Dead Island: Riptide Review (PC)
- Updated: 23rd Apr, 2013
As a general rule, the best thing about zombie entertainment come from the characters. The human struggle to survive when all the odds are stacked against you. The relationships between people, straining to find some semblance of normality in a changed world. Dead Island: Riptide nods to all that and cuts straight through to zombie dismemberment fun. You’ll be chucking explosives, jabbing things with electric shocks and swinging a whole plethora of melee weapons, all of which are improved by jamming nails through the end. Yes, including the brass knuckles.
Riptide is the standalone sequel to 2011’s surprise zombie-smashing hit, Dead Island. Those familiar with the original will recognise the four playable specialists: Purna the firearms expert, Xian Mei with her edged blades, Sam B the blunt weapon fighter and Logan, who throws knives. There’s also a new one, John the antipodean, ex-soldier who favours hand-to-hand combat. I like John. He says things like “Yeah, now you’re dead!” after blowing up a horde of zombies, right when I would too.
More Fun With Friends
The game is definitely designed for multiplayer and not just in that “everything is better with friends” way. Certain zombie types, like the thug, are much easier to dispatch in a group. The thug, by the way, is one of the key enemy types that you’ll meet quite early on. Standing a foot above your average walker, thugs move slowly but a single blow from them will send you flying and knock off half your health bar. They’re properly annoying if you’re playing John the hand-to-hand fighter by yourself.
Pair up with another melee fighter however, and you can take it in turns to bop a thug on the back of the head until it goes down. Alternatively, use firearms expert Purna to take it out from a distance while you run around in circles as bait, staying just out of arm’s reach. Whatever character you’re playing, it’s easier with partners.
Missions are almost uniformly of the “kill everything between here and the waypoint” variety. There’s some attempt to wrap it up in a narrative but it’s not really interesting enough to be important. This game is all about the slayage, with missions mainly being excuses to get you from one place to another.
Roaming about the island, you’ll occasionally come across buildings and compounds with DEAD ZONE banners strung across them. These are intended to be multiplayer challenges – arenas in which teams work together to battle a hard-as-nails boss, with the obligatory swarm of walkers at his feet.
In practice, you can beat them solo with a few well-placed explosives and the occasional death. It’s okay, dying usually just costs you a lump of money and seven seconds of your life. Then you’ll pop right back up somewhere nearby (usually) to carry on where you left off.
Riptide comes with in-built voice chat on PC, which is pretty handy for teamwork, though it doesn’t include a push-to-talk option. As with its predecessor, you have drop-in, drop-out co-op so if you set up a public online match, be prepared to have random people popping in and out. By some arcane dark art, having a level 51 popping into your level 25 party doesn’t affect the game balance – they’ll see zombies as their level while you see them as yours. Magic, I say.
There’s the option to set up a LAN-only game as well. We had no trouble playing online, but once I passed Nick in the main storyline it became impossible to find one another on the LAN. My game simply didn’t show up for him, nor his for me. Instead, I had to set up a online and invite him through Steam before we could play together, despite sharing a router.
The Solo Experience
Even though the game is designed around co-op, there are ways to play solo. Any group of three or fewer walkers can be easily managed by a well-placed boot and a few blows to the head as they stagger about. You don’t even need to aim that precisely as a cursor hovers over nearby zombie parts, turning red when you’re close enough to hit. Explosives are a good tactic for larger groups. Toss a stun grenade into a pack of zombies and follow that up with a well-placed Molotov. You’ll soon whittle them down to a more manageable number.
Grenades can get expensive, however. While there are workbenches everywhere to repair, upgrade and create weapons, there’s no way to experiment. You need blueprints to create the simplest of items. Sure, everyone and their dog can figure out how to make a molotov cocktail using a bottle of booze and a rag – open bottle, insert rag, set fire to rag, throw far, far away. In Riptide, you could be carrying a dozen of each and some premade molotovs you found lying around. Your character still won’t figure out how to make their own without being told.
Having escaped from the first game’s resort setting of Banoi, the team are now stranded on a nearby collection of islands known as Palanai. As well as haring around the roads in various open-topped cars, you can now whizz around the water in boats. With the water comes one if the new forms of zombie – the drowners. I bloody hate the drowners. They move fast, they’re really strong and half the time you can’t see the buggers because they’re clinging on to your back as you try steer your boat. The trick here is to use the boat’s speed boost to ram through the buggers before they have a chance to grab on. Drowners and walkers alike will rupture into fountains of meaty blood with a satisfying squish.
It’s not all blood and gore. You’ll find a few collectibles around the islands, including a series of audio logs from former survivors who are probably now zombies themselves. Compared to the annoyingly repetitive statements spewed by every NPC you approach, these are remarkably sensitive.
There’s a soldier trying to come to terms with the parameters of his mission. There’s a holidaymaker shocked by the site of a 5-year-old biting one of her friends in a rabid frenzy. These were far more interesting than anything in the main plot but still not really enough to elevate it into something more than a hack and slash.
Dead Island: Riptide is fun. It’s not going to change the world and yes, the ambient dialogue is awful. Strafing will make you want to hurt things because it drops your speed to about half that of your normal run, for no good reason that I can fathom. But at the heart of it all, chopping zombie arms off with a vemon-spouting machete is fun. Punching their heads off is fun. The skills tree gives a satisfying sense of progression and power, while picking the best combination of weapons and mods is entertaining.
However, it’s launching at full price, and there’s just not enough variety, story or character to justify this. Tack on a terrible interface, made worse because I was on PC, and Riptide is simply not worth £35-odd quid to anyone who’s not already a fan. Wait for a price drop or get a rich friend to buy an extra copy for you.
Dead Island: Riptide will be out on Friday 26th April for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.