and into new safe havens, once more ready for you to upgrade, barricade and defend. Luckily they travel by cut-scene, you won’t have to escort them by hand, that would probably be painful.

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Unfortunately, no matter how many mounted machines guns and extra gubbins you can bring them, your team are always prepared to sit around the base and chat idly, leaving you to do all the donkey work. As you wander around the island your character will quite often mutter things to themselves, sometimes it’s nonsense (who honestly says “Come on, Daddy needs some new shit” when searching cupboards/suitcases/printers) and sometimes it’s a little too congruent to the situation at hand – John was quite often yelling “Why am I the only one doing this shit?”. Indeed.

Suppose for a moment though that you’re the sort of chap who doesn’t want to suffer alone. Fortunately, while your idle band of shirkers are waiting for you at the base, you can enlist the aid of other Riptide players to help you achieve your goals. Either by forming an online lobby and inviting your friends (or enemies, if you don’t want to inflict this on your friends) or by hitting the right D-Pad button whenever the game tells you that another player is in the vicinity of you. Having an extra pair of hands definitely helps the experience, it’s one extra stamina bar in the fight against an innumerable foe (and sometimes they have some really sweet weapons).

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Despite it being a sequel, the sequence of events and scenarios in which they take place makes Riptide feel like a lukewarm rehash of exactly the same game that came out in 2011. There’s a lot of fun to be had creating grotesque bludgeons and using them to smash, smash and thrice smash a zombie head into a bloody pulp, but when there’s a clown-car full of them waiting around the corner, the visceral intensity is lost among the panic of being overwhelmed and falling over because you ran out of stamina.

Like the foes you face, death holds no relevance to you as all you’ll suffer is the misfortune of losing a few dollars from your savings account at the Bank of Banoi. In fact, the most dread I had in the game was listening to the music, it has a really minimal sound reminiscent of Carpenter-era horror. Actually that’s a lie, the scariest thing in the game is Techland’s inability to create realistic looking eyes, most of the non-player characters have the same boss-eyed glare, it’s downright freaky.

My time on the tropical paradise of Palanai is thankfully at an end. You’ll notice that I didn’t send you a postcard saying “wish you were here”, because I don’t wish that on anyone. While not unplayable, it’s combination of endless fatigue management, horrible menu systems and repetitive questing tipped the balance into the negative and no amount of bloody brutal face smashing could redeem it for me. If it’s your first look at the series then I guess you could substitute this for the original, they’re pretty much the same game, but only die-hard series fans should really consider playing both.

Dead Island: Riptide scores 4 out of 10.