Dead Island: Riptide

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There’s trouble in paradise. The world as we know it is about to be changed forever. In 2011 the original Dead Island was released and it took the gaming community by storm. Featuring a four-player zombie survival action game mechanic which has more in common with Borderlands than it does with Left4Dead, Dead Island changed the way gamers see zombie action games. We all remember the award-winning trailer which, in just over three minutes, fully encapsulated the overwhelming sense of despair and tragedy that would befall unsuspecting inhabitants of a holiday island resort at the onset of a zombie outbreak. We saw the raw emotional side to a zombie outbreak as a father fought desperately to protect the family he loved but in the end the inevitable happened – no one survived.

Dead Island has captured the hearts of zombie action fans the world over and it doesn’t seem that the tsunami of fanfare is going to recede any time soon. From Dead Island-inspired cosplay to Dead Island-themed events, most of us thought we’d seen the extent of the Dead Island fanaticism but now even Lionsgate looks to grow this phenomenon further and into a cross-medium audience with the exclusive movie rights.

All of this favorable publicity comes despite how the initial release was buggy. It seems not even a heavy case of the pre-patched jitters did enough to deter avid gamers from embracing this new franchise and giving it life. Dead Island is a fantastic game for all it does right and even for what it still does wrong post-patch, and Techland has finally rewarded our die-hard loyalty with the release of the sequel, Dead Island: Riptide, and I can happily say reward us, they have.

Dead Island: Riptide Screenshot 3

The holiday’s over, now it’s time for the Helliday

Dead Island: Riptide continues right where Dead Island left off, with the survivors of Dead Island landing on a warship for rescue by the military. Being the only known survivors immune to the outbreak, the military sees value in harvesting this immunity in order to produce a cure, so the four heroes are unceremoniously arrested and dumped in the ship’s hold. As with any ‘safe’ haven from the undead hordes in a zombie apocalypse, nothing remains that way for very long and something happens to upset the balance of safety aboard the ship which leads to the survivors escaping from their confinement and getting off the ship as fast as they can.

As luck would have it, the new tropical island the survivors wash up on just happens to be going through a familiar plague that is turning all dead people into flesh-eating zombies. The four survivors are once again stuck in a jungle paradise trying to find a way to outlast the zombie infestation while they look for a way off the island.

Dead Island: Riptide is by and large a copy of Dead Island which, depending on your perspective on sequels, may or may not be disappointing, but there are nevertheless some noteworthy developments. Firstly, as a direct continuation from Dead Island, Riptide offers players the opportunity to import their Dead Island characters or to start afresh with any of the original four characters plus a newly introduced character, John Morgan, a Wolverine-wannabe soldier (on account of his wolverine claw weapon mods) with the same immunity to the undead virus.

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The Island’s been upgraded…

There are also some fundamental improvements to the original Dead Island gameplay. A better weapon combat skill system, better targeting system, and an overall better user interface. Although the graphics appear smoother and less jagged the zombies are just as rough as ever, and this time they’re stronger, faster, and more numerous. The single cab trucks from the first game have been upgraded to double cabs so every survivor can now travel in forward-facing luxury. The numerous river marshes that adorn Palanai’s landscape can be traversed by only the finest in primitive river boat technology, although it must be noted that the boats don’t seem to travel near fast enough to avoid (formerly) drowned zombies who all seem intent on resurfacing and hitching a boat ride.

As with the original, there’s still a vast landscape to explore with ample nooks and crannies to investigate and within which lies hefty loot. The terrain varies from idyllic coastline to low-cost trailer camps, stilted waterside resort huts, cave complexes and river marshes, all of which include your obligatory rubbish bins, wicker baskets, and sundry containers to satiate your alter ego inner-hobo. The attention to detail has not been neglected with palm trees swaying gently in the breeze and ominous jungle rustles that may or may not be something still living reminding you that loitering about to soak up some rays is never the best policy. The erratic weather gods of the tropics also want to admonish you to remember that you’re not in control of anything by dramatically and unexpectedly shifting the climate. One minute it’s a brilliant sunny day ideal for holidaying in Papua New Guinea (apart from the zombies, of course) and the next there’s a torrential downpour that brings with it a foreboding darker complexion to remind you of the sinister nature of your beachside meanderings. The overall effect of the setting combined with the visible destruction and eerie background music compels one to develop a healthy dose of paranoia and will keep you cautiously kicking every corpse on the island just to be double sure they’re not just a snoozing zombie.

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Zombies aren’t just for kicks…

Notwithstanding the emotional perspective we’ve all picked up from the CGI trailers, Dead Island has also taught we gamers a very important lesson on how to cope with the stresses of a zombie apocalypse. We all know it’s never proper to hit a man when he’s down – but if he happens to be a zombie, you can certainly kick him! There is just simply no better way to let out some pent up frustration on an abandoned holiday island, and there is just something intrinsically therapeutic about slaying zombies. Perhaps it’s the fact that they’re essentially human villains without any moral saving grace, or maybe it’s as simple as the conscious-clearing fact that they’ve already died once before so it’s not really murder. Thankfully, Dead Island: Riptide offers up more than enough opportunity to indulge in such therapy with even more weapons and awesome weapon mods available with which to dispatch pavement justice on the zombies. Where tussling with zombies could eventually become mundane, Riptide provides a broad spectrum of weaponry, new melee combination attacks, and a few new zombie types to keep things interesting.

Riptide really excels in the way the developers have created a new world for players to explore with a very effective and obvious dose of paranoia and suspense pervasive throughout. From the onset, players are forced to deal with the menacing anticipation of a zombie leaping out from around every corner as the player is clearly herded through a linear series of corridors within the ship’s hull. The level design and graphical use of light and flashes to cast false alarms has a very Alien’esque feel to it which contributes greatly to the suspense. This edgy feeling of isolation carries forward throughout the game, even when reaching the jungle island of Palanai. The tight-corridors of a ship may have been traded in for an open-world jungle island but there remains a paradoxical sense of claustrophobia as the level designs still maintain that sense of being trapped and boxed in no matter whether you are running along the coastline, exploring one of the many luxury villa resorts, or merrily boating along the marsh rivers – there’s a zombie lurking at almost every possible corner and most of the routes eventually taper into a narrow pathway, leaving players exposed as they have to navigate virtually in single file.

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Riptide is a particularly creepy version of Dead Island owing to its backwater jungle island setting and sporadic hints of native black magic and voodoo on the island. No matter where on the island you may find yourself, there never seems to be enough breathing space to feel comfortable and you are constantly worrying about what is (or isn’t) looming over your shoulder.

The NPC interaction has been vastly improved with a separate section now available in the player menu to see who the other survivors are, what they need, and where they are. This new interface gives a greater sense of teamwork and makes managing the NPC’s much easier. The added side effect of this is that it also gives a perception of life for the NPC’s as they are now presented as one would find live players too, which is a subtle enhancement to the survivalist premise of the game.

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Was Dead Island our last resort or does Riptide rip?

For some gamers the fact that Riptide has not deviated too much from the original Dead Island may be seen as a failure on the developers’ parts, but I see it as embracing a winning formula and giving fans more of what they enjoy. Besides, Riptide has plenty of tweaks and additions to the game that will make any veterans of Dead Island immediately notice the improved gameplay mechanics. Riptide boasts a plethora of new zombies, a very sensible NPC management system, and a few particularly immersive boss battles. There is a tremendously vast and detailed open-world setting to explore with various secrets to uncover as you pursue the main quest or any of the scores of side quests.

Riptide is by-and-large more of the same action RPG experience we’ve come to love from Dead Island, one notable change between the original and the sequel is that the release version of Riptide is virtually bug free from the beginning and is miles apart from the original in terms of initial teething issues. If you are a fan of Dead Island or of zombie games, Riptide is certainly one for you to try out, especially if you can find some friends to play co-op with. Statuettes of mutilated female torsos aside, Riptide proves that Techland has produced an endearing zombie RPG adventure game that is probably going to be around for a very long time to come, regardless of how the movie of the game’s movie pans out.

The Good: Vibrant and detailed open world; good, subtle improvements to the original Dead Island; interesting mini-battles.

The Bad: Rare graphical glitches; no concierge on duty – terrible baggage claim service!