Dead Island Riptide: A Critique
Out of the frying pan....
I absolutely hated Dead Island, and to begin with, I can't think of any reasons as to why that was. To this day I still scratch my head thinking what ruined my experiences. Maybe it was because of immersion issues, the actual theme itself, the story telling, the combat, but I know for certain the ending made sure I would no longer play that game again.... at least for a while, 'cause I'm starting to hunger for it again. Make no mistake; this game is not much of an improvement over the original, so I guess that's why I want to return to it. My main complaints would have to be the visuals, and how sharper they are than the previous title. As good as it sounds, it doesn't look very much like the Dead Island I know, and it makes cinematics look all the harder to watch. The control also tries to make the game feel more 'realistic', and it's not as fluent. I'm not saying they're Resident-Evil standards of control, but regardless, this isn't acceptable. My final complaint for the time being would have to be that this game is best played in co-op, but here it's almost punishing to play solo. The amount of activities that require you to cover long distances are far greater than the previous game, and the obvious reply to this is that it's far more convenient as a team to travel such lengths. With that out of the way, let's begin the review of Dead Island: Riptide.
Techland developed this game with Deep Silver taking the publishing credit, and released Riptide in late April 2013. It uses one of Techland's favourite engines which has been revamped considerably, Chrome Engine 5, which has been used in several Call of Juarez games. One thing that I ought to mention is the controversy I foresaw with Deep Silver's advertisement campaign concerning their limited edition version. They released the chest (with the arms, head and legs severed) in the form of a 'bust' (quite literally when you see the images, which I shan't show here but you can see for yourself), and immediately conjured negative reception once again because of how misogynist and generally disgusting it was. Personally I like it, but in saying that, I'm the person who would recommend you watch A Serbian Film without a passing thought. What is it with Deep Silver making horrible stuff and then apologising for it? Many have claimed that they've got balls, but if they'd shown any they'd zip up again and say "we're sorry, it won't happen again". Anyway, I'm drifting off, I apologise.
"What's the point in calling your game a zombie roleplaying game if there's no roleplay?"
The story is told rather well in the beginning, and comes from the perspective of Purna, or at least the narrative does. After that it turns into a soap opera where all characters are visible and you're not really sure where you personally come into all of it. Riptide takes place moments after the first game, where you've left safely on a helicopter and are running out of fuel, but land yourself on a military ship just in time. Now, whether you consider this upcoming bit as spoilers or not is down to you; if you don't want the previous game being spoilt, I'd suggest you look down at the next paragraph. You also learn that the people of the first Dead Island game that weren't playable pretty much got eaten, meaning all of your quests and contributions, your exploration, your skill ups and any collectables were for nothing. To you that might not mean a lot, but I hate it when games render everything you'd done before useless. Very similar to the way Fable 3 ended. Not only this but the game also shows this in the cinematic cutscene where the original people are getting eaten and butchered by zombies, before Banoi got nuked.
Not long after you meet another character called John, who is a poor excuse of adding more content to a game that's overpriced DLC. Oh, and his right arm is always profusely bleeding for reasons unknown. You're all there on the boat and being held against your will because your blood may be the best way to cure this zombie threat, because all the playable characters are immune. It doesn't take long before the ship gets overrun by the undead, and you're thrown onto the new island of Palanai.
I'm not too fond of how things turned out and this was one of my biggest worries with the first DI game, that it would be so generic and pitifully easy to guess. And it turns out this is just a deja vu with blotches of Resident Evil all over the script. And as soon as you get to the first camp we have the same bland and lifeless characters, zero development of them and I'm swearing at the TV followed by the question "WHO TALKS LIKE THAT?!".
....into the fire
Dead Island: Riptide is underwhelming in how much content it brings to the table and how much has changed. Palanai is still comparable to Banoi in many ways involving the starter zones, the camps, the buildings, the character models and the zombies you'll face, but at the same time I can't blame the developers seeing as this is another holiday resort. Oh, and it also has more remnants of the Zulu empire all over it. Apart from a new character, a not-so-Quick Select menu and alterations to the story there's not actually that much that holds this game together. However if you loved the original Dead Island to no end, this is certainly for you.
You'll start the game with character creation and you get a bit more freedom here than before. Unfortunately the characters are mostly the same when it comes to their talent choices, mostly being melee or ranged and also incredibly weak. Sam B. seems to be the only worthy choice and in the original he was vastly overpowered thanks to his health and stopping power, and saying he was the "Tank" doesn't cut it, because even without support he could still take Banoi by storm and then the Vietcong army. Another thing is that people don't react differently to the character you choose; you can't change their clothing; you can't give them additional skins; you don't have different dialogue choices per character either. What's the point in calling this a zombie roleplaying game if there's no roleplay?
I decided to go with John this time because of the obvious reasons, but made my own custom build. This allows you to put your 14 points that you start with into the 3 talent trees there are: Fury, Combat and Survival.
- Fury allows you to pull of special moves, each being different depending on the character. To pull these off you need to kill and maim your foes, and in return you get to do killing and maiming but with red vision and gorier effects. It's not that good a mechanic, but it's worth filling up your fury bar anyway.
- Combat does what it says on the tin - increases the damage of all weapons, their durability, your attack speed and probability of doing critical hits and the like. You can also learn special moves like slides, tackles, hooks and sweeps, as well as all kinds of things with guns. This is the one you'll want to focus on.
- Survival is for the roleplaying aspect of the game - lockpicking, upgrading weapons, reducing the cost of repairs, reducing penalties upon death (you lose cash each time you die), making healing more effective and all sorts. It's very good to invest in this, and one person within the party should have more emphasis on this as a support role.
Another roleplaying aspect of the game would be the inventory but this doesn't serve much purpose outside of storing your weapons and junk. If you're not going to upgrade or repair most of your things and instead just pick up weapons as and when you need them, you shan't need to invest many points into the Survival tree. Creating weapons is still great, but the requirements for a lot of them are over the top, requiring 20 different reagents to create them and that's discluding any ammo required for them. However repairs are easy to cover, and they're done from the workbench, the same place as the upgrades and item creation. There's very little point to upgrading weapons because of the huge power increase that happens in every single single-player RPG sooner or later. It happened in Two Worlds, Fable, Mass Effect, Medievil and so many others that needn't be named, you get my point. But because it's so cheap it's not like you'd want to miss out on it either. Money doesn't play that much a role, and never has in these games, but be sure to buy plenty of ammo, medkits and keep some spare for emergencies.
The only other RPG element of this game would be quests and they're typical but at the same time better than what most MMOs out there are offering. They're the typical "save my family member", "look for supplies", "defend the camp" and "find my engagement ring" ones, none of which are particularly engaging but they most be done in order to get your £25 worth out, right? Thankfully most quests are optional and there's some real gems out there, but the main plot is as you'd expect from Dead Island, a drag, and not a subtle one that seems to pay for itself.
At this point I should say that there's no use in me sounding like I'm complaining because I expected this, and it's my own fault for wasting the cash. But what little I've played so far is rather fun.
I'd said in my "Why I stopped playing Dead Island: A Review" article, which is long lost to the Twisting Nether, that combat wasn't particularly engaging and it didn't suit first person play. I was wrong and stupid, for I did not see how this game would do things. I commented earlier on the game's control and how stiff it felt, correct? Well this comes into play here. During combat you'll be swiping at enemies and throwing objects at them and blowing their brains out, but you'll notice almost immediately how long it takes before your weapons respond (mostly melee), and trying to get fast attacks in is a joke. Maybe it's because I'm playing the PS3 version, and it might be improved on PC or X360, I don't know, but here it's the stuff of nightmares. Adding to this is the Stamina, which is a good mechanic if done well, but it's got way too much emphasis here. In the previous article I'd stated Stamina had no role, and it didn't do much for you in combat. Here you have to keep your eye on that bar at all times, because as soon as it drops and you get hit, you will fall down and be ganged upon. There's no room for trigger spamming here, and while that's a good thing, it tries too hard to prevent it. If there was a parry system rather than quick time and kicks, I think stamina would be perfect. But instead you've got to keep your eye on that bar rather than the zombies, because it'll kill your own health will kill you faster than the undead.
Dead Island's combat was fine originally and I guess I was blinded by my hatred toward the ending to put that in my review. It may have been stiff in melee but it wasn't as bad as it is here. Guns work fine and throwing objects is too, but the melee combat - the meat of the game - is atrocious for the most part. If this control was put in the original game, and Riptide had that one's, both games wouldn't just be perfect - they'd be fair.
The first game's zombies didn't scale with level all too well but here they do brilliantly, adding a lot of tension to the combat and making things challenging. But because of bad control this game can be a letdown in that department, and it's a shame because I bought this so I could make amends to my thoughts on Deep Silver's last zombie game.
As far as I'm aware there's no additional zombie concepts but rather character models. Let me say that they look absolutely fantastic and the corpses lying on the ground all torn and shredded are great. This is where the art teams get my commendations, but for some reason the soldiers are usually half-naked, missing their torso or leg armour like they've been sunbathing or something. I'd hazard a guess that it was torn off so the flesh could be eaten, but their chests and legs remain intact. Oh well, I'm getting too into depth with it.
The zombies are the same, involving walkers, sprinters, crawlers and the ones that spit venomous and flammable bile. Thugs are far more of a pain in this game thanks to level scaling, but they're still only walking hunks of meat and if you can make them bleed, you can kill them. There's not much in the way of originality and with zombies nowadays I don't expect it. The best thing about Dead Island is that it knows it can't be any more than it is, and therefore doesn't attempt to be any more than that. I always welcome new additions, but I also admire a company and a title that knows when to quit. So if you're into the Romero zombies and the L4D ones, this jolly bunch will sate your love for 'em!
There's one thing that I think needs covering but with a game like Dead Island it's not really all that important: fear factor. This game isn't scary at all and doesn't even attempt it. The only time I am scared is when I turn around and see a zombie there, but I'm always doing that and it's not to the game's credit either. The game takes place in daylight, a pet peeve of mine when it comes to horror games and really took the heebie jeebies out of Left 4 Dead 2. It could work if the game had emphasised the apocalypse more with needing to remain hydrated and well fed, well rested, use lavatory facilities and fight disease. But Riptide is torn between survival horror and action horror and isn't sure what it wants to be nor how to execute it. The only time this game was scary was when I went into a claustrophobic cave where there was little room and lots of Walkers and a Thug, as well as a time when a grey sky covered the area with heavy rain. Apart from that, being able to see zombies in the distance and sprinting past them laughing makes this game all the less tense.
The survival element of the game is there and needs a few more tweaks, but at least it's a major improvement over the first game. In this you can 'upgrade' your camps, providing electric fences, turrets, getting more people to guard and patrol, finding supplies and making minefields. This is good but not new, because it should be standard for zombie horror games where you have bases to retreat to. We've seen this in flash games a decade ago, and only recently has an Xbox LIVE Arcade game emphasised this, and done a much better job I might add. Also, you don't see many of the upgrades in your camp - you can have fences and minefields but they still don't get used because there's no more zombie invasions. So that's another mixed bag to put in the wheelie bin of Riptide.
Two heads are better than one
Before I talk about the visuals and audio I'll discuss the multiplayer. This game is far better with its multiplayer because it has "drop in/drop out" features allowing players to join instantly without having to start from a particular checkpoint. The game also saves when a player leaves meaning that you won't have lost any progress and will still have all the rewards of before if you reload a nearby checkpoint. One thing I love about this game is how easy it is to have a good time with friends, and when it comes to goofing around like Criken, no game can top Dead Island. It's a wonderful sandbox game and killing zombies is so much more fun with friends than it is alone, and teamwork is really good here.
I'd said earlier in this article that the game was somewhat punishing if you weren't in a group but this was mostly because the game was designed around having 2-4 extra people in the game. The thing is, with zombies scaling to your own level, if you're alone things can become unfairly challenging and it's very easy to become vastly overwhelmed. With friends you're not dumbing down the fight per se, you're just evening the playing field and thus making things much better. Things like teamplay and voice commands are also only useful if you're online, so once again those planning on the single player experience are going to be left out. It seems as though if you play the campaign alone you're getting the short end of the stick, but if you're constantly online, the drop-in and drop-out system will be great as it adds life ocassionally, and people can't do much to grief you by using the environment to their advantage.
The sights, smells and sounds
Dead Island: Riptide is visually appealing but doesn't give the right first impressions. I shouldn't complain because what I expect from a horror game regardless of its antagonist or subgenre is darkness, which causes natural psychological effects to non-nocturnal creatures like ourselves. When you start on the ship interior it doesn't look very nice, and not in that nitty-gritty Seven way either, but instead the textures are sharp enough to cut a katana in two. It pales in comparison to the first game's smooth textures and vision blurring when you spin the camera 360 degrees really fast, but that's just me - each to their own I guess. The character models are nowhere near an improvement but instead look worse, save for the zombies which look like they're made of glass and have been painted (they're that shiny), and the animations are ridiculous. Did the original art teams catch the Rage virus or something?
The soundtrack is almost nonexistant and it's a shame because a game like this could do with some 28 Days Later, but instead the game goes with the eerie silence mood. But that only works if there's darkness and a better atmosphere than a holiday resort. Dead Island doesn't seem to get the mood right and while it was great the first time round, I can only see Deep Silver milking this cash cow until its udders turn red.
Let me wrap this up
Looking back at this review I'm not satisfied with what I've said, especially when it comes to explaining this game. I feel as though I've not discovered everything in this vast world, and yet I've had to drag out my review out of frustration for it. But now it's time to end this review, but please know that if you feel as though I've missed something, state it in the comments below!
Dead Island: Riptide is both disappointing and doing what it said it would. This game was promoted so badly, telling us that it added a single new character, team commands, the quick select system.... these were the only things they could come up with to put on the blurb? But you know what? They are right - this is all Riptide adds, and it's not exactly worth bragging about. I call things like this ODLC, named after Halo 3: ODLC. Overpriced Downloadable Content. For ten pounds less I could get the Shivering Isles which may not be as long, but it has far more exploration factor, easter eggs, treasure hunts and one of my favourite rewards: the raise dead spell.
I don't like giving games negative reviews but I have to in order to save you money. We're in a time of recession and it's only getting worse; we can't afford to casually blow 25 bucks on something this poor. The new character; the quick select; the voice commands could've all been made a patch for the original game, and this island could've been sold for £5-7.99 on the downloadable market, not a full retail priced game. I truly am sorry; I wanted to give this game a positive review but it's upsetting to know that despite this, the publishers will continue to make more for the Dead Island franchise, and put less and less effort into each one.
This game scores a 4 out of 9, but gets the "Chainsaw Hero" accolade for its gory and bloody nature. Without the co-op, this game is only good for die-hard Dead Island fans, and if you're new to the franchise I recommend you play the original before you get this. It's just so unpresentable for a game that has so much promise and unexplored themes. There's not much exploration into the genocide of zombies, the taming and treatment of them, racial and gender tensions during this time of crisis, triage and civil war and reminiscence of the time on Banoi. Because of this, Dead Island: Riptide loses so much depth and potential story, things that made the Romero flicks different in Day and Dawn of the Dead. Making combat more visually presentable, making it more immersive and rewarding instead of a chore would increase my favour. Having memorable NPCs and distinct player character differences would also be great. You can tell that I want to improve this game because I'm suggesting things, and I'm trying to justify my rage and complaining before. Just look at any other RPG and you will see how much Dead Island leaves to be desired.
So to put the bullet through the head at long last, do I recommend this game? No. Get the original and make your opinion, but don't let this review be your final opinion on whether you should get this game or not. I thank you for reading, and I wish you all a pleasant day.
Mashing zombies is great and the story is there, but there's no reason to get this game over the original. If it's the RPG side you want, take the first game instead of Riptide.
Seeing as I've not completed the game yet I can't say for sure.
The movement is not very good and the attacks can be slow and irresponsive. Whether this is because of the console or the actual game I cannot say. However the sprint is actually a sprint.
Whilst the visuals are sharp, the zombie models are great and Palanai looks as good as Banoi. However human character models and animations are disgusting for this day and age.
Very few songs at all, let alone few that capture the mood.
See 'Lifespan', though I can't see myself playing this again.