"Nearly all fan feedback has been addressed to make Riptide the ultimate Dead Island experience and I’m happy to report that the result is spectacular."
No one can deny the ambition behind the original Dead Island. Its majestic environments and RPG elements fused beautifully with the zombie theme and unique first-person melee combat. Despite its technical hiccups at launch, Dead Island was an immersive adventure with a vast explorable sandbox and superb co-op action. Riptide is the latest entry in Deep Silver’s Zombie slaughter fest but it’s not exactly a sequel, it’s more of a companion piece, a spin off so to speak. The developers themselves compare it to Fallout: New Vegas in terms of its place in the franchise and it’s clear why. Although the game takes place in the same universe and even continues the narrative directly after the predecessor, it stands on its own as an independent title. Nearly all fan feedback has been addressed to make Riptide the ultimate Dead Island experience and I’m happy to report that the result is spectacular. Dead Island Riptide is the most fun I’ve had with a video game this year so far…heck, it’s the most fun I’ve had in years.
The narrative has never been Dead Island’s selling point, regardless of what the overdramatic trailers have you believe. Riptide takes place a week after the survivors of the original Dead Island escaped the fictional tourist resort Banoi. After being captured on a military vessel for their immunity to the virus, the crew finds itself back with the infested after a massive shipwreck. Despite the trite story, you find yourself immediately immersed as soon as you awaken on the breathtaking beach of the Banoi archipelago.
"Weather effects are now a big part of the experience and the onset of rain changes the scenic tone within seconds."
To be frank, I didn’t expect the visuals to be this gorgeous. The original Dead Island was pretty, but suffered from an overused bloom effect and overall choppiness. Riptide is stunning. Think Far Cry 3 with more detail and environmental diversity. Once you get past the horrendous cut-scenes, you’re treated to one of the most exotic sandbox playgrounds since Just Cause 2. The bloom effect is still there but it’s used sparingly only to accentuate the atmosphere as everything looks crisper and more vivid. The vegetation is dense and the level design has a greater emphasis on verticality, making exploration more exciting and mysterious.
Weather effects are now a big part of the experience and the onset of rain changes the scenic tone within seconds. The game takes place during monsoon season and large portions of the island are completely flooded. These sections add a new layer of depth to both combat and traversal. Boats soon become your most treasured finds as you scout these swamped regions since going on foot can be suicidal. New types of zombies lurk in the waters and the mere thought of getting your feet wet arouses fear. Once you’re neck deep in the flood, floating bodies can jump at you unexpectedly from any direction. While boats offer a safer means of travel, zombies can still climb onboard to try and knock you down. This is where having a partner really pays off. As you speed through the jungle your partner is your best defensive asset, especially when you’re dealing with multiple creatures at once. If you’re knocked down playing solo, it’s difficult to climb back onboard as you find yourself quickly overwhelmed and underpowered.
"Chaining combos feels more responsive and the addition of special moves keeps the fighting diverse between the characters."
If you already completed the original Dead Island, Riptide allows you to import your stats so you don’t have to level up all over again. During my playthrough, however, I decided to start from scratch with the brand new character John Morgan. A former sailor in the United States Navy, John specializes in hand to hand combat and is the most fun to play with out of the bunch. Once you acquire a set of claws, you feel like wolverine as you effortlessly rip through the zombie hordes.
The unique melee combat of the original remains largely the same but it’s been polished for greater accuracy. Chaining combos feels more responsive and the addition of special moves keeps the fighting diverse between the characters. The three skill trees return and new abilities have been added to provide more customizability for your playing style. Your experience points accumulate faster now, speeding up the sense of progression and the addition of new weapon mods means more experimentation. Characters can now acquire special moves and it’s hard to believe they haven’t been implemented before. Morgan has a vicious running kick that catapults zombies into the air and it’s a blast seeing limbs ricochet around the environment. Also when on higher ground, he can perform a powerful drop kick for additional damage and the greater the drop, the more powerful the attack.
New to Dead Island Riptide are ‘defense hub missions.’ Similar to the Zombie mode in Black Ops, you find yourself barricading forts and fending off against massive hordes of the undead. These are the most challenging and fun sections in the game, particularly when playing co-op. A mild swarm of slow moving walkers quickly turns into a warzone as each new wave brings more dangerous enemies to fight against. By the end of each wave, you find yourself facing against dozens of different zombie types and having teammates who can revive you when downed is crucial to survival. What’s even better is that these sections are interwoven into the narrative so they feel like a big part of the core gameplay and not just a tacked on gimmick. After the first few fort missions, you gain access to massive gun turrets and positioning them strategically can mean the difference between life and death.
"The visuals are superb, the gameplay is an absolute blast, and it can take 100+ hours to complete if you take on every single side mission."
Riptide is an incredible extension to the original Dead Island but a few small issues remain. The re-spawning is still randomized, placing you either far behind or hundreds of meters ahead of where you died. It’s not as sporadic as in the original, but it’s annoying nevertheless. Voice acting is just as horrendous as before and I don’t understand why the cinematics are so poorly handled, especially when the in-game graphics are this beautiful. But my major gripe is the fact that the game takes itself too seriously. It’s nearly impossible to care for any of the character and a more lighthearted and humorous approach would have done wonders for the narrative. But these are just minor nuances to what is an otherwise excellent package.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I absolutely adore Dead Island Riptide. It’s 10$ cheaper than your regular release and offers more value than most AAA titles these days. It’s a fantastic experience whether you play solo or with buddies. The visuals are superb, the gameplay is an absolute blast, and it can take 100+ hours to complete if you take on every single side mission. If you’re looking for a Borderlands-style experience but with zombies and tropical vistas, Riptide is a no brainer.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Xbox 360