I made the mistake of waiting over a week to sit down to write this review after Steve-O and I completed our initial run-through of this game, so my thoughts aren’t as fresh as when the credits ran. For better or for worse, my review of this follow-up to the sleeper hit zombie-slaying 2011 release is what I anticipated it would be before I even played the game. I expect this to mean one of two things: either the video game industry has become way too predictable or I play too many video games.
For those of you who haven’t been following my blog for very long, I’ll give you a little run-down on our history with Dead Island here at Hardly Hobbies. Steve-O and I both happen to be fans of RPGs and gratuitous zombie violence. We stumbled upon Dead Island far too late and became hooked. I gave it a sterling review and both Steve-O and I have placed it on our Favorite Games of all Time lists. Dead Island‘s faults add to its charm. The entire experience is akin to a badly written B horror movie… In all of its unpolished, glitchy, cheesy glory. It usually doesn’t take itself too seriously. And that is what we love about it.
I watched some gameplay footage and interviews with developers before Dead Island’s successor released. My initial assumption was this: the next game will be more of the same, and they won’t bother to fix any of the obvious issues with the first one. I am pleased to say this entry is more of the same. I am not so pleased to report they didn’t take the time to fix many of the glaring issues with the first. Open-world games always seem riddled with bugs, and Dead Island is no exception. Unlike, say, Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, I haven’t stumbled upon any game breaking bugs (my Bethesda boycott still stands, TYVM). But there is a crap-ton of glitchy quest trackers, zombies miraculously running through walls, and weapons disappearing into the void when you throw them. With that being said, dead zombie bodies still twitching while stuck halfway through a fence is part of that unpolished charm I love so much about it.
What kills me is when they don’t bother fixing dumb things that don’t take any creativity to fix because the riddles were solved back in the 90’s. For example: inventory management in this game is still horrific. Why can’t I tell the seller how many of a particular item I want to buy instead of clicking the confirmation button 99 times? Why can’t I just hold the down direction to scroll through my inventory? Why can’t I organize my hundreds-of-random-items-long inventory? Why does the game keep randomly equipping a different weapon on my character? Like I said, elementary stuff.
Riptide captures the soul of the Dead Island experience, even with the additions I’ll be discussing momentarily. At the expense of mini-spoilers (haha!) the plot is mostly predictable. The main characters from the first game escape Banoi, only to stumble upon yet another zombie-infested island. This time around, there is another immune character to add to the roster: John Morgan. I know him as the Aussie veteran with a bad attitude and a Big Boot! Steve-O and I debated for a while as to whether we should import our level 40-something Xian from the previous save file or start over as John. When we found out you don’t carry over any inventory and would therefore be fighting level 40-something zombies with level 10 knives, we decided against Xian. Plus we’d heard John can really kick zombie butt. And oh, does he kick zombie butt. John kicks zombie butt across rooms, streets, and flooded alleyways. Literally. His electrifying uppercut is nothing to shake a stick at, either. Not only can he pound zombies to kingdom come with his knuckles, he also gets ridiculous health regeneration skills as well. Yeah, he is my new favorite zombie killing machine.
Aside from adding a new playable character, they also added new zombies to kill. Walkers and Infected are still the most populous of them all. There’s plenty of Floaters and Thugs. I don’t know why, but I had a harder time differentiating Thugs from regular zombies at a distance compared to the last game. I would have enjoyed more Rams and Butchers, we didn’t stumble upon too many of them. The new zombies are Drowners and Screamers. Drowners are wet zombies who jump out at you while you’re in the boat or running across water. They also never drop loot EVER. Screamers are absolutely annoying because they scream (surprisingly), and in doing so they stun and/or knock you down and invite all of their zombie friends to pummel you in your incapacitated state. But at least they drop good loot most of the time.
The last main feature that really stood out from the previous game for me were the barricade defense missions. At different plot intervals you get to set up barricades and fight off invading zombies with the rest of the survivors and cast from the first game. These quests are often hectic, but fun. As John they weren’t usually too difficult, until you found yourself fighting groups of zombie mini-bosses and every NPC suddenly needs your help fending off a particularly friendly zombie. I can see the point of these, but they became frustrating because I found it really stifling my creativity. In some zones the game has mounted guns you can use to pick off the zombie hordes. So I’d be all, “Sweet, I get to use a mounted machine gun!” or whatever, but by the time I got my butt up there the NPCs would start crying for help. I give up on shooting zombies, go find the NPC, and sometimes by the time I got there they’d changed their minds and took care of the problem themselves. After the zombies broke down the barricades (assuming the game gave me time to set any up) and all my mines/bombs/grenades went off, I gave up on the guns and went all fisticuffs.
With the pathetic way Xian, Purna, Sam B and Logan defend themselves against zombie hordes in Riptide, it seems nearly impossible that they survived the events of the first game. I thought it was ironic that I was playing as John and doing item fetch quests for all of them. They’re immune too, (obviously!) but they stand around with the survivors and not one of them volunteers to go with you while you’re getting piles of random crap for everyone. I agreed all too well with John when he would intermittently cry out, “Why am I the only one doing this?!” It would’ve been cool if you could select a character escort to accompany you while questing since developers seem adamant about making local co-op obsolete nowadays. I’m not really into playing with strangers online in games that aren’t arcade fighters or free-for-alls.
And that about sums up my two cents with Dead Island: Riptide. As many other reviewers stated; if you enjoyed the first Dead Island, you’ll enjoy Riptide. Killing zombies by punting them across the screen never got old. The game was so much fun that I usually forgot about the redundancy and absurdity of it all. I’m hoping Steve-O will have time to write a supplemental post regarding the other playable characters that he revisited, as I’ve only experienced this game with John so far. I’m tempted to load Xian and give zombies a whack with the BBQ blade I received via retail bonus code, but I’m not sure slicing off zombie limbs is as satisfying as dismemberment by a great big boot to the chest cavity.