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The Game Effect Review

Dead Island: Riptide Review

A Not-So Happy Return to the Series

By Whitney Bulna on 4/26/2013
 Dead Island: Riptide may look familiar to those who played the original  Dead Island. It is not a sequel to 2011's  Dead Island; rather, it is an expansion, a 1.5 version of the original. Unfortunately, it hardly merits a stand-alone release.

Tell Me If You've Heard This One Before...

The game takes place right where the original left off, continuing the story of 4 survivors trying to escape the zombie infection on the fictional island of Banoi off the coast of Papua New Guniea. The survivors are immune to the infection, which renders them the ad-hoc saviors of everyone they encounter. The introduction of a fifth, also-immune survivor adds a fresh face to the group as well.

Riptide takes place on another nearby, newly-infected island called Palanai. After a thrilling introduction involving a ship, a storm, and the military, the crew is stranded on the island. The survivors must find supplies and shelter while trying to help other stranded islanders, all while trying to discover the cause of the infection. The story is thin, and rightfully, not the focus of the game. While it is a bit more rounded than the original, it is hardly the driving point behind playing  Riptide. This is made even more apparent with the repetitive, bland side missions that often center around fetching items or saving people. When considering the basis for these side missions, it can be hard to justify bothering to trek across the dangerous map just to find a bag of cocaine for a single, unimportant NPC when the reward is a few measly dollars.

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The acting does nothing to improve the boring story. Combined with some laughable character designs, it can be difficult not to notice. One-dimensional facial expressions that should elicit sadness or anger often appear stiff, and ridiculous dialogue can immediately break the immersion. What's supposed to be a serious situation is often ruined by an abundance of curse words, campy stereotypes and a lack of connection with the characters. Unlike similar games like  Left 4 Dead, humor does not help the story.

Dead Island: Riptide is fairly unforgiving to new players. If you played the original,  Riptide gives you the option of importing your character with his or her skill level and skill points. This makes it incredibly easy to fall back into the rhythm of killing zombies and collecting items. If you start from scratch,  Riptide gives you almost no tutorial information about combat, enemies or navigation. Even I, who spent almost 40 hours playing the original, found myself questioning how fair it was throwing a Butcher, arguably one of the hardest zombies to kill in the game, at me with no explanation of what it was or how to defeat it.

Zombie Slayin' Action

Combat is largely unchanged from the original. Melee weapons are still ideal for attacking the undead as guns are few and far between. The opening sequences are deceiving since you are given several guns, only to lose them once you arrive on Hanoi. I had only a flare gun for the first 5 or so hours of the game, and by that point I had spent so much time honing my melee skills and upgrading my weapons that I couldn't even be bothered with guns. It is unfortunate that melee combat is still the main focus of defense since it is clumsy and inaccurate, to say the least. Zombies almost never attack alone, which can make connecting attacks with enemies incredibly annoying and difficult. One of the few saving graces of the game is how rewarding it feels to kill enemies; but getting to that point is arduous. Many times zombies would freeze, disappear, or run straight through me and grab me from behind. It got to the point where I preferred driving over zombies rather than attacking them on foot.

Looting in Paradise

Upgrading weapons and leveling your character make up the bulk of  Dead Island: Riptide's core mechanics. Upgrading involves rifling through storage units for items that can be used to improve weapons. Collecting these items and creating shock mods or flaming machetes is a lot of fun, especially when you get to use these Frankenstein creations on the un-dead. Creating an electrified or flaming knife and watching it cut through enemies like butter is immensely satisfying. Characters level up when enemies are killed or missions are completed. The level cap has been increased from 50 to 70, but no new skills have been added (at least, not that I noticed for my character or my co-op partner's). It wouldn't have mattered anyway since I gained 10 levels in my first 4 hours of gameplay, and I had maxed out my skill tree to the point where I found any remaining skills useless.

The most obvious new addition to the game is the ability to drive boats. The map is filled with rivers and lakes, so it makes sense to add the ability to traverse murky waters via automobile. Unfortunately, boats bring about a whole new set of troubles that make driving them impossibly frustrating. Zombies will float silently in the water until you pass, only to grab a hold of you and pull you into the depths. I have found no way to prevent this myself, unless I have a co-op partner who smashes the boat into a wall and kills them. If you happen to drive over a zombie, it slows you down temporarily and often leaves you vulnerable to attack. Avoiding them entirely becomes the obvious tactic, except most areas are far too small to allow driving around them. Most times, you're left trudging through water while hordes of zombies with seemingly unnatural stamina sprint at you, laughably keeping pace with your boat if you're lucky enough to stay in it that long.

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Palanai is a far cry from its predecessor Banoi. The island consists mainly of shantytowns filled with decaying bridges hanging by a few rotting boards. There are some gorgeous ocean views from the beach, and the grottos and lush forests make for some great juxtapositions to the gritty feeling seeping from the island's overall setting. The graphics, however, look unpolished and the frame rate is terrible.When several zombies attack on one screen, the frame rate drops to a snail's pace and combat becomes impossible. Freezing and delays left me vulnerable to attacks, and my system would loudly clank as it tried to keep up. At one point, I encountered six zombies on screen at once and my system ended up crashing because of the strain. This was especially unfortunate since online co-op only increased the work load for the machine.

Environments are cut and pasted many, many times over to the point where it was distracting. In areas called "Dead Zones," it was painfully obvious just how often room set-ups were reused. It became comical after I kept seeing the same living room with the same chairs and magazines accompanying it (with  Dead Island: Riptide written on the cover, nonetheless).

Overall Impression

I was incredibly disappointed with the final product of  Dead Island: Riptide. Even though it wasn't marketed as a sequel, it hardly should have been a stand-alone game. The game felt like a step back rather than a step forward, which is a shame considering I greatly enjoyed the first title in the franchise. Hopefully some of these issues can be fixed with a patch, but that hardly makes up for the overall low quality of the game. Dead Island: Riptide is nowhere near the zombie paradise you were hoping for.

This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360. A copy was purchased by The Game Effect staff. 
The Good
  • Fun weapon upgrades
The Bad
  • Difficult for new players to the series
  • Poor graphics
  • Lackluster combat system
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Jolt815 on April 30, 2013
Seems like I saved a few bucks. Good review of a not-so-good game. 
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JohnWittenmeier on May 05, 2013
That's the general synopsis pretty much. I wasn't too enamored of the game either, but I suppose it provides a decent distraction from life's toils... if being scared and hacking at zombies to survive can be called a "decent" distraction...
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