Dead Island Riptide is the second game in the cooperative zombie RPG series, developed by Techland and published by Deep Silver. The first Dead Island game was released in 2011 and the reception from gamers and critics was incredibly mixed. Riptide has the survivors of the zombie apocalypse on Banoi return as the infection sweeps their rescue ship, forcing it to wreck on the rocks of another tropical island, Palanai. There is a fifth protagonist this time around, John, an ex-soldier skilled in hand-to-hand combat. Personally, I did not spend a lot of time with the first Dead Island, so I will refrain from comparisons and review Dead Island Riptide as a stand alone title.
Once the game begins, a playable character must be chosen, each with a proficiency in a particular combat style. I chose Purna, a female Australian bodyguard whom is skilled in the use of firearms. The idea was that towards the endgame, my guns would stand me in good stead. Choosing her turned out to be a great choice for an entirely different reason however, as her deep Aussie accent coupled with unrelenting foul-mouthed aggression kept me smiling throughout my playthrough. Basically, the choice comes down to your preferred method of braining the undead. After a short single-player intro played out on the ship, the game opens up. Dead Island Riptide is an open world, first-person combat RPG with the predominant focus on melee weapons.
Weapons can be found anywhere in the environment and are color coded based on rarity, and they can be upgraded a number of times or modified to be more deadly as long as you possess the blueprints, crafting items, and are at a workbench. There is a surprising amount of depth and scope in weapon modification, all manner of vicious implements of destruction can be created and testing them out on a group of hapless brain munchers is great fun. The whole weapon creation system makes combat much more rewarding and adds another reason to explore for loot.
After the shipwreck you find yourself on a stunning beach with a couple of other lucky (or not) survivors, tasked with locating a nearby village populated by a handful of not yet infected people. These characters will fulfill important roles throughout the game; some act as shops or weapon banks, and they will regularly ask for aid in the form of missions. The more aid you give them, the better the items sold in shop inventories. Rare weapons or mods can often be gained upon completion of missions too. The story is centered on the group of immune player characters and vulnerable NPCs, their struggle for survival, and dreams of escape. The island is not only overrun with undead, but the monsoon has flooded vast swathes of land, giving rise to a malaria outbreak. It is a desperate scenario. The story itself is pretty clichéd, (its a zombie story after all), but it does enough to keep things interesting.
Dead Island Riptide‘s gameplay is typical open world RPG stuff. Missions are generally fetch or kill quests, but there is usually a good reason to tackle them whether it be for rewards, rare items or simply learning more about the characters you are fighting for. You will be fighting a lot. Every trip outside a safe zone will quickly descend into a macabre butchering session before you can blink. Combat is exhilarating, intense, and completely gruesome. Dead Island Riptide is not for the faint of heart. Depending on your weapon, zombies will be sliced up, smashed to pieces, and bludgeoned in the nastiest of ways. As an example, I met a big zombie, about 8 feet tall and twice as tough as the normal variety. I attacked this big, dumb creature with a combination of an electric crow bar and a katana, and after a couple of minutes he looked a sorry state. He was bleeding from the jugular like a sprinkler, one of his legs was broken at the knee and was now floppy, his arms were lopped off at the shoulder, and his entrails were hanging out of his stomach. Kudos to the zombie though, as he still tried to hobble in my direction to headbutt me as a last line of attack. I laughed pretty hard at this, such is my warped sense of humor. My character, Purna shouted “Piss off you bloody wanker” as he finally capitulated, and his head hit the floor. I laughed harder.
Each playable character has a unique trio of skill trees that fall under the categories of survival-combat-rage. There is scope to build very different characters depending who you choose and which skills you upgrade. I’m not sure if there is a level cap, but the game can be played again with increasing difficulty upon completion, with inventory items and cash intact, and the possibility to max out those skills.
There are two control options for the combat. The default “digital” set up is a basically “hit R1 to attack”. You are still able to aim at different parts of an enemy and most players will find it perfectly usable. There is an “analogue” option uses the right stick to swing the weapon in any desired direction and offers the opportunity for some precision brutality. This control option can be hard to master, but it adds a new dimension to the game.
I played through Dead Island Riptide in single player mode, and I tried some coop play in between sessions and it worked very well under the right conditions. Players can drop-in and out of other games freely, as long as the other person is no further through the main story as their partner or partners are. You will need to join games with the best connection possible though as ping is a zombies best friend. Combat relies on timing or a group of undead will tear you to pieces in seconds once they get close enough. A bad connection makes combat all but impossible. I also encountered the other big problem with coop play… other people. If your play styles don’t match up there will be no fun to be had, so playing with your friends and working as a team is recommended, that way you should have a great gameplay experience.
Dead Island Riptide boasts some wonderful visuals for an open world game. The beaches, forests, rivers, and villages that provide the setting for the main map provide some wonderful visuals. The tropical island theme is rendered beautifully with some great environmental effects, and impressive vistas really give Palanai a sense of identity. It is the contrast between this paradise and the evil that lurks within that makes Dead Island Riptide so effective as a horror experience. The sounds of distant horror are pretty disturbing and the music plays tricks on you, giving a sense of security when there is none. A moment of tranquility as you wander down a sunlit path lined by palm trees, admiring beach ahead will be ruined completely as a rage filled infected storms in from the left, grabbing you by the throat and attempting to bite off your face. It can take a moment for the shock to dissipate before you work out what to do and before you know it, limbs are flying, blood is spraying and the zombie’s ugly mates have heard the commotion and are closing in. There are some classic moments in this game, that cannot be denied.
I had so much fun with this game that I am reluctant to be too harsh on it, but it does have a few technical issues that should be noted. The most serious of them is the slowdown and frame rate reduction during hectic scenes. There are set pieces where safe zones must be defended from huge hordes of undead and the game, at least on the PS3, struggles to cope. The lip syncing is no better than awful, the cut scenes look worse than the game itself, and textures can take a while to load. Oh, and don’t try to jump over obvious obstacles to try a sneaky shortcut or you will find yourself stuck in a place the game didn’t anticipate that you should be. There is only one remedy to the “stuck in the environment”problem which I only had to employ once. Throw a grenade at you feet and spawn back to safety. Probably best to crouch down and sit on it, just to be sure as losing your feet is a bit hit and miss, but having your arse blown off, guaranteed respawn.
Dead Island Riptide will no doubt divide opinion once again, as its predecessor did. Yes, there are some technical issues but for me, the quality is in the right places. It is unashamedly brutal and rough around the edges, like the best of horror movies. It gets the zombie genre down to a tee though with plenty of jump scares and the odd hopeless moment when there is nowhere left to run without making things much, much worse.
Based on a review copy of the game, supplied by Dead Good Media, on behalf of Deep Silver.