Dead Island: Riptide has taught me two things. The first thing is that I would be the most selfish survivor possible in a zombie apocalypse, since helping locals seems nothing more than an inefficient and potentially risky use of my time. The second this is that Techland don’t know the difference between more of the same, and the exact same thing. I’m looking at Steam’s £34.99 price tag, and I’m wondering what happened to Riptide being ‘priced to reflect the end of the console cycle.’ Riptide is a game that plays like its previously announced altruistic price point. For once, it seems, a game is more expensive on PC than it is on the consoles.
I was a huge fan of Dead Island; not particularly phased by the misleading advertising campaign, I enjoyed the darkly comedic trudge through sandbox zombie isle. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but those who called it another Left 4 Dead took their criticisms too far, when in reality, there wasn’t anything really like it. There still isn’t anything quite like it, apart from the sequel, which is exactly like it. It’s it, round two.
As I usually do, I’ve got to get the bugs off my chest right away. For some inexplicable reason, Riptide’s audio doesn’t work with the Logical G35 headset. This is a problem 3 of our team faced, with audio reproduced as a horrible pingy static sound that makes it seem as though your headset is broken. Using conventional audio outputs remedied the problem somewhat, but there was still an odd popping from time to time with earphones through the head-phone jack. What’s more, audio strangely just cut out of the game occasionally, forcing a restart to remedy the situation. Not cool, Techland.
Riptide also suffers from a problem I don’t remember in Dead Island, where zombies would fall through the floor, or just emerge through solid objects. You can also be hit through the floor, which often kills you. I wouldn’t necessarily say that any of these are game-breaking bugs, and I don’t think Kotaku’s right in saying it’s “too broken to be worth your time,” but Riptide definitely needs some patches. None of the bugs stopped me enjoying it, though.
The game picks up where Dead Island left off, in a scene that doesn’t necessarily introduce the game in its best light. Stuck on a frigate in the ocean, apprehended for your immunity to the virus, the ship becomes overrun by zombies. I’m not sure why ‘going all Call of Duty 4′ seemed like the best move for Techland, since they have you shooting before they have you stabbing, but things quickly pick up when you hit land to the tune of Palanoi.
Palanoi is Riptide‘s Banoi. A more native, less touristy island, Banoi is made up of jungles, river-side houses, and beach huts. The island is also flooded, following a monsoon, which gives narrative reason for about the only thing that’s been innovated within this installment: boats. Whilst boats are fun to zip around in, getting in one seems to spawn a bunch of water-zombies around you, as they clamber on and often kick you out of it. It was cool watching them run towards me, screaming, as I tried to speed off on the boat – but over long distances, especially playing alone, it gets really annoying as they pop up all over the place around you and behind you in the rivers.
That’s one of the biggest differences between Riptide and Dead Island… zombies are just a headache. I can explain why, and most if it comes down to the fact that Techland will not let you play this game alone. Yesterday, I tried to contact Deep Silver three times to try and determine whether or not there was a balancing bug in the game. I found that my level 34 character, imported from my Dead Island save, was dying in only three hits of a zombie. How am I supposed to do anything in a melee based game if I can’t block, and there’s no dodge, and I die in three hits? I received no reply, but prompts such as “a full health bar is the only way to survive a zombie mob” and checkpoints that spawn you about 6 feet away from where you died pretty much confirmed the sad fact that Dead Island is not a game made to be played alone; I do not remember the first one being so stringent in its design.
Much of the game remains the same, and Techland haven’t really fixed any of the criticisms the first game received. You’re still an errand boy for everyone on the island, and the dynamic of the game and its narrative and progression is nearly identical. You do quests for weapons, you upgrade them, and you repair them. Weapons break down very easily, and most of your money will be spent on repairing them. What was an interesting survival horror mechanic in the first feels more like a tedious chore in Riptide. I found that repairing a single weapon used up 60% of my cash at every visit, and that’s a lot when you’re using several in your rotor.
There isn’t any effort to establish any character development this time, either, even with the games new playable protagonist John Morgan. He is an ominous ex-soldier in a yellow T-shirt, that’s about all we know. The game, therefore, feels like a lengthy expansion pack more than a sequel. There’s nothing new here – at all. I’m one of the guys who’s absolutely fine with that, but Palanoi is an island I didn’t enjoy nearly as much as the eerie and cynical tourist gore-fest that was Banoi. Citizens in need of help have been reduced to people standing on mini-vans, instead of some of the more interesting quests of the first game, and any stealth-horror mechanics have been totally stripped. Much of the game feels like the middle of Dead Island: running through the jungle, slicing zombies’ heads of.
One area of significant improvement is the urbanized areas of the game. Dead Island’s city moments were arguably the weakest part of the game, but Techland have tried a little harder to make a more endearing, picturesque urban environment. The enjoyment factor is mirrored here, in that Riptides finest moments happen out of the jungle, whilst Dead Island was much more fun within the thatched roofed holiday huts and hotels at the beach. I commend the team for not falling into the trap of giving you guns too early – aside from the opening sequence – because there was always a risk that since we ended the original with guns, we’d start the sequel with them, too. Whilst we did technically start with them, the majority of Riptide remains a melee zombie game.
I found a lot more potential enjoyment in Riptide than enjoyment that came into fruition. My experience was constantly hampered by weapons getting worn down too quickly, and being too expensive to repair. Dying after only 3-4 hits, even cooperatively, was completely immersion breaking, even when I had the health perks, and health-packs fixing only around 7% of my HP was ridiculous considering the games tip prompt expects me to have enough to stay at 100% for mobs. Mobs are everywhere. Every zombie is a mob. There’s never only one or two. You kill one, and 10-20 come running. When you’re one or two guys against 10-20 zombies, and you die in 3-4 hits, you’re going to be gritting your teeth. As much as I wanted to open myself up to Riptide, there were a bunch of fundamental flaws almost trying to stop me from doing so.
Dead Island was also much more of a three-dimensional experience. For the majority of Riptide, you find yourself running right between the two poles of the map, through the middle. Instead of circumventing the island with trips into the denser areas, as in Dead Island, most of the quests tediously expect you to go 500 meters in the opposite direction. Everything I was asked to do seemingly had me running 500 meters in the opposite direction. I know there was a narrative explaining why I had to do it, but after a while it felt as though they might as well have quest text saying “I need you to run 500 meters that way, then come back again.” You’d get to the objective, and someone there would ask you to go and run 500 meters in another direction. You scratch my bank, and his back, and their back, and those guy’s backs, and I’ll scratch yours.
This all meant that, yes, whilst Riptide had all of the mechanical features of Dead Island, it lacked most of the charm. Anything added seemed ill thought out, such as the ability to upgrade and fortify your quest hub. In these areas, you’d be periodically attacked by hordes of zombies, having to hold them off. In a game about killing zombies, having a safe-house is a nice break from all the zombie killing. Techland decided to ruin that by making safe-houses about zombie killing. I guess there’s some enjoyment in doing quests for these people, which usually include running X amount of meters to collect Y object for them, or giving them left-over weapons to make your allies stronger, etc, but when zombies hit so hard, and weapons get run down so quickly, we really didn’t feel like wasting our time, energy, health-packs, ammo, money, and weapons, on some old woman who’d reward us with about 2% of the cash we’d need to repair everything we needed to do it in the first place.
Palanoi just isn’t as exciting a place as Banoi, and some of the balancing tweaks have come as a huge detriment to exploration. It’s still fun to slice and bash zombies to death, and some of the additional weapons such as nail guns, harpoons, and better melee weapons are a welcome addition, but almost everything else about Riptide – other than the urban areas – is of far lesser quality than Dead Island. Whilst Techland made an admirable attempt to keep things melee focused, achieving it for the most part, they failed at creating an island as enigmatic and realistic as Banoi.
Something happened in Riptide that I can’t put my finger on; a collection of subtle changes here and there that have essentially prevented me from enjoying the game. We didn’t feel at all like exploring, because that seemed too detrimental to the team, and too risky. Quests weren’t as enjoyable, and everything felt so gamey. Directions and orders were literally just directions, and context or narrative just seemed lost somewhere. Whilst I genuinely thought I would love Riptide, despite the negative criticisms, I felt like it was trying very hard to make me hate it. People who absolutely loved Dead Island just for zombie killing might find a home here, but for those who were appealed by something deeper, it doesn’t seem to have been replicated in this “sequel”. A few patches and some spit and polish might open up the island for us, but for now, we’re just getting from A to B, trying to keep our own alive, and that’s more of an upheaval than an enjoyable experience.