Let's get one thing out of the way. Dead Island: Riptide is not a sequel to Dead Island. Believe me, I can understand if you would think that due to its 15+ hour campaign and fifty dollar price tag. And even if the absence of a number after 'Island' didn't convince you, then the availability of a fully fledged collectors edition might lead you astray. But using the delicate verbal dance one must when releasing what is essentially an expansion pack the size of a fully fledged game, producer Sebastian Reichert described Riptide as the 'next installment' of the Dead Island story. Steering clear of any talk that this should be considered a full fledged sequel. This puts Riptide in an awkward position. To like Dead Island: Riptide, you would've had to love Dead Island. I mean really, really, really, love Dead Island.
Or have never played it.
Dead Island: Riptide
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: April 23th, 2013 (360, PS3, PC)
Dead Island: Riptide takes place exactly where the original Dead Island left off. Our four survivors have escaped the original island via helicopter and come upon a military ship just as they are running out of fuel. Upon landing, they are taken prisoner due to their ability to not become infected and it's at this point that we are introduced to a fifth survivor named John Morgan who specializes in hand-to-hand combat. When the ship itself becomes overrun with the undead our survivors escape -yet again- to another island of undead inhabitants for more zombie killing and limb culling. Let me rephrase that, A LOT more zombie killing.
Whereas the original Dead Island started by introducing the world using an accessible visual like the overrun resort to slowly ramp up the action, Riptide has no equivalent frame of reference to entrench the player into the world. Rather, playing Riptide is like playing Dead Island from the Jungle levels onward. And I don't just mean that in a metaphorical sense. Riptide is very much a very long, very big expansion with only small improvements made to the gameplay, and a few new zombies added to the -decidedly blander- environments.
These improvements can be worthwhile though. Zombies react better -if not more comically- to the environment than they did before, often breaking or severing limbs when coming into violent contact with the world. I used the new character John in my playthrough who has the ability to do a running kick sending zombie ragdolls flying through the air and landing -usually with limbs being scattered- hard against rocks and trees.
Boats have also been added as a transportation device but are difficult to captain when playing single-player since zombies called “Drowned” will rise out of the water and attack while you're busy trying to steer. A turbo mode can be used to run over or escape these new zombies but all it takes is one to get on board and bring you down. You'll then find yourself in the water and overrun without any way to escape quickly. Honestly, it's better to just use cars whenever you can.
The few other new zombie types -like the Grenadier, who throws exploding pieces of flesh at you- are fun to fight, and homestead protection missions were added which have the player using base defenses -and whatever weapons they have available- to fend off attacking hordes. It's highly reminiscent of the Call of Duty zombies mode but with a greater player ability to lay traps in order to control the crowds of undead. You won't be alone during these missions though, not even in a single player game. The four other survivors will fight alongside you and make a fairly good go of it. Furthermore, there are sidequests you can undertake to improve their fighting abilities. Unfortunately these quests, like many others, come down to “bring X survivor X number of items” and do nothing to add to the overall narrative. A narrative which itself is fairly lacking.
Though enjoyable at the time, these defense missions mostly stand out if only because they break up the overall monotony of continual zombie killing and fetch questing that eventually overcomes the other areas of the game.
Riptide is Dead Island whole cloth with all the awkward animations, low production cutscenes, and general fondness for bugs intact. In the original, the melee combat and weapons system was new and interesting enough to carry the player through, so these issues didn't come across nearly as offending during the first 3/4ths of the game. But Dead Island also seemed to know when the player had their fill. And just as it was becoming overly tedious, found a good place to end. Riptide, on the other hand, seems to begin with tedium, and it isn't long before the constant fighting and multiple zombie encounters become nothing more than a chore standing between you and the next leg of the adventure.
Even the fun act of killing zombies no longer has that initial spark of enjoyment. Now, hours and hours later and hardly improved upon at all, that new car smell has been replaced with laborious swinging and the occasional good knife throw or gunshot. And death, handled by a seven second respawn and cash penalty, becomes a triviality which buoys the feelings of tedium. Furthermore, the strength of the world rises with you, so you never feel as if you're getting stronger. There aren't areas of lower-level zombies where you can just release your frustrations by dolling out lethality on a whim, leading into other areas that seem dangerous to traverse. Instead, character levels become inconsequential. A level 17 zombie goes down in the same manner as a level 27. It just all feels the same.
Of course there is some enjoyment to be had here, but Riptide is a niche game if I've ever seen one, and why Techland didn't decide to do a more reserved expansion and save all this effort for a full fledged sequel is beyond me. The release of an expansion at almost the same price and size as the original has confused players who might have thought they were getting something more, and worn weary on those who enjoyed the original just enough. Instead, Riptide seems devoted to those who played through the original Dead Island and needed 15 hrs more, or those who passed it by completely. For them, this could be a fun experience. For everyone else, you've been on this vacation before.
(50-59%: Mediocre - A mixed bag, both the good and bad are about equal here.)