There is a song on Metallica’s classic 1986 album, Master of Puppets, called The Thing That Should Not Be and I’ve always thought that it would work perfectly as music for a horror film or game. While tonally the music would not fit well with Techland’s Dead Island: Riptide, the sequel to their popular zombie slaying RPG, its title does kind of lay out exactly what I think of the game. Dead Island: Riptide is the thing that should not be.
Riptide Picks up immediately after the events of Dead Island with the survivors of Banoi finding themselves on a scientific vessel in the Pacific Ocean filled with people that want to poke and prod them because they are immune to the zombie plague. As with any shady organization dealing with bio-weapons, things go bad and the plague breaks out forcing the original survivors to once again pick up anything and everything to fight back the zombie horde.
The opening of Riptide takes place on that ship but the majority of the game takes place on Palanai Island, which is, you guessed it, another island “paradise” infested with zombies. The first half of the game tasked me with running menial quests for people as we attempted to get to Henderson, a larger city across the way. While it may sound familiar to its predecessor, all the locales in Riptide are toned down a touch. Palanai is nowhere near the scale that Banoi was, with most of it resembling the mediocre third act in the jungle of the original game.
Being as you are traversing a jungle island, Riptide gives players the opportunity to drive a speed boat, after you find the engine of course. Controlling the speed boat was fun, although when a zombie did latch on and attempt to get aboard I felt frustrated because there is no simple defense maneuver to perform, instead the game force me to get out of the boat and back in. And Riptide is filled with these little design quirks that turn smart new ideas into frustrating endeavors.
The most disappointing of these new endeavors is the inclusion of base defense, ala Gears of War Horde mode. Integrated directly into the campaign, the base defense aspect of the game forces players to prepare their base for a zombie assault by putting up barricades and setting up gun emplacements. While the concept sounds great, in practice it just saw me running from point to point trying to make up for the poor AI handling of the situation. Worse, sometimes the game would bug out and my barricades would disassemble and the horde would just walk right through. Riptide has tons of fun bugs to experience as well, each one more painful to experience than the last.
Some of the bugs are just common, open world jank (graphical issues, like enemies getting stuck in or clipping through geometry), but while fairly commonplace, they generally do not hurt the overall experience of the game. In fact some are downright amusing. Unfortunately there is a dark side to these bugs as well that hurt the overall experience. Things like zombies being able to kill through walls, specifically the Suicider exploding in a building but killing the character outside the building behind a wall, and infinite spawn loops resulting in zombies magically reappearing right out of thin air, or zombies that suffer absolutely no damage no matter what you hit them with. These bugs are decidedly not amusing and add a level of frustration that really detracts from the experience.
It doesn’t help any that the experience being carted out is so aggressively similar to the original game. Riptide is still on a tropical island, the missions to be completed are still mostly tedious time sucks, and weapons still break way too fast for most of them to be truly fun. Dead Island: Riptide is simply just more Dead Island. And from a personal standpoint, I cannot say that more Dead Island was something I particularly needed or wanted as the first game lost its appeal after leaving the resort area.
That is not to say Riptide does not have its moments because it does. The first time you run over a zombie with your power boat is particularly fantastic and nothing quite beats the scare you get when the first floater gets a hold of you. And like all open world games, the best moments are generally the ones created by the player or in this case, with a co-op partner because that is where Riptide truly shows its potential, as a co-op experience.
The core nature of Dead Island, lends itself well to a co-op experience and is what many fans have wanted out of Bethesda’s open world RPGs for some time. Riptide takes that core Dead Island experience and expands on it a bit, allowing each player to act autonomously within the game but still function as a unit (should they choose to). Players can play the game as they see fit but everyone benefits from their actions when playing together. Still, its best when playing with friends as communication amongst randoms is often lacking.
At the end of the day though Dead Island: Ripdtide doesn’t really have much to offer over the original. And as such, one can’t help but wish that Techland had taken more time to flesh out a newer, more engaging experience. As it stands Dead Island: Riptide is just another thing that should not be.
Review Note: This review was done using an Xbox 360 version of the game provided by the publisher. It is also available on the PC and Playstation 3.