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REVIEW | “Dead Island” Pseudo-Sequel Tosses Sugar & Salt Into Bloody Wounds

By
Posted on May 6, 2013 AT 02:59pm

Like most of you out there I was taken aback by Techland’s Dead Island when released back in 2011. Its realistic approach to the zombie genre, the weapon system, and the beauty of the world of Banoi (and the lovely gore of zombie limbs splattering all over) made it one of my favorite titles that year. With its success both critically and financially the developers jump-started its production of a follow-up.

Dead Island: Riptide takes places immediately after the events of the first game. The four immune survivors (Sam B, Logan, Xian, and Purna) land their helicopter on an aircraft, only to be taken prisoner by those onboard. There they meet another immune person: John Morgan. Soon the ship is under attack by zombies, and before you can say “this is Thriller!” the survivors find themselves capsized on the island of Palanai, where they meet more survivors seeking for a way out. From there the new island inhabitants must take on the undead, a crazed fanatical priest, smugglers, prisoners, and double-crossers while searching for a way out.

As it was in the first Dead Island you can choose from the five immune survivors, and as you progress you can level them up with new upgrades and abilities. Those who have a save file of the previous game on their system can transfer that data to Riptide, thereby shortcutting some of the length towards gaining a higher level. It doesn’t take too long to reach each level, so long as you know your way around a good severing.

The zombies here in Riptide are just about the same as the ones from before, only more powerful and a bigger pain to deal with. I remember being frightened by the zombies in the first Dead Island, but here I merely wanted to decapitate them and make field goals with their heads. It’s one thing to make a threat challenging, but’s a whole different ballgame when you make them annoying as well.

In Dead Island it was a risk to die, as when you revive you might come to either someplace close by or hundreds of meters away. The good news is in Riptide you won’t have to worry about being sent far from your previous spot. However the bad news is that when you come to you might find yourself back surrounded by those same zombies, meaning you won’t even have a split second to think before one of them attacks you. Be on your toes when you are revived, because you will have no idea where you might find yourself after you’ve blacked out.

Weapons and various junk can also be collected around Palanai, as well as mod plans to create some very interesting creations of death & destruction. I found myself doing the mods here than in the previous Dead Island, as the more powerful weapons came in handy when taking on these hordes of the undead. One downside to Riptide, though, is that you don’t get your hands on guns and ammunition until probably after the first couple hours of gameplay, a bummer considering you’ll be wishing for a gun when taking on zombies in the tower defense-styled missions.

During the first half of Riptide I was kind of confused as to what was happening around me. Nothing seemed to really be explained fully, this coming from someone who beat the first game. I went so far as to ask a couple gamers I was playing online with if they had any idea what was happening, with just about every one of them responding with their own way of saying “I dunno”. As I reached the second half of the game (after you get out of the tunnels) the storytelling became more cohesive — better even — and I finally started caring about the safety of the characters I’ve been sworn to protect.

The island worlds of Riptide look just as good as its predecessor, with the oceans, buildings, and trees of the island rendered in full beauty. While they’re more annoying this time around the zombies can still look scary, especially when they strike from a dark room. Watching their limbs come off after you chopped them off is just as mesmerizing as it was in the earlier game, and when you angle your aim at the right moment the strike you make can be just as rewarding.

That being said there are still a few glitches to be found in this game. On some occasions I found zombies getting stuck between stairs and boardwalks, with even the occasional infected running into walls instead of attacking me. Human characters still look wooden, and while a recent update fixed some of their mouth movements it didn’t quite fix the lifeless look in their eyes. Maybe one more update will do the trick, but for now these technical goofs took me out of the overall experience.

There is one other aspect of Dead Island that I hope they had fixed in Riptide but didn’t: the driving. Why is it that the camera angle of the driver’s seat has it so it looks like you’re sticking your head out of the window instead of looking straight-forward? This angle makes it really hard to keep moving straight on the road, causing unintentional crashes and missed routes. Techland is responsible for the great ATV racer nail’d (and its spiritual sequel Mad Riders), so why couldn’t they had fit those driving mechanics into these areas of the Dead Island series?

Playing online has its merits, especially when it comes to tougher areas. In fact you might find yourself jumping into online mode here than in the previous installment, as when the zombies come attacking you’ll need at least one extra pair of hands to take them down. Online mode still isn’t perfect yet, though, as I’ve come across some crashes that have wiped out a good amount of progress I’ve made with my online cohorts. There’s also some lag and the slowing down of its frame rate, so it can get a little frustrating when you’re trying to take down a zombie but are held back by a slow response.

The main storyline of Dead Island: Riptide will take you roughly fourteen hours to complete, which is actually quite good for a $50 title. Granted it’s still not as long as its 25-hour predecessor, but it’s still better than most $60 titles deliver. Side missions will possibly add around ten extra hours of gameplay, so completionists will have nothing to complain about. Beating the game will also give you the option of playing the game again with everything you’ve earned, but it won’t let you go back and complete quests you hadn’t finished, so be careful to make sure you’ve done everything you’ve wanted before completing the final mission.

PROS:

  • Beautiful worlds, nice gore
  • Fine assortment of weapons, quests to take on
  • Strong second half…

CONS:

  • …but a confusing, below average first
  • Zombies more of a nuisance than threat
  • Driving is still badly off

FINAL THOUGHTS:

While it does have its shining moments Dead Island: Riptide doesn’t quite hold a candle to its predecessor. Sure it has its fun and challenging elements, but it’s thrown in there with some pretty tedious ones, too. Let’s hope that when it comes time for Techland to make the next installment that they learn from their mistakes and remember to keep enticing the players from start to finish, not for moments at a time.

FINAL GRADE: 6.2 (out of ten)

Xbox 360 review copy provided by Deep Silver

Evan Bourgault is an accomplished music, anime, and video game critic. His passion for discovering new bands, developers, and Japanese pop culture began in his college radio days and continues on today. Evan joined the ElectricSistaHood team in 2008, where he is a contributing editor and host of one of the network's weekly podcasts. Follow Evan on Twitter at twitter.com/King_Baby_Duck


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