Review: Dead Island Riptide Special Edition (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Dead Island Riptide Special Edition
Genre: FPS/RPG
Developer: Techland
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: 04/23/2013

About a year and a half ago, after much hype and build up, Dead Island was brought to us by the folks at Deep Silver and Techland, and to say that it was a far reaching, if flawed, experience, is pretty accurate. There were ideas and concepts in the game that made it feel interesting and special, absolutely, and there was a lot of fun to be had, but there were also points in the game that showed that more could have been done with the experience to make it accessible and enjoyable. In other words, while there were certainly issues with Dead Island, between day one bugs and odd design choices, it was apparent that with some seasoning and effort, a sequel could iron out most of those issues and produce a game that was worthy of the hype surrounding the original. Well, here we are with Dead Island Riptide, the aforementioned sequel that held the opportunity to evolve the experience, and the good news is that the game is, indeed, basically about as bug free as a release is going to be in this day and age. On the other hand, however, the game is also an exercise in the developer choosing to expand upon elements and concepts that interest them over resolving issues from the prior game, as Dead Island Riptide is, honestly, the exact same game as its predecessor with some added systems tacked on top of it. The end result of this is that the final game is basically the exact same game, flaws and all, and a year and a half after the fact, it’s a lot harder to forgive the game for its issues as a result.

When we last left our “heroes” they had escaped from the hellish zombie massacre that was the tropical island of Banoi on a helicopter bound for God knows where, which is about where this game picks up. The helicopter ends up landing on an aircraft carrier, and the intro sequence spends some time glossing over the events of the prior game (and actually makes the ending of that game seem like it isn’t atrocious by ignoring most of it) before scrubbing all of it away and starting from scratch. The gang of four you started with in the prior game are joined by John Morgan, a Navy soldier who has been locked up on the boat for being in the same position as the gang: they’re all immune to the zombie infection that spread across Banoi, and there are people who find this very interesting. Well, this goes about as well as you’d expect, as another outbreak occurs on the naval vessel, leaving you stranded on the island of Palanai, another island teeming with local natives, resorts and all sorts of newly deceased tourists. The game hits the same basic notes as its predecessor with its plot; you’re taking orders from a military person who you don’t trust to escape the island and hopefully save everyone you can in the process, all while bashing in zombie skulls along the way. The plot is generally less satisfying on a base level when compared to its predecessor, in that the plotline spends more time on developing complex motives for human enemies over focusing on the enormity of the situation. This is fine, but as a “humanity are the real monsters” plot it’s just there and doesn’t have much to say on the subject, and the actual subplots aren’t anything exciting. Further, the ending is basically as unsatisfying as that of its predecessor, if not more so, as the game ends ambiguously and in a fashion that’s mildly unsatisfying in context. As depressing as the ending of Dead Island was, at least the player could walk away feeling like they accomplished something; here, the ending feels much more futile and without moral or accomplishment, to be frank.

Dead Island Riptide is essentially using the same visual engine as the prior game, though the environmental textures and physics engine have seen an overhaul by all indications. As such, the game maintains the same variety and technical proficiency of its predecessor, meaning that there’s a varied appearance to the environments, weapons and enemies you’ll see and there are generally few slowdown issues in normal combat, and everything generally animates well enough. The game features less overall environments, giving you only two major locations to visit throughout the game, but showcases more variety overall, so you’ll see one location with a lot of different areas instead of a few thematically broken up zones, in other words. However, the game engine is already showing its age and doesn’t look especially solid at this point, as it’s generally fine, but the visuals are largely unexciting and unimpressive all in all. Also, the new water zones can show some significant slowdown when you attack into the water, making doing so a bad idea both technically and if one values life. Aurally, the game is essentially the same as its predecessor, meaning that the voice work is as impressive as ever, both for the existing cast and the new characters specific to this game, and the background music that pops up is generally solid and fitting to the experience, if not anything you’d want to listen to on its own. The sound effects are as impressively implemented as ever, as well, and while many (if not all) have carried over from the prior game, that’s not a bad thing, as the original featured excellent aural ambience, and so too does this game.

For those who missed out on the prior game, Dead Island Riptide plays, at first glance, like most standard FPS titles, so anyone with genre experience should have little difficulty getting the hang of the mechanics. The left stick and right stick control your movement and aiming, the left trigger aims guns and allows you to throw melee weapons, and the right trigger fires guns and attacks with or throws melee weapons. A jumps, X is your context sensitive button for interacting with things, B heals you (if you have healing items) and activates “Fury” when held, Y drops weapons or reloads, the left bumper kicks and the right bumper changes weapons. You can also click on the inventory by pressing up on the D-Pad and click on your flashlight with a press of the down D-Pad directional. Pressing in the left stick runs, pressing in the right stick ducks, and pressing back brings up your menus for looking at the map, spending talent points, investigating your inventory and more. In a nice touch, the game also offers analog melee controls, at which point you can hold down the trigger to go into combat mode, then pull the right stick on one direction to prime an attack, and finally push in the opposite direction to attack, which allows for more control on how an attack will land. Granted, it’s harder to deliver fast strikes with this mode, but it also allows for more control of how to land a head slash or what have you, and if you can learn how to work with it, it’s well implemented. Otherwise, you’ll more or less have the basics down inside of the first hour, and the game isn’t too hard to learn even for new players.

However, Dead Island Riptide adds some RPG elements to that FPS base, giving the game a feel that’s one part Condemned and one part Borderlands. You’re given five characters to choose from, each with their own positives to work with. Each character has their own obvious benefits statistically from the start, whether it be that they have more health or stamina or whatever, and each character gets bonuses to specific weapon types. The game basically has you go on quests for the various survivors of the zombie attacks to try and help them out and/or help yourself out, and by successfully completing these quests, as well as by killing zombies and human thugs and such, you’ll earn experience points. Earning enough points gives you a level up, which in turn gives you a point you can dump into one of three skill trees. You can also upgrade your Fury skills, which are skills you can use when the Fury meter is full to give your character some big damage attacks for a brief period of time, and by upgrading them, you can in turn get more benefits when you kick Fury on. Alternatively, you can upgrade skills from the weaponry tree or the survival tree, with the former giving you added damage options and benefits in battle, while the latter allows you to get better loot, increase health and stamina, get more stuff from crafting, and other useful perks. The trees are massive and you’ll likely get through the game with several skills under developed, so it pays to pay attention to what you want to get out of your character. There are a lot of really great skills on each of the characters, so you can mix and match as you see fit and build a character that works best for you without having to pick one character and hope they have everything you want, which is honestly refreshing, given how narrow so many characters in similar games can be.

It wouldn’t be an action RPG without sick loot, however, and Dead Island Riptide, as with its predecessor, has that in spades. There are various types of weapons you can find, and while the beginning of the game will see you grabbing anything you can get a hold of and hoping for the best, later on you’ll start really paying attention to weapon stats and levels to make sure you get the best possible weapons. Ranged and melee weapons are both ranked in different categories, with melee weapons focusing on durability and handling and ranged weapons focusing on reload speeds and accuracy, in addition to the obvious damage stats for each. As you progress through the game you’ll find new weapons that are scaled to your level, and while that means that you’ll be finding a level 25 wrench, for example, which might seem a little odd, it makes sense mechanically so you’ll get used to it pretty quickly. You can also spend time working on your weapons at the different workbenches you’ll find throughout the game, and for a good long while you’ll be doing exactly that, as repairing melee weapons is mandatory to keep them in good shape. Both weapon types can also be upgraded up to three levels beyond their base, which you’ll also want to spend a lot of time doing to keep new weapons competitive against enemies, though guns are a bit more expensive to do this with, presumably due to their lack of repair costs. As you play you’ll also come across modification schematics that allow you to mod weapons to deal additional damage or carry elemental effects by way of, say, wiring a battery to a police baton or a buzzsaw to a baseball bat, so long as you have the cash and the random stuff to make it with. The game puts a big emphasis on searching random stashes around the island to find little consumable doodads, partially because island residents might need them, but mostly because you can use them in the modification recipes that make some of the best weapons available.

You will want to do this thing, of course, because the enemies are no joke. While there are plenty of your normal shambling dead, there are also plenty of upgraded enemy types who will attempt to hunt you down, be it by racing after you and fat-kid-windmill-punching you to death, charging straight through you, attacking you with their filed-down bones, or what have you, all of whom scale to your level, meaning they’re always a challenge. You’ll also find yourself taking on looters and thugs of various sorts who have no interest in anything but your loot, and often wield the same sorts of weaponry you do, making them as much of a challenge as the undead you’ll face. Of course, aside from the neat gear and skills you get, you can also draft friends and strangers to back you up if you’re looking for some help. You can jump into a friend’s game easily enough, and vice-versa, but the game also will pop up a small dialogue box to let you know that someone else who is playing solo and is around your area is playing, if you’re playing with the option to do so turned on. Thus, you can jump into games with anyone who is playing publicly, or someone can jump into your game, to give each other a hand as you wish. Dead Island Riptide allows for the sort of jump-in, jump-out online play that isn’t obtrusive and doesn’t kick players to the menu when someone wants to take their leave or jump into a game with someone else, which is very much convenient and very much welcome in a game where every helping hand is a big plus.

For those who’ve played the prior game, however, all of this will be old hat, so the game makes it a point to add in some new content to keep things interesting. First off, a new character, John, has been added to the game, who focuses on hand-to-hand combat as a primary specialty, meaning that fistloads, claws and such are his best weapons, and he learns special skills based around this. If you’ve played the original, however, you can also import your prior character into this game to pick up on building your character from where you left off. Further, instead of simply moving from one safe house to another, each with its own group of random survivors, you now have something of a consistent group of survivors who move from place to place as the plot requires it. Each of these survivors can be leveled up by collecting various items for them, which can either improve their shop contents (for non-combat characters) or improve their performance in battle (for combat characters). This is important during siege style battles where your safe houses will come under attack by massive groups of zombies for one reason or another, as having well leveled NPC’s aiding you in destroying the invading hordes will make the battles far more manageable overall. There are also various “Dead Zones” around the game world which generally contain instanced combat zones, often featuring high powered specialty zombies or “champion” zombies that are more powerful than their special counterparts. Doing so is generally optional, but rewards you with added loot and experience, which can make it worth looking into. On the minor addition side of things, there also some new mods and weapon types to find, boats to navigate the island in due to the flooded areas, and location defenses to make use of during siege attacks, which breaks up the experience somewhat.

As in the prior game, if you focus on the storyline missions, you can probably complete the game in about ten to fifteen hours, but if you spend your time really focusing on the side missions, of which there are many, you can bring that up to thirty to forty hours in one playthrough, easy. There are around eighty missions in the game to take on, from simple collecting missions to involved, multi-stage assaults on locations, and each mission adds to the backstory and rewards you with new toys or cash as well as lots of experience points, making all of them worth taking on, alone or with friends. There are also plenty of Achievements to earn and Challenges to plow through, the latter of which reward your characters with bonus experience for completing them, making them worth taking on. You’re also given five noticeably different characters to play as, as well as a fully functional New Game Plus mode that lets you carry over your awesome character for another go and the ability to import characters from the prior game, so there’s plenty of reasons in the game alone to come back to it multiple times over. One also assumes more DLC will be released for the game, as the Special Edition comes with new outfits for your characters and the BBQ Mod, which can also be downloaded separately, so it’s reasonable to assume we’ll see new scenarios and tools, as with the prior game.

Having said that, however, unless you’re a massive fan of Dead Island, you’re not going to get a lot from Dead Island Riptide, as it’s essentially the same game on a new, somewhat more bland, island. The game is certainly more technically sound in comparison to its predecessor at launch, and the game is largely without any significant technical issues, aside from the aforementioned lag when attacking into water and the fact that you can no longer see a complete path to objectives until you’re very close to them (which may be by design in fairness). However, the game simply doesn’t add enough to the mix, and it essentially feels like a stand-alone expansion pack rather than a full game. You’re basically given a new, only somewhat different character, boats, new environments that aren’t as interesting as those of the prior game, siege battles, some new zombie types and instanced zones where you can fight more powerful monsters as additions here, but the vast majority of the game is functionally identical to its predecessor. If you liked Dead Island, you’ll probably not mind, but if you weren’t heavily in love with the game, you might not be on board with the idea of playing practically the exact same game over again, especially not for a ten dollar reduced price tag.

The game is also slightly less brutally hard as its predecessor insofar as enemy spawning goes, but it requires the same rigid tactical approach to survive effectively, IE, kick, slash slash slash, kick, repeat. The game simply feels as heavily multiplayer focused as its predecessor, and while the single player game is less frustrating than its predecessor, it’s still not a game that’s balanced effectively for solo play unless you play in a very specific fashion and hold to that… or die a lot. Whether or not you bring in a character from Dead Island you’ll find the first couple hours of the game to be an uphill battle until you claim a few really functional weapons, and while the game has much less instances of “lots of dudes windmill punching you to death” it’s still frustrating at first. Similar games in the genre, such as, again, Borderlands, potentially offer you variable options for how you’ll handle combat, but Dead Island Riptide doesn’t really have a lot of variety to fall back on for defense or tactical considerations. Your weapons are largely similar and no amount of improving basic proficiencies changes that, enemies scale to your level and aside from boosting recovery and stamina, you’ll basically always deal the same damage and die in the same amount of hits, and the game just feels very biased toward multiplayer. This is certainly fine, but as we keep coming back to with games like Borderlands 2 and Dead Space 3, making a game with a multiplayer component doesn’t mean players are definitely going to use that multiplayer component, and failing to balance your game in line with that is intolerable.

Dead Island Riptide is basically its predecessor with a new character, some new zones, a couple of mild play tweaks, and a ten dollar smaller price tag. If you’re of the mindset that the original was largely flawless, save the bugs, you’ll find this to be well worth your money; if you’re of the mindset that the game needed more development and fleshing out, you won’t. The plot is basically adequate, if uninspired and also-ran, the game generally looks identical to its predecessor save for some new environments, nicer water effects, and heavy lag when striking said water, and the aural presentation is as solid as ever. The gameplay is functionally identical to the prior game in thought and deed, from the core mechanics to the level up systems and beyond, meaning that fans can jump in easily while newcomers should be able to pick it up simply enough. The game does field some new elements, such as instanced Dead Zones, siege defense missions, a new character, and a wider variety of enemies and tools, while also condensing the experience location wise without sacrificing time to spend with the game. Between the variety, ability to import characters from the original, ability to bring characters in for a New Game Plus and general structural modifications, as well as the possibility of DLC down the line, Dead Island Riptide makes a fair effort to be worth the investment, if only on content. However, the game basically identical to its predecessor, astonishingly so in many respects, to a point where it feels like a fifty dollar expansion pack rather than any kind of actual sequel, and given the price and time between games it feels incredibly underdeveloped. Further, while the game is somewhat more balanced than its predecessor, it’s still a bit excessive in terms of its sheer difficulty, between its more rigid requirements to play by its rules and its balance toward multiplayer play, making it more of a chore than it needs to be at times. If you’re a big fan of the prior game, Dead Island Riptide should be good fun for you, but anyone hoping for some more noticeable changes or additions is going to find this to be too similar to its predecessor, making it overpriced and underdeveloped as a result.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Dead Island Riptide can effectively be described as “more of the same” as it’s essentially its predecessor with a new island, a new character, and some play tweaks for ten dollars less, leaving it essentially the same game, which should tell you everything you need to know about if it’s for you. The plot is functional if cliché and uninspired, the game looks mostly identical to the prior game save for some environmental changes and improved water effects at the cost of lag when the water is disrupted, and the audio is as spot on as it was in the prior game. The gameplay returns intact from the previous release in all respects, meaning that fans will have no issues jumping into the game and newcomers will be able to pick it up with little effort. There are new elements, such as leveling up weapon performance based on usage, instanced Dead Zones, siege defense missions, a new character and some new weapons and enemies to use, and the levels are condensed while retaining the length and depth of the prior game overall. Between the general variety of missions and options, the option to import existing characters and bring them in for a New Game Plus, and the general system changes and possibility of DLC later, Dead Island Riptide will be good fun for fans of the prior game and newcomers with no prior exposure. That said, the game is basically identical to the prior release, as the changes made are very minor in comparison to the whole game, which is otherwise identical, making it feel like a fifty dollar expansion pack over a new experience, leaving it feeling underdone. Also, while there are some balance tweaks over the prior game, the difficulty curve is still such that you’ll either have to play fairly rigidly, play in groups or die a lot, and more tuning to make the game accessible to solo play or experimentation would have been better. If you loved the original or have no exposure to the franchise, Dead Island Riptide is a release that’s well worth checking out, but for those who were expecting more from a sequel than a new character and some minor tweaks will come away sorely disappointed.



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One response to “Review: Dead Island Riptide Special Edition (Microsoft Xbox 360)”

  1. yozard Avatar

    Whats the flashlight button on dead island riptide

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