Dead Island is a divisive franchise. Some people find its unique blend of RPG character progression and melee-heavy zombie fights enthralling, others find it derivative and unpolished. Those criticisms rang true with Dead Island's 2011 release and remain so with its successor, Dead Island: Riptide. What is also true, however, is that the qualities players loved are also present, carrying with them a new setting, new character, boats, and twenty hours of fresh content. As its budget price indicates, Riptide is more expansion than sequel, so if you liked the first game, chances are you will enjoy this follow-up.
Riptide begins where the original game left off and lets you import your saved character from the first game. Your ragtag party of zombie-immune survivors finds itself whisked away to a Navy ship moored just off coast of Banoi, the plague-ridden island from the first game. Rather than finding rescue, your team is quarantined and subjected to experiments at the hands of Serpo, a well-dressed civilian who is mysteriously in charge of the operation. Before long, your character comes to find the ship out of control and infested with walkers. You make your way to the deck in an attempt to steer it clear of the island, but to no avail. The ship crashes and you surface on the shores of Palanai, a jungle island suffering from the same outbreak that you just escaped. From there the story takes a less prominent role.
You are given the choice of five playable characters. Each has its own backstory but none with any impact to the game. Each also has a specialization, such as blades, firearms, or fist weapons. Your choice of character dictates your progression tree and investing level-up points fleshes out characters by offering new attacks, boosts to survivability, and increased proficiency with the character's weapon type. At the outset, you are given the option of allowing the game to automate these choices but doing so is disempowering and not recommended. I chose to specialize Xian - a blade-wielding character - in ‘survival’ skills, without losing sight of weapon skills and Fury support ability. Towards the end of the game, she wasn't just Xian, she was -my- Xian.
Dead Island: Riptide is about one thing and one thing only: killing zombies. You will send hundreds of these shamblers to their rest before the game is through. It is good, then, that Riptide really nails combat. Every character can wield just about every weapon, as long as their level will support it. I mostly found myself eschewing firearms and rushing into close quarters. Dispatching enemies involves aiming at a body part and lashing out. While conventional wisdom dictates striking at the head, it is devilishly satisfying to lob an arm or leg from an approaching foe. Indeed, some zombies, such as the over-muscled thugs, can be rendered almost harmless by shearing off each arm.
The game offers two different control schemes, analog and digital. While digital is aim-and-click, analog gives control of the sword arm, mimicking the pull-back and follow through of an actual swing. This system takes some getting used to but quickly became my preferred method of attack, feeling more natural than the digital scheme.
Viscerally fun combat, lots to find and explore, more of the same
Lackluster story, inconsistent voice acting, more of the same