April 23, 2013
Strategic dismemberment is still fun | Occasionally beautiful environments | Base defense portions can be intense
Been there, done that feel | Loads of graphical glitches | Voice acting is pretty awful |
Dead Island: Riptide picks up shortly after the original. Upon escaping Banoi and the prison, the four main characters end up being taken into custody by some military outfit and a smug VIP named Serpo since they’re immune to the virus that turned everyone on the island into zombies. After meeting another immune survivor, John Morgan, they’re all drugged and presumably getting tested on, eventually coming to as a major storm is hitting. On top of that, while asleep the boat has been overrun with undead. Long story short, the aircraft carrier wrecks on the shore of the nearby island of Palanai. You soon meet a group of survivors led by a WHO researcher, Harlow, and have to live long enough to figure out a way to get to escape this nightmare.
As a huge fan of the zombie genre, I usually like set ups like this. For the most part, I dug the story of the original Dead Island. I felt like there was a real sense that some of the people you’re helping were barely scraping by or actually could use some help. Sure, there were moments when you’d meet odd characters that wanted you to go collect 10 vodka bottles for them, but it was fairly few and far between. Aside from the beginning, though, I never got sucked into Dead Island: Riptide. It was too predictable. It didn’t have many moments that really took my breath away. It felt like it was just there to get you from point A to point B without much to get you excited enough to want to know what happens next. In terms of story, I didn’t have much of an urge to keep playing just to see what happens next as I did with the first game or similar titles like Dead Rising.
I’ll get into this in the audio/visual tab too, but I also had a problem with the story cutscenes. At key points in the game, cutscenes are used to try to emphasize the moment and progress the story. My issue with it was that the dialogue was mostly horrible, and the amount of profanity can be so overwhelming that it’s almost comical. Sam B’s dialogue is particular bad. I’m not sure if there’s a single sentence spoken by him that doesn’t involve cussing at some point. It was sad to me because the story tries to be so serious, but I couldn’t help but laugh at how bad the story was at times.
The gameplay of Dead Island: Riptide is almost identical to that of its predecessor. You’re still going to be running around the island with one of the four main characters, lobbing off zombie arms. You still have tons of side quests (almost all “save me” requests) and weapon mod blueprints to search high and low for on Palanai. It’s all very familiar. I’d say that it’s a little too familiar to be honest. If you put the games side-by-side, you’d be hard pressed to guess which is which.
There are some new elements to the game, but none of them are exciting or fresh ideas. Half of the new special zombie types look eerily similar to the Left 4 Dead boss zombies, and they don’t require a lot of thinking to figure out how to take them down. New weapon mods have been added to the mix too, but I couldn’t tell much of a difference between the first game’s mods and this game’s. Even one of the biggest changes in Dead Island: Riptide, dealing with the flooding brought on by the monsoon season, tends to detract from the experience. It really only adds the use of the boat and takes up about a third of the map. Zombies are sparse, for the most part, in the flooded sections so it ends up as just empty space.
Negativity aside, Dead Island: Riptide can still be a blast to play. I had a ball bobbing around as Xian jump-kicking ghouls and stomping their skulls in. It’s very visceral and adds a bit of strategy to combat. Also, if you played the original, you can carry your character’s stats over to Dead Island: Riptide, which I’m a huge fan of in games. It doesn’t let you bring weapons or mods over though, and if you’re worried that it’ll make the game a lot easier, fear not. Enemies scale to your level to maintain some challenge. The multiplayer is still pretty enjoyable too with you and 3 friends wreaking havoc on the undead scourge. Personally, I’d recommend going solo. It gives a better sense that you’re struggling to survive and hopefully leave Palanai. Plus, I find that having extra people there can make it incredibly easy.
My favorite new addition is the tower defense sections. At certain points, wave after wave of zombies will attack whatever stronghold or safe house you’re at. You and your group have to fortify the area by setting up chain link fences, planting mines, setting up turrets, etc. These moments can get really tense and will have you juggling between fixing a torn down fence and decapitating zombies.
Graphics / Audio
Dead Island: Riptide won’t be winning any awards for outstanding visuals any time soon, but that’s not to say that it’s an ugly title. The island can be very beautiful and colorful at times. There are some decent effects, and I love the fact that you can get blown back and knocked down still. It’s a small detail, but it adds to the experience in my opinion.
I have a few issues with the visuals of this game though. For starters, some of the character models can look downright disturbing. They have that wierd shiny skin syndrome that seemed to plague characters in the first batch of next-gen games when the 360 first came out, and some of the NPCs have funky faces. Another big deal for me is that the eyes of the main characters in the cutscenes are just…off. They don’t look or move even close to naturally so it really took me out of the experience. The glitches of the first game remain intact in this game too. You’ll see the occasional screen tear, and enemies walking through doors and floors or getting stuck on objects in the environment are a common occurrence. During the more intense encounters, the frame rate drops so low that you’d think you were watching a slideshow. A few times, I had some strange encounters with the weather system too. It would start to rain and then suddenly stop with alarming quickness. No rhyme or reason. Just instant clear skies.
While on the topic of glitches, the audio department doesn’t come away unscathed this time either. I periodically heard this strange scrambling noise after some zombie shrieks. I had audio completely cut out a few times too. Also, I don’t know if this is a glitch or not, but Xian would say the same generic phrase after almost every loading screen. It got to be supremely annoying as there are a lot of load screens.
The soundtrack isn’t anything to write home about. There’s a new Sam B song that is much better than his last masterpiece, “Who Do You Voodoo”, so there’s that. The voice acting is passable though it still has the same problem as the first game in that the way some of the characters are portrayed seems a little racist to me. I understand that Sam B is a rapper and will be profane. I get the fact that Xian is going to speak broken English since it isn’t her native language. I just think that it goes a bit too far at times, again taking me out of the game because I’m thinking about how absurd some of it sounds when Sam B spits a string of curse words that would make Barret from Final Fantasy 7 blush. I may be thinking too much about it, but it was a constant distraction for me.