Game Review: Dead Island Riptide
On paper, the fledgling Dead Island series is a compelling blend of sandbox action-RPG and brutal survival-horror. It’s Far Cry meets Left 4 Dead – or a first-person Dead Rising located in more tropical climes.
The reality, however, is rather less exciting than this sounds. 2011’s original installment was highly divisive – splitting gamers and critics messily down the middle – and this new follow-up from Techland seems set to inspire similarly polarized opinions.
Picking up precisely where the first title left off, Dead Island sees our four original survivors – joined by a reluctant fifth member in the shape of military man John Morgan – marooned on another Oceanic island that has fallen victim to a bloody zombie outbreak.
As before, players must arm themselves with whatever comes to hand and negotiate said island to complete both essential tasks and optional side-quests, battering the ravenous undead with a variety of degradable hand-to-hand implements and, when luxury affords it, letting rip with everything from a humble nail-gun to a high-powered automatic rifle.
Weapons can be repaired, upgraded and constructed at work benches dotted around the place; slaying enemies nets experience which eventually allows new perks and skills to be acquired; and players can either go it alone or join forces with up to three other survivors in drop-in/drop-out online co-op.
That’s essentially it. And when you’re going for the brutally simple ‘Borderlands with zombies’ schtick, you better make damn sure it’s fun. Unfortunately, Riptide is plagued by a number of frustrating issues that render the core experience far less enjoyable than it should be.
This is not a graceful game. Standard character movement often feels way more sluggish and awkward than it should, meaning that even something as basic as exploring your immediate surroundings can quickly feel like a laborious chore.
Don’t think that things get any easier when you pick up a ride, either. Riptide features drivable cars and – as a new addition in this sequel – engine-powered boats; but the latter mode of transport in particular proves painfully slow and cumbersome to control.
These issues run to the combat too. While there’s occasional schlocky satisfaction to be had sending limbs flying with a flailing blade, or taking out groups of foes with a single well-placed shot at a ‘Suicider’, melee battles often feel more like drunken brawls than desperate fights for survival.
Trading blows feels clumsy and imprecise, while hand-to-hand encounters with tougher creatures frequently descend into tedious wars of attrition. You launch a couple of swipes, retreat a few yards to recover stamina, and then rinse and repeat for what seems like minutes at a time.
Even when you get your hands on some ranged firepower, irritation rears its ugly head. The game’s collision detection is way off at times, meaning that you can fire a perfectly-placed bullet into the head of a nearby enemy, only for the hit not to register. In a title where ammo is at a real premium, such a problem rapidly becomes a major bugbear.
As for glitches – the prevalence of which was a key criticism of the first game – Riptide has its share. On one occasion mid-game the entire HUD disappeared for more than 5 minutes for no apparent reason, while audio bugs, visual anomalies and enemies re-spawning almost immediately were noticeable issues during my playthrough.
Playing through the experience alone becomes irksome and tedious as a result, so you’re definitely best off turning to others for moral and practical support. As a co-op action title with buddies to join in the exploration, base defence and general carnage, Dead Island Riptide is certainly a lot more fun – though it’s definitely a poor man’s Left 4 Dead in the entertainment stakes.
The real problem is that Riptide, and Techland’s new IP in general, takes itself far too seriously. Given its limited production values, arcade-style approach and rough-and-ready exterior, it’s crying out for some tongue-in-cheek humour, outrageous OTT action and deliberately ludicrous scenarios to enliven the whole package.
Think House Of The Dead: Overkill, Lollipop Chainsaw – or even just the silly outfit options and crazy weapon combinations of Dead Rising. It’s in desperate need of some personality.
Instead, Dead Island Riptide is decidedly mundane and po-faced. The enemies and locations are largely unremarkable, the presentation straightforward and matter-of-fact, and the story – related via awful dialogue and ropey voice-acting in cut scenes that are mercifully skip-able – is a complete bore.
The main players are bland stereotypes rather than the colourful characters the game sorely needs, and the whole enterprise feels like a B-Feature experience awkwardly straining to be a straight-faced blockbuster – rather than embracing its goofy potential.
That said, it’s inevitable that some will disagree with that appraisal. If you enjoyed the first Dead Island, then take heart: this essentially offers more of the same – complete with a smattering of new enemies and extras to spice things up.
But Riptide also repeats pretty much every problem that plagued its predecessor, and fails to do anything interesting or inspired with the same-old formula. It offers a fraction of the fun delivered by Left 4 Dead, can’t hold a candle to the anarchic brilliance of Borderlands, and is neither a truly engaging sandbox experience nor a genuinely satisfying action-horror.
Fans of the original and enthusiasts of co-operative multiplayer may want to take a look. But there are much better alternatives out there.
FMV Rating: **