Picking up immediately after the events of the first Dead Island, we once again join Sam B, Xian, Purna and Logan as they are pitted against the undead masses in yet another tropical hell. As expected, their supposed rescue didn’t quite go according to plan and after narrowly escaping a sinking ship; they’re washed up on the beautiful island of Palanai where monsoon season has brought heavy rainstorms to decimate and flood areas of the formally idyllic archipelago. If environmental disaster wasn’t enough, the storms have also brought the zombie virus to the unprepared locals and just like that, the gang find themselves thrown into another nightmare to escape from.
Not content to die alone, they’re joined by newcomer John Morgan, a hand-to-hand specialist who has the added advantage of being able to learn weapon proficiencies quicker and sometimes auto-heal when knocked to the ground. The others too have been given a more defined set of perks and attributes. For example, firearms expert Purna can now generate a group combat boosting aurora in addition to holding more ammunition; while former quarterback Logan is resistant to fire damage and can deal powerful attacks when drunk. This allows for a more informed decision when selecting which protagonist to play as but for those reluctant to start all over from scratch, there also exists an option to import a Dead Island save file, allowing you to continue with your previous level and skill set.
Other new tweaks include a more accurate quest marker, restructured (for the better) menus, that provide additional information and are easier to navigate, an enemy guide in the form of Dr Kessler’s Casebook, and improved communication features for those playing co-operatively. The more noteworthy changes though come in the form of a dynamic weather system and hub defence missions. A sudden downpour of rain can shroud a once clear landscape with a suffocating fog, rapidly reducing visibility as the zombie hordes emerge mere inches from your face, during some tense and genuinely nervous moments. The inclusions of water too, thanks to the monsoon, can create a sense of apprehension as you slowly wade through in fear of corpses rising from the depths. It’s a simple gimmick but when used effectively can work amazingly well.
Meanwhile the hub defence missions, as the name implies, require you to protect an NPC camp or outpost from increasing waves of zombie attackers, very similar to Call of Duty’s zombie mode, or other horde-themed gameplay. While the proposal of being able to place anything from chain link fences, to automated gun turrets to help withstand the onslaught sounds exciting, it often disappointingly falls back on you running around in circles, in a desperate bid to thin out the herd, as the NPC’s idly scream for help. On securing these hubs you are presented with more missions, choosing to either move forward with the main campaign, or take on side-quests to help NPC’s gather specific items and upgrade the quality of produce sold in their shops.
There is a lot on offer, not so much in variety but in volume, and along the way you’ll often come across a random survivor that needs rescuing from an attacking crowd of the undead. Alas, saving them doesn’t add to the population of the hubs (unlike the safe rooms of Dead Rising) but they do offer substantial rewards for your efforts, so the distraction isn’t entirely worthless. Just like in the previous game, there is a large emphasis towards the looting and scavenging of resources. This in turn can either be sold for cash that can be spent on purchasing new and upgrading existing equipment, or if compatible, used to modify your weapons with some bizarrely effective functions. Nails in a bat can improve the chances of crippling limbs but a car battery hooked up to a meat cleaver can produce a wonderfully useful form of electric crowd-control.
However despite these new additions, Riptide can’t seem to shake its DLC roots, and ends up feeling more like Dead Island 1.5 than the fully fledged sequel it could have been. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, the original game was a fairly competent horror-adventure; but whereas follow-ups often grant the opportunity to refine and to expand on a concept, here Techland have simply chosen to deliver more of the same and it all feels just a bit tedious. Even with new mutations such as Screamers that attract unwanted attention and Drowners which lurk underwater, the zombies sadly remain near identical for the most part and once more continue to serve what feel like cheap deaths, when you’re frustratingly swarmed by a sudden horde of enemies.
The idea is there but the execution feels somewhat lacklustre, especially for the solo players like me who can’t help but think that Riptide, much like its predecessor, plays more akin to a co-operative designed title, shoehorned into a single player experience. The constant feeling of being overwhelmed and underpowered gets boring fast and is a harsh reminder that if you’re playing Riptide alone, then you’re playing it wrong, as if the developers forgot to cater for a true single player balance. Admittedly the slightly stuttering frame-rate (on the PS3 at least) and uninspired voice-acting, add to the B-movie flavour but if you had any gripes about the original, then chances are you’re going to have the same ones here again.
Dead Island Riptide is odd in that it works quite well as an expansion or even a spin-off but falls just a tad short as a proper sequel, which even the developers are still unsure if they want it to be. If you enjoyed the original and want an identical experience, especially if you plan to play co-operatively with friends, then look no further. Likewise newcomers to the franchise are in for a fun, if flawed, horror-adventure that can still surprise and raise an excited smile or two. Alas those wanting a substantial evolution to the series won’t get their expectations fulfilled here, and are instead best left waiting for the inevitable Dead Island 3 in time to come. Until then, don’t get eaten.