STAFF REVIEW of Dead Island: Riptide (Xbox 360)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013.
by Brent Roberts

Dead Island: Riptide Box art Would you pay full retail price for what could arguably be considered a massive DLC pack from an already released title? Apparently Deep Silver and Techland think you will. Before we begin hacking our way through Dead Island Riptide, we have to forewarn that the game that was released promised much in the beginning, but then in the end became like an old marriage, where there are many faults, yet you still find enjoyment after all this time. If you approach this game as a direct sequel to the original Dead Island and with a bunch of new innovations that breathe life back into the undead, think again. Does Dead Island Riptide survive the outbreak, or does it succumb to the mindless cannibalism of the undead? Let's find out.

For those who have missed out on the original Dead Island, Riptide offers up a gory, survival horror game with various RPG elements scattered about to give what would normally be a very shallow game, some much needed depth. This recipe gives a great foundation for a good game and with the proper execution will deliver a fantastic game. What apparently got missed by the people at Techland is the whole "proper execution" part because Dead Island Riptide suffers from the same faults as the original and adds a lot more to the mix. You would think that the whole idea of a sequel was to improve upon the faults from before so they no longer exist and develop new ways to improve the enjoyment of gameplay from the first to the second game. Unfortunately though, you would be mistaken.

To say the story of Dead Island was less than stellar would be a gentle way of putting it, and the main reason for that are the shallow plot development and the speed of the story itself. In Dead Island Riptide, not only are the plot holes bigger in size with less development, but the story plods along at a snail's pace. Granted the whole premise of Dead Island Riptide is to explore a vast, beautiful island so technically you could pour many hours into exploration before starting off on the main quest, but in the end, you just can't escape the thin veil of what is supposed to pass for a plot. The story begins right when the original game ends and the original immune survivors think they find refuge aboard a naval aircraft carrier, but instead they are now joined by a new character that also appears to be immune to the viral outbreak. During this time on board you are greeted by a man named Serpo who would be considered your initial cliché corporate bad guy and with clouded intentions. An incident occurs aboard the ship and you end up wrecking onto the island of Palanai and now the stage is set for another round of gory zombie killing in paradise, Jimmy Buffet be dammed.

While the premise of the story offers potential, the execution and delivery of the story offer very little in terms of support. This is disappointing given that lessons should have been learned from the original release. This is when the shroud of promises begins to lift and you realize that there's more that went unaltered or even worse, gone backwards. Speaking of which that’s a great way to introduce another, glaring problem, with Dead Island Riptide, and that is the gameplay. Normally for a first person perspective you want controls to be tight, responsive, and most importantly fluid, however none of that is in this game. Instead you are treated to a very clunky, sluggish, floaty, unresponsive control scheme that makes you feel like you are moving by using the force rather than your analog sticks. It almost feels as though the game is second guessing what you want to do. If you are trying to maneuver throughout pathways, or open beaches, it doesn't matter to Dead Island Riptide because the control system almost pauses to think about what you want to do, and then ask you the question "are you sure?" After that is says ok, and allows your character to move, and when you find yourself surrounded by a hungry masses of the undead, the last thing you want is to have your movement compromised in any way, and unfortunately, it is.

Sadly though, this isn't the end of the beating this game is going to take, only this time, the beating comes at the behalf of Dead Island Riptide's greatest strength, the graphics. On the surface the game offers a beautiful rendition of what paradise could actually look like. Amazing lighting effects coming through the lush jungle trees, casting moving individual shadows that coincide with the ever changing environment provide amazing backdrops that you will find yourself pausing to admire the beauty around you. There's more good news as well with the graphics because every gory detail still looks amazing now as it did in the original Dead Island so decapitating numerous zombies never gets old. So you may be wondering what problems exist with the graphics? Well, the fact is that all of this beauty is great, until movement is introduced to the picture. Once that happens all the visual beauty and breathtaking landscapes comes to a crashing halt when the screen not only tears greatly, but slows to a jerky halt and almost will cause the game to crash. Right from the beginning when we had to get off the boat and onto the island, one enemy we killed in the water apparently produced so much lag that the game itself froze for over 10 seconds which caused more enemies to bombard us and with no response to controls, we took a serious beating. This problem though does exist all throughout the game in varying forms of intensity and degree, but most importantly, it never, ever, ever, ever, goes completely away.

With all the beating that Dead Island Riptide has already received, you start to think that Dead Island Riptide is a lost cause, but thanks to the RPG elements you will find yourself loosing hours upon hours of your life as you level up your character to the new level cap of 70. There are other positive notes as well. You have the ability to import your previous Dead Island character into Riptide so your character progression will pick up right where you left it. Fear not though, if you haven't played the original Dead Island because right from the beginning you are catapulted to level 15 and immediately have skill points you can spend on leveling up your character. This feature also bodes well when playing multiplayer because let's say you have a level 55 character but your friend you're playing with is at level 18. The enemies that your friend faces will scale to his level in his game, while the enemies you face will scale to your higher level. This prevents a really strong player from joining and completely overrunning all enemies in their path and creates a balanced challenge that rapidly becomes Riptide's saving grace.

This aspect that we just mentioned is where the core of any amount of goodness can be found within the game. You will find yourself traversing through the island over and over again, even after you beat the game, just trying to level up your character, improve your skills, looting numerous caves, houses, and more, and construct and develop new and brutally lethal weapons. When you tie in the seamless drop in and out aspect of multiplayer that we witnessed before you produce a game that removes a lot of the boredom and tediousness of the game and instead replaces it with a symmetrical balance of action, survival horror, and RPG elements.

Now that we have had our ray of sunshine amidst the nightmare, it's time to come back to reality. Already heralded as a sequel here is a list of what you actually get in terms of new content in Dead Island Riptide:

1) One new character - yup just one new playable character. This feature is normally found on DLC yet apparently is a reason to buy a retail title.

2) New vehicles - so the next big thing is new vehicles to control? Why isn't this DLC? Nothing awe inspiring here.

3) New level cap and weather conditions - Borderlands 2 raised the level cap on their game through DLC for a fraction of a price, but apparently the "new weather conditions" seem to one-up that fact and should be regarded as a reason to purchase a new retail title. Yeah right.

4) Evolved Multiplayer - the saving grace of Dead Island Riptide and as mentioned earlier will be the cause of you loosing mythical hours of sleep.

5) Weapon Proficiency - New RPG elements that allow you to grow in various forms of decapitation and body mutilation. You would naturally think that the more you shoot a gun or wield a melee weapon the more efficient you would be with said weapons.

6) Hub Defense Game Mechanics - While this new addition does add a slight amount of new enjoyment, it pales in comparison to the monumental faults already found in Dead Island Riptide.

So after all of this Deep Silver and Techland think that this warrants a new retail game purchase instead of just releasing this new content as episodic DLC. Sure there are new enemies to contend with which is slight breath of fresh undead air, but you get the sense that the people at Techland were more concerned with generating new enemies than fixing any of the previous faults that you can find blazing throughout the game. There are new vehicles though. We can't seem to comprehend why a company would think that following this path is not only productive, but profitable given that the potential to be a staple in the zombie survival horror genre. There is one new character though. While you will find yourself lost amongst the RPG elements, you will also find yourself struggling to get past the flaws and in the end, will only play this game for short periods of time. If you want a good first person experience where you can kill lots of zombies, look elsewhere. If you want a game that provides a DLC worth of content at retail price that is plagued with numerous faults, we give you Dead Island Riptide.

Improve the gameplay so that it feels more responsive, fluid, and direct. If you're going to do a retail title, then offer the wealth of content found on a new game. Dead Island Riptide feels like everything we do on this new island, we could have done on the last one. Fix issues that have plagued this series since the original title and that still arise today in this current release. Learn from this and improve the series, or just let it die. Whatever you do, do not release content that could be considered DLC as a separate retail game with retail price as the gaming world will see this as a sign of being taken advantage of and not be pleased.

Overall: 5.5 / 10
Gameplay: 4.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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