Despite watching and enjoying gameplay videos, I never actually got around to the first Dead Island games. It ended up being one of those games on a long list of titles that I mean to get and play but don’t for whatever reason. Now there’s Dead Island: Riptide and it seems like its somewhere in between sequel and expansion. The game begins where the first one left off; the good news here is that if you’re like me and didn’t play the original, you’re not really going to be loss. If you played the first, you can import your save file and continue with your character. Since I didn’t play the first, and because I liked him, I chose the lone new character to play as.
Right upfront I want to state that I have not yet completed the game’s campaign. I don’t typically like to review a game before finishing it, but sometimes you have to make exceptions and this is one of those times. It’s not that the game is long (probably 13-15 hours or so, that of course being my rough estimation based on what I’ve done and my own % progression), but more because I’m not having much fun with it and my final weeks of college have had me quite busy with papers, projects, preparing presentations, and studying for finals. I’ve had this game for about three weeks, and I’ve slowly been working my way through it for the above listed reasons.
I’ve seen enough to know that I will eventually finish it. I’ve also seen enough to know that the story doesn’t matter, the cutscenes and voice acting aren’t that good, that the gameplay won’t change from where I’m at to the end of the game, and that the game’s problems won’t suddenly correct themselves just because you hit a new act. As is, I’ve put around eight hours in, mainly doing side quests and exploring the island. For whatever reason, this game gives me a nice headache right behind the eyes and so I don’t play it for long periods of time during the day and that has limited my progression. I really don’t know why this game gives me a headache (it isn’t horrible) and games typically don’t give me headaches, but this one does every time without fail after playing for 30 minutes or so and it has thus sucked the fun that the game has right out.
If the game doesn’t give you a headache, and I’ll venture a guess that it probably won’t for the vast majority of you, then this is a game you’ll probably enjoy a lot more than I am. I’m not the biggest fan of first person games anymore anyway, but coming off the absolutely amazing BioShock Infinite I was pumped for a new first person game after being sort of reenergized to the genre. Dead Island does a lot of stuff right; I love the open world, the RPG mechanics, the crafting and upgrading weapons, the loot, and the simple fun of knocking a zombie’s head off or running over a group of them in a jeep. At its core, Dead Island: Riptide is a fun game and one that I’d love to be able to see down and play for hours at time like I do most games.
What hurts Dead Island: Riptide though is the problems it has in spades. When I first got on the island I thought the world looked great, but that was just an illusion and more and more I began noticing texture pop-in, some screen tearing, and in some spots some areas just didn’t look good. The actual environment, while colorful, is very muddy (in terms of texture). For the most part, the graphics are good, not outstanding, but there are times when it takes a noticeable. Some of the animations, of zombies and other characters, can be sloppy and ugly as well. Speaking of noticeable issues, my biggest problem with the game is the framerate and its constant dips.
In my time playing the game so far, I’ve encountered many times where the framerate would drop severely for just a second… a very long, jarring second. At other times, the framerate would sputter and in combat, even with one zombie, there were times I thought the game was going to freeze up. The times would the game would slow down made it a chore to get through some parts, which isn’t particularly good when factoring in that my playtime was already limited due to the headaches. Add in a lot of fetch quest (things like go to the boat, backtrack to the engine, grab it, slowly walk back to the boat, etc.) only made it worse.
The game has co-op of course, after all that is one of its big things just like Borderlands. I tried it with one other player, a friend, and it seemed like it would be an enjoyable experience. The framerate issue certainly isn’t improved in co-op as you can imagine, but unfortunately the guy I was playing with hasn’t been on the game in a while and this isn’t the type of game I would want to play with random people (likewise, I won’t play Borderlands with random people). But, if you have one to three buddies who have the game, then odds are you guys will have a blast slaying zombies together once you get past some slowness and loading, for at least a short while anyway.
Combat in Riptide is mindless fun for the most part. Sure, the game has a few technical problems with combat (it can occasionally be hard to judge distance, resulting in you swinging and missing and thus wasting much needed stamina, or less frequently your weapon could just glitch right through a close zombie that can result in your death), but it is largely fun. There’s something satisfying about wailing on some wretched undead with a board with nails in it, or decapitating a zombie. If there were a little more variety, and the framerate didn’t constantly drop or become a big drag, it could easily be a go-to game to just jump into and mindlessly slaughter zombies for a while. As is though, the fun, but flawed, combat can often be frustrating or a chore just because of the sputtering.
Audio is hit and miss. The music, done by Pawel Blaszczak, is okay but at the same time I can admit to not even noticing it a lot of the times. The in-game effects sound good for the most part, particularly the zombies, but I’m not a fan of the voice acting. The actors seem like they could care less, or they simply aren’t very good, and it doesn’t help when the voice and the character movement doesn’t sync up. The whole thing is acceptable, but quite bland.
And finally, gameplay is what you would expect. The missions are basically fetch quest and kill quest. There are some siege style missions where you’ll have to defend an area and put up barriers, and its fun, but by and large the missions get in the way of the fun. This isn’t the kind of game I like backtracking in, and it’s made worse when the game world itself isn’t that good and lacks the sense of “awe” that makes you want to explore every little area.
For the most part, you’re making your way through the island, either on foot, in a truck, or in a boat (which feels a lot like a car for some reason), and killing a never ending horde of zombies that are waiting everywhere. While all of this is going on, you’re leveling up your character, advancing your skills, collecting loot and upgrading/creating weapons. It’s very much the zombie version of Borderlands, only without the charm, humor, great combat, story, and graphical appeal. While the gameplay is never horrible, after all it is mostly fun, it never treads new ground or rises above being a generic paint-by-the-numbers game.
Riptide is budget priced at $49.99, but if you never played the original and it seems like something you’d be interested in, you’d probably be better off picking up the first one since it’s under $20. If on the other hand you played and enjoyed the first one, then this might be worth picking up if you just have to have fresh content to playthrough while you slaughter the undead. As is, $49.99 seems a tad too high to me and so my recommendation would be to wait for it to drop in price which probably won’t take too long; I wouldn’t personally recommend paying more than $20 for it unless you just love the original and absolutely have to have more of it right away.
Dead Island Riptide gets a two out of five: DECENT.
* A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.