Zombies again? Really? Well just like military shooters, zombies appear to have an enduring appeal for gamers. Dead Island Riptide is the next instalment in the hack-and-slash-the-living-dead genre, following up on the surprise success of the first Dead Island. It combines shooting and melee action with multiplayer and RPG elements in an innovative tropical environment, and the package works.
This game is an example of what seems to be a new wave of half-sequel, half-DLC releases: Although released and sold as a standalone game, it is really very much the same as the original, with a new story and environment, new skills and weapons, and one new character. This means that if you have played the original Dead Island you largely know what to expect, as there are only minor tweaks.
The four survivors from the original game have survived the outbreak of the zombie plague on the prison island Banoi, and land on a carrier into the hands of shady military and civilian types. After meeting John Morgan, a veteran soldier of the Australian Defence Force, their troubles quickly resume as the carrier is caught in a destructive storm which washes them up on a tropical island which is, of course, overrun by zombies. The four original characters are all playable here: Sam B, the rapper with matching bravado; Logan, the American ex-footballer; Purna, the Australian bodyguard who specialises in firearms; and Xian, the Hong Kong police officer who favours blades. Broadly, the diversity of characters here is refreshing, and dialogue matches the characters fairly well.
[img_big]center,10271,2013-04-09/deadisland-riptide-all-all-screenshot-034-waterfall.jpg,Dead Island Riptide[/img_big]
This is not a game that has placed a huge emphasis on narrative, though. Really the main story we have here is “Zombies, run!” and the core mission is to escape the island. This is broken down into a variety of main and side quests which are mostly variations on a fetch quest theme interspersed with a crazy-missionary or quirky-scientist subplot here or there. But if you’re looking for a Pulitzer Prize in a game like this you’ve come to the wrong place: It’s the RPG elements and core gameplay that make Riptide what it is. Simple drop-in multiplayer and scalable difficulty makes it an experience best shared, and the character classes can be very complementary.
I played as the new character John Morgan, whose overly broad Australian accent and ripe slang was only occasionally laughable. Morgan’s speciality is hand-to-hand combat, with his weapon of choice being brass knuckles and claw gloves (Wolverine anyone?). This does not restrict your playstyle too much though, as the four weapon classes (blunt, hand-to-hand, blades and firearms) have associated skill trees that give substantial bonuses. Characters have three class-specific skill trees that allow considerable flexibility along combat or survival lines, or allow building up the “Fury” mode that gives buffs to combat.
[img_big]center,10271,2012-10-11/deadisland-riptide-all-all-screenshot-001.jpg, Dead Island Riptide[/img_big]
Weapons are also upgradable and customisable, but also deteriorate through use. Fortunately though, this does not mean needing to constantly pick up new weapons: they are easily repaired at any of the many workbenches that are scattered across the island. In-game currency also allows you to upgrade weapons to make them much more powerful. Blueprints and scavenged resources allow you to build mods with elemental effects, and using poison, electricity or fire against hordes of zombies can make for some spectacular fun.
Explosives, thrown weapons and firearms are all entirely functional: Although there is not much meatiness to them, the variety is adequate and damage is as you’d expect. Unique ranged weapons such as the flare gun and harpoon provide some innovative opportunities and recoverable ammo. Generally, though, ammunition tends to be scarce and expensive, so you better have a good aim, and a backup weapon or two. For my money, though, melee is the highlight of this game. Hand-to-hand weapons are fast and offer at least as good a DPS as heavy melee attacks, which is refreshing. There is a huge variety of melee weapons: the blunt class offers police batons, baseball bats, morning stars and more, and an elevation damaged bonus encourages strategic use of the environment. Blades are particularly fun, allowing the dismemberment and decapitation of zombies in gory and highly satisfying animations. In addition to this combat, occasionally defending a base or running down zombies in vehicles provides further variety, and different enemy types require you to alter your strategy to suit.
[img_big]center,10271,2012-10-11/deadisland-riptide-all-all-screenshot-004.jpg,Dead Island Riptide[/img_big]
Dead Island Riptide is not a perfect game – there are occasional bugs and glitches that should not still be hanging over from the previous game. The storyline is pretty light, and occasionally terrible voice acting is somewhat compensated for by generally strong sound and visual design – in particular, the tropical environments can be stunning and highly varied. Riptide‘s greatest strength is just a thoroughly fun and engaging combat system, which offers all manner of smashing, slicing, dicing, and incinerating hordes of the living dead in a tropical paradise where you’d probably rather just sit by the beach and have a beer.