For most of us, when faced with a menu of exotic and unfamiliar dishes, we’ll plump for the same thing every time. Yes, there may be an entire menu to peruse, some of which we can even decipher, but on the rare occasions we’re willing to pay over the odds for someone else to feed us, we want something we know we’ll enjoy. This bias towards the familiar, our tendency to play it safe, is a quintessentially human trait, and one Techland are very aware of. It’s also the reason they’re willing to invest a significant amount of time and money on the not-quite-sequel to Dead Island, Dead Island: Riptide. Despite plenty of damning reviews, it's an investment that seems to have paid off, as the title currently sits atop the all formats charts for the second consecutive week. Horror gaming enthusiasts will no doubt remember the mixed reception the original title received from both critics and customers. Despite lacklustre review scores and the many game-breaking bugs plaguing the title, it managed to turn a huge profit and amass a considerable fan base (having genuinely enjoyed it, LaptopZombie bucked the trend and reviewed it well). So is Dead Island: Riptide dead in the water as critics suggest, or is it a case of fans knowing exactly what they’re paying for?
To clarify the “not-quite-sequel” comment above, developers Techland have openly admitted that they themselves do not classify Riptide as a fully-fledged follow up, preferring to mark the title as Dead Island 1.5. Which means Riptide has the makings of an extension or extensive DLC to the original campaign. It’s also rather an astute way of silencing the naysayers who bemoaned the game’s lack of innovation or new features (we’ll address this shortly). The truth is, everything about Riptide looks and feels like the original: the environments are similar; the original cast reprise their roles; the story is a direct continuation; and no inherent mechanics have changed (although they have been slightly refined). Even the marketing campaign was distinctly familiar, in so far as we were treated to an “emotional” CGI reveal trailer (which, while well received, failed to replicate the reaction of Dead Island’s trailer), followed by lengthy gameplay exposés (which again fell short of the original’s, as gamers realised nothing new had been added to the franchise). Despite all the above, Riptide shamelessly sells for full price. Are they (dead) serious?
Firstly, the plot. Dead Island: Riptide picks up exactly where the first one ended, with the survivors heading for salvation aboard a stolen helicopter. It’s not long before fuel runs low and they’re forced to land on a military carrier ship. This being Dead Island, the military are anything but trustworthy, and things quickly go awry, leaving the survivors stranded on yet another island, surrounded by the walking dead. Fans of the original will no doubt accept that Riptide’s story is an afterthought (translated in-game it amounts to fetch quest after fetch quest; in fact, there are even fetch quests within fetch quests). It’s a badly written, at times cringeworthy experience – we’d even go as far as to suggesting that some of the dialogue rivals that which burned our ears throughout Aliens: Colonial Marines (yes, it’s that bad). If you’re looking to pick up Riptide, however, chances are that it’s not in anticipation of the next great zombie novel. As the game is relying on you being a fan, character skills can be imported from saved game slots from the original, or, if you’d prefer to create a unique protagonist, you’re given a generous fifteen skill point to assign from the outset. As with all of Riptide’s content, the RPG mechanics have evolved very little, giving players a chance to add a few extra killing moves or improve the damage of others. Again, the “walkers” level up with you, meaning it’s effectively up to you how you want the splatter to play out.
With us so far? Bad story, awful dialogue, similar environments to the original, limited RPG mechanics, and a campaign that refuses to deviate from fetch quests (we should also add that the game isn’t that pretty, and, like its predecessor, is littered with glitches). Why, in that case, did we absolutely love it? A good question and, in homage to Riptide’s stubborn refusal to move things forward, we’re tempted just to post our original review and be done with it. But there’s a little more to be said than that (and maybe some justifying to be done). The simple fact is that Dead Island has beautifully captured the feeling of a zombie apocalypse and its gruesome ramifications. Yes, it’s clunky and badly implemented, but it’s also terrifyingly entertaining. The undead issue a horrifying scream as they become aware of your presence, moving towards you at breakneck speed, only to be met with a boot to the face as you slice their limbs off with a katana. They’re still moving? Why not stomp their skulls into gory oblivion? Fans of uncompromising visceral violence need look no further; Riptide has it in spades, and, while most people seemed to grow tired of it during the twenty-or-so hour campaign, we loved it. It’s consistently brutal and consistently entertaining. Add to this the four player jump in/out co-op and, should you have likeminded friends, Riptide is essential.
To summarise this admittedly conflicted review, we’ll ask the question again: should you pick up Riptide and pay full price for what is essentially an extension of an existing (and heavily flawed) game? The answer is simple (and, yes, the irony isn’t lost on us). Ignore every review on the subject you’ve read, from critics to gamers. Only you can answer the question. Did you love or loathe the original? If you were among the majority who were unable to see past its flaws (which is perfectly reasonable), then avoid the sequel like the plague. There's nothing new here and, with few of the original’s flaws addressed and plenty of new ones along for the ride, this is not the game for you. If, however, you were willing to turn a blind eye to Dead Island’s failings, and spent many an enjoyable hour wandering the impressively large open world and dismembering the undead, and you fancy the exact same digital meal once more, then by all means order the usual, sit back and enjoy.